ONLINE Only: Defending the Birmingham Three

Just weeks ahead of Benedict XVI’s visit, the Birmingham Oratory is guilty of profound institutional cruelty in its treatment of three banished former members

Comment The Catholic Church
The Dome of the Birmingham Oratory, on Hagley Road

News from the Birmingham Oratory, which next month the pope will visit on September 19th, the day he beatifies Cardinal Newman.  Newman’s old home is now mired in a deepening scandal: this started with the ex-Provost having a ‘chaste but intense’ relationship with a young man and went on to see three of its tiny community banished to separate monasteries. These three — two priests and a brother — have become known as the ‘Birmingham Three’, as a sense of injustice mounts about their fate.

I’ll be writing in the next issue venomously about the scandalous way in which these men have been treated, and of the apparent inability of the Catholic Church to learn the downside of secrecy and authoritarianism. But for now I’m just putting it on the record that, in a lengthy interview with me, the ubiquitous Jack Valero of Opus Dei, spokesman  for the Newman canonisation cause and the Birmingham Oratory, has confirmed unequivocally that the Three are entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever, including, specifically, sexual misdemeanours or homophobia.

The Birmingham Three have been gagged so cannot defend any speculation about them.  And speculation there has been. Until now, the main official communication from the Oratory has been a comment that it was ‘an internal matter’: the laity were enjoined to stop asking questions. But those who know that the punishment of the Three exceeds that of your average clerical child-molester have been speculating all over the religious blogosphere. Are they homosexual? Homophobic? Are they fanatical fundamentalists? Or victims of a political archbishop who will allow Newman to become a gay icon?  Since one of the three is my dear old friend Father Dermot Fenlon, late of Gonville and Caius, this atheist has been following events and speculation closely. Quite apart from anything else, events cast an extraordinary light on institutional cruelty.