In the last week or so there have been some reports alleging that the plans for the papal visit to England and Scotland in September are in chaos. Venues have not been booked and no clear system of allocating tickets for events exists. Damian Thompson suggests this is the fault of a clerical cabal who, in any case, are close to a Blairite model of Catholicism, and hostile to Benedict XVI. New elements in some kind of culture war have been suggested by the removal of three Oratorians from the Birmingham Oratory. James Preece (with whose conclusions I do not universally agree) reports that these men have been sent away on indefinite spiritual leave, the implication being that they need to be kept out of the way during the run up to the papal visit.
Personally, I'm convinced by neither of these theses. The older I get the less I am inclined to accept the precipitous conspiracy theory. Thompson has something of record in suggestive reporting in this regard. His explanation of why Liverpool diocese blocked the assigning of a church to the Extraordinary Form was wide of the mark for those who knew what was really at stake. I'm not saying his article about the Pope's visit was without virtue, but it remains to be seen what actually happens in September. Lobby in private and let's leave the condemnations for later.
The same applies really with regard to the Birmingham men. Again experience has taught me to be very circumspect about jumping to conclusions, especially where clerical behaviour is under scrutiny. I have no idea why these men have been sent away; neither, please take note, am I opening discussion on the matter. I'm simply saying that the public narratives are often lacking vital facts which cannot be disclosed for very sound moral reasons. I don't think we help the situation by speculation.
This is not a counsel of the blind eye; it's just a counsel of circumspection, which, after all, literally means 'looking around'. The last time I remember Thompson firing from the hip at Bishop Hollis of Portsmouth (concerning Paul Inwood's ludicrous 2007 email about Summorum Pontificum), the story from inside the Portsmouth curia was somewhat more nuanced. The narrative of 'modernist bishop blocks SP' didn't apply since Inwood's email on the topic was done on his own initiative. I'm not saying Hollis is a completely innocent party; his agreeing to blocking Communion on the tongue during the swine flu crisis (the one that killed millions last year ... didn't it?) was a bad case of invertebrate leadership collapsing in the face of middle management (or middle mis-management). But labelling him as an SP opponent is silly. The FSSP is strongest after all in his diocese.
My point being: never underestimate the complexity of clerical rows, whether at Eccleston Square or the Birmingham Oratory. It pays to look before you leap in.