Not entirely surprisingly, there has been a lot of discussion recently about the Papal Visit : indeed, I have been responsible for more than a few comments myself about the Hierarchy’s handling of it.
Recently, however, there has been a lot of particular discussion about the situation at the Birmingham Oratory, not least on ‘Catholic and Loving It’, the blog of the splendid James & Ella Preece, which can always be relied upon to take bulls firmly by the horns – a trait which I entirely applaud.
What concerns me, however, is that the comments on one of his recent posts have – shall we say – got a little way off topic, and have led to some remarks which might be described as being at least arguably defamatory . . . and some more which have acquired the same character because people with little knowledge of law have sought to attribute defamatory characteristics to observations which don’t actually possess them, but which they clearly dislike.
Several of my readers have contacted me about this . . . and I have said, after consideration, that I don’t think I want to get involved with the comments, simply because the issues being raised have now become so diffuse that I believe that it is probably impossible to drag things back into any sort of coherent discussion.
However, I do think I can make a number of comments; and have therefore replied to my correspondents that I shall do so in a post . . .
I cannot comment on what is happening, and has happened, at the Birmingham Oratory; not, I hasten to say, because I disbelieve what James, or anyone else, has said; but rather because I recognize that I do not know everything, and I rather suspect that they do not either (none of them, I must say, claim to).
Equally, I do not want to get into a discussion about personalities, except to say that from my own fairly restricted knowledge of the Oratorian system of Visitations there does not at first sight appear to be anything gravely worrying about that aspect of Oratorian life in England (although I shall - of course - be happy to be corrected by any of my Oratorian readers on that point); and that some of the remarks therefore seem to be getting unduly personal (and to be quite honest, somewhat offensive as well).
However : I do think that there is one point which does need to be made. Whatever is happening / has happened at the Birmingham Oratory is causing concern and distress to a lot of people : and at probably the worst possible moment in the history of that Church. In six weeks’ time the Holy Father will be coming to Britain, and one of the most significant moments in his visit will be the Beatification of Cardinal Newman, founder of the Birmingham Oratory . . . an event at which, naturally, one would expect all the Fathers and Brothers of that Church (and indeed the Oratory in England generally) to be present.
We live in a world where – as all Catholics must be aware – there is considerable animosity towards the Faith, and where the media are not only largely hostile, but also quite frequently unscrupulous in the ways in which they ‘create’ stories out of little or nothing; and this uncertainty and upset is exactly the sort of food which fuels their fires.
For all I know, there were excellent reasons for the events at the Birmingham Oratory over the last few months : but if that is the case, then this fact should have been made quite clear at the time . . . because whatever is said now, even if it silences the not inconsiderable fuss, unless it is absolutely open and honest will only fuel the belief that there is more going on than meets the eye (and people may well not believe it anyway !).
I said some time ago, in the context of the Equality Bill, that whilst it might be true that the Bishops were in fact handling matters wisely, this was not apparent to the Faithful; and that if the Bishops wanted the support of the Faithful, then they needed to make it clear that they were acting in the best interests of the Church . . . because what was happening did not, as far as the Faithful could see, meet that description.
I say the same thing again now. I do not know the reason for recent events at the Birmingham Oratory : but I think it must be painfully apparent that, however justified they have been, they have caused legitimate concern amongst the Faithful; and that that concern must be quelled . . . now.
Most of the Faithful will cheerfully stand up and support their Bishops unquestioningly when those Bishops can plainly be seen to be stating the Faith clearly and without hesitation; but you cannot expect the faithful to remain silent and unquestioning when things are happening which – however justified they may in fact be – appear to be contrary to everything that Holy Mother Church stands for. Such a course would not only be contrary to their own obligations to the Faith, but would expect them to display a disloyalty which it must be apparent is entirely uncharacteristic of many of those who have been commenting; even if one does, from time to time, wish that some of them were more temperate in their remarks.
I am blaming no-one; because I would not know who to blame if anyone is indeed blameworthy, and I do not in any event know if anyone is blameworthy : but I am quite certain that this needs to be sorted out, and clear answers given, now, so that the Holy Father’s visit is not tainted by scandal . . . especially if there isn't even a scandal there in the first place !