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August 2010

Update on 'Defending the Birmingham Three'

Birmingham Oratory
The Dome of the Birmingham Oratory, on Hagley Road

Further to my post Defending the Birmingham Three, I'll be writing in Standpoint on Thursday about some of the most shocking aspects of the treatment of two priests and a brother of the Birmingham Oratory by an Apostolic Visitation. On Friday, responding to a request from the Oratory spokesman, Opus Dei's Jack Valero, who was to be discussing the story with me on Sunday on radio, our editor Daniel Johnson courteously sent an advance copy which Valero promptly circulated to interested parties. The result was a threat (unrealised) of legal action from Father Gareth Jones, the - let me pick my words carefully - unusual canonical adviser to the Visitation about whom I had, I felt, been if anything too charitable.

Father Jones has had an interesting life and arouses strong passions: ‘The Father Gareth Jones Question', to be found on 5 August on www.lovingit.co.uk (127 comments when I last checked) is riveting. If you want to learn more about the exotic cast of characters in this unedifying saga of cruelty, incompetence and secrecy, check out innumerable blogs (including www.freethebirminghamoratorythree.blogspot.com and the Free the Birmingham Three Facebook group) which feature inter alia the Viennese Father Felix Selden (top Visitor) and Spanish Jack Valero (who reports to Archbishop Vincent Nichols's Press Secretary), with occasional interesting cameo appearances from the low-key Father Ignatius Harrison, the Provost of the Brompton Oratory (second Visitor) - a man too private or perhaps busy - for he is under investigation himself - to answer correspondence from those in search of the disappeared Oratorians.

Valero's argument in response to my complaint on Sunday Sequence about the gagging of these men was that it was done to save their reputations: Mother Church knows what's best for them. Unable to explain what they had done wrong, since he had confirmed they were guilty of none of the sins that the laity speculate about when priests are exiled and silenced, he trashed them comprehensively by positing that disciplinary offences might include ‘pride, anger, disobedience, disunity, nastiness, dissension, the breakdown of charity...very serious things were going on inside that house.' I've known my friend Father Dermot Fenlon since he was eighteen and he has never done anything nasty. As for Fathers Jones, Selden, Harrison and Mr Valero: I couldn't possibly comment.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards