Three popular priests have been “inexplicably” removed from the Birmingham Oratory ahead of the Pope’s visit to the city – sparking an online campaign for their reinstatement
Father Philip Cleevely, Father Dermot Fenlon and Brother Lewis Berry have been told “to spend time in prayer for an indefinite period” at three different monasteries, hundreds of miles apart.
It is unclear why the trio, all based at the Oratory in Edgbaston, have been removed but concerned worshippers have written an open letter to the church authorities demanding to know why and what will happen to the priests.
The oratory has refused to discuss the matter in detail. It is believed that a decision to replace Father Chavasse, Provost of Birmingham Oratory and Postulator of the Newman Cause, is at the heart of the decision. He has been succeeded by Father Richard Duffield, from Oxford Oratory.
Father Chavasse met US deacon Jack Sullivan, who claims he was cured of a crippling spinal condition praying to Cardinal Newman.
The Vatican has approved the cure as a miracle, paving the way for Cardinal Newman to become England’s first non-martyred saint since the Reformation.
The Pope will beatify Cardinal Newman during a mass at the city’s Cofton Park on September 19.
Concerned parishioners have set up a blog called Free The Birmingham Oratory Three after the men were removed from their posts in May.
Father Cleevely has gone to Pluscarden Abbey, in Moray, north Scotland, Father Fenlan to Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, in Leicestershire, and Brother Berry will be sent to Port Elizabeth Oratory in South Africa for at least a year.
Mount Saint Bernard Abbey operates a daily regime of rising at 3am and a programme of prayers, “simplicity, silence and solitude’’.
The open letter said: “We have seen the inexplicable removal of two priests and a brother who have exerted themselves heroically in the defence of our Catholic families.
“We have every right to a coherent explanation of what is going on, and an assurance that these priests and brother will be returned to their ministry with us forthwith.”
Another letter from a group of parishioners, which was published on the blog, added: “We believe any attempt to present an anodyne face to the world in preparation for the papal visit is doomed to failure unless Father Dermot Fenlon, Father Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry are returned forthwith to Cardinal Newman’s Oratory where they belong.
“Their absence during the beatification of their founder would represent not only a grave matter of personal injustice to them, but an insult to His Holiness.”
In a statement released this week by the Oratory, Father Felix Selden, the Apostolic Visitor to the Oratory, said: “In the course of the Apostolic Visitation currently being carried out at the Birmingham Oratory, after consulting with the Fathers, and taking account of Brother Lewis Berry’s own views, it has been agreed that Brother Lewis’ ongoing formation will best be met in an Oratorian Community that will afford him greater opportunities for a varied programme of pastoral work, as the Church requires of a deacon.
“As from the first week of September Brother Lewis will reside and work at the Port Elizabeth Oratory in South Africa, for a period of at least one year. He has welcomed this opportunity.
“I now again request that the Oratorian Community in Birmingham be allowed to continue its work without hindrance.
“The Apostolic Visitation that has been taking place at the Birmingham Oratory has been chiefly concerned with the community’s own internal life and discipline.”
Father Richard Duffield said: “We do not wish to make any further comment on this matter.”