THE TRENDY NEW VICE
SARAH JOHNSON ON POKER
Comment Page 10
A DIFFERENT KIND OF HERO
John Jolliffe Page 9
RAYMOND EDWARDS REVIEWS POPETOWN
Arts Page 12
No. 6217 The Year of the Eucharist
16 September 2005 - £1 (Republic of Ireland ‰1.50)
Priest threatens to sue diocese
AW ESTMINSTER priest is challenging the authority of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor by threatening to go before a High Court judge to settle a bitter land dispute between his parish and the diocese. Fr Francis van Son, 51, of St Mary and St Michael’s, Commercial Road, in the East End of London, spent five hours in a police cell last week when he attempted to stop developers working on a site to the south side of his church. He has already used his parish newsletter to accuse the Cardinal of behaving like a pharisee – language deplored by the diocese. The land, a former playground, is designated for the “Bishop Challoner Learning Village”. This £30 million diocesan plan to integrate three schools on one site is the single biggest investment in education that the Church has ever made in Britain. But furious parishioners say the disputed land belongs to their church, and should be left as a playground. They are also distressed that the bulldozers are disinterring human remains. Relations are fast breaking down between the parish and the diocese as the row over who owns the playground escalates. Fr van Son has effectively accused Westminster of acting as an asset-stripper which is depriving children from depressed estates of a much-needed play area. Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Longley of Westminster visited the parish last weekend. He brought a letter from the Cardinal assuring parishioners that he had “the best interests of the parish, the deanery and its schools at heart”. But worshippers are angry that the development is proceeding before legal issues have been resolved. Teresa Said told The Catholic Herald : “We don’t want a battle with the diocese, but we are appalled that they have sent the developers in when the legal ownership of the land is still in question.
Fathervan Son is led away to Limehouse police station afterattempting to stop a diocesan development next to his church
“If the diocese owns the land, let them prove it.” Fr van Son insists that a deed dating from 1851 shows that the land is held in trust by the diocese for the parish “in perpetuity”. He is prepared to go to court to argue that the playground provides a vital local amenity and should not be lost. “I’m opposed to them building on land that belongs to the people of the parish,” he said. “It is an asset that will be stripped away and can never be regained. “Children here live in high-rise flats and they have nowhere to play. As a parish we are entitled to keep what is rightfully ours.”
But Paul Barber, director of education for Westminster, said the diocese had sought the opinion of counsel and was assured that the development could proceed. “We’ve made every effort to consult with all the people involved within the parameters of the project,” he said. Mr Barber added that, back in 2002, Fr van Son had indicated his support for the project. The opposition had come as a surprise. “Legally, it’s simple. The diocese owns the land. We have been told that what we are doing meets the terms of the 1851 trust deed. “This project has to happen – the alternative is to close schools down.
The Catholic Church is saying to this part of London: we are making a huge financial and symbolic commitment to education.” The project, instigated by Westminster in 2000, has the backing of the local education authority and the Department for Education and Skills. The disputed playground site is key to the development of a new integrated academy, which will see the existing Bishop Challoner girls’ school sharing resources with a new boys’school. But Fr van Son says the majority of his parishioners are opposed to the loss of the playground and a petition, with over 450 signatures,
has already been sent to the Cardinal. There is concern too that the building work will involve disturbing human remains, and disquiet at the scale of the project. One parishioner said: “The existing Bishop Challoner girls’school is only 50 per cent Catholic. How are they going to fill the school?” If the priest wins his case, then the diocese could be guilty of trespass and would probably have to restore the site to its original state. Fr van Son’s arrest last week for aggravated trespass followed a three-hour stand-off with the police and diocesan education department officials.
Some parishioners were in tears when the priest was led away. Fr van Son was taken to Limehouse police station and held in a cell for five hours. He said this week that his arrest was wrongful. “The Cardinal told me that the law of the land has to be abided by, but I can only defer to his authority if he too abides by the law,” he said. “Canon law states that each parish can administer its own temporal goods and this is our land.” The battle over the playground is complicated by the diocese’s repeated efforts to move the priest. He was first asked to leave the parish in 2002, but asked to stay as he had
just begun a Canon Law degree at Heythrop College. The Cardinal agreed to a threeyear extension that expired this year and is now insisting that for “pastoral reasons” the priest moves on to another post. But Fr van Son says the diocese simply wants him out of the way. “I have said I will move as soon as this dispute is resolved,” he explained. “They want to put someone in here who will simply acquiesce and do what they want.” He has continued to be openly critical of the Cardinal. In a parish newsletter he wrote: “Why would he want to ask for debt relief for the third-world countries whilst he makes the parishioners of an East End parish poorer by taking away the one asset that they have canonical title to, namely a piece of land. The world ‘pharisaic’springs to mind in this context.” In response, the Cardinal said the priest was disturbing the life of the parish “not least in the language that you have used in your own parish newsletter which has expressed a clear division between you and me as priest and bishop respectively”. Austen Ivereigh, spokesman for the archdiocese, said: “The Cardinal has made enormous efforts over many years to deal with the objections of Fr van Son and others who oppose the school project. He has been very patient.” Dr Ivereigh added that it was usual for Westminster priests to move every seven to eight years. “When you attempt to transfer a priest and he objects, a canonical process is instigated to resolve the matter,” he said. “Fr van Son will remain as parish priest until that process is concluded.” He said Fr van Son had appealed to Rome against the development and was told he must cooperate with his ordinary. “He has chosen to ignore that advice,” he said. Fr van Son said he would continue to fight the diocese. “I wish the Cardinal had picked up the phone,” he said. “I feel very angry, very angry indeed.”
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PUBLISHERS TO THE HOLY SEE
Exorcism film rockets to top of US film charts
A FILM based on a real-life exorcism has proved to be a massive box office hit in the United States. The film sold £16.5 million tickets last weekend, more than the next five films combined. The Exorcism of Mary Rose is based on an exorcism in Klingenberg, near Frankfurt, which began after Annelise Michel began shaking and seeing devilish visions when she prayed. She was diagnosed with epilepsy, but doctors were unable to help her. In 1973 Annelise’s parents sought help from priests. In 1975 Bishop Josef Stangl of Wurzburg assigned Fr Ernst Alt and Fr Arnold Renz to perform the exorcism. The exorcisms continued until 1976, with Annelise’s condition continuing to worsen. She would run through the house screaming for hours, breaking
crucifixes, pulling rosaries apart and destroying paintings of Jesus. She slept on the stone floor, ate spiders, flies and coal, and refused to eat food. The last exorcism was in June 1976, by which time she was exhausted and emaciated, and suffering from pneumonia. On July 1, Annelise died, weighing under five stone. The priests and Annelise’s parents were convicted of “negligent homicide” in 1978. The West German bishops’ conference later concluded that Annelise Michel had not been demonically possessed. Although the fictionalised film version deals with the exorcisms, its main focus is on the trial, making it not so much a horror film like The Exorcist as a courtroom drama. The star of the film is not Jennifer Carpenter, who plays the title role, but Laura Linney, who plays Erin Bruner, the agnostic lawyer who defends parish
priest Fr Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) who performed the exorcisms. Prosecuting attorney Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) is a practising Methodist who scorns the Catholic practice of exorcism. Director Scott Derrickson, an evangelical, said that after making the film he is “very close” to becoming a Catholic. “I viewed a lot of video of real exorcisms, I heard a lot of tapes of real exorcisms ... I guess it’s good knowledge to have. I guess, for me as a Christian, it’s good, but I’ll never do that again.” Asked if he believed that people can be possessed, he replied simply: “I do.” In January 1999, over 20 years after Annelise Michel’s exorcisms and death, the Church issued a revised Rite of Exorcisms , replacing the previous version which dated back to 1614. The film will be released in the United Kingdom on November 4.
Statue ‘wept woman’s blood’
Priests call for more support
Priests have expressed exasperation at a lack of support from theirbishops overallegations of child abuse. At the National Conference of Priests in Leeds last week, a number of priests put pressure on the bishops to answertheir pleas forprotection from unjust allegations. Page 3
Christians are being discriminated against, persecuted, attacked and even killed, according to the seniorcustodian of Catholic religious sites in the Holy Land. Page 5
China has blocked a Vatican invitation to four bishops to take part in the Synod on the Eucharist in Rome. Page 5
A DOUBLEMIRACLE or a notso-elaborate hoax? Astatue of
St Pio of Pietrelcina has not only been weeping blood – but the blood has been shown to be that of a woman. Awave of religious fervour swept the town of Marsicovetere, in Basilicata, Italy, last May when the statue of the 20thcentury saint, who was canonised by Pope John Paul IIthree years ago, was said to be crying supernatural tears. Catholic authorities investi
gated the claim and found the blood belonged to a woman rather than a burly, bearded Italian man. They concluded that this ruled out any “supernatural intervention”. The Vatican takes a very cautious approach to the phenomenon, ruling that the vast majority of cases are the result of delusion or human trickery.
‘How wonderful – he’s moved to tears by ourpiety...’