From Revd Patrick Ryall OSB Sir, I write to express on behalf of the trustees of the Servite Order our deep dissatisfaction at the "shabby journalism" displayed in your article, headlined "Priory Selloff leaves local community 'badly let down'." ( November 12 1999). Is it now the policy of The Catholic Herald to become the mouthpiece for the disgruntled? It would appear that local councillors, like other politicians, can suffer from the delusion of claiming to speak for others, when in reality they but voice their own ideas.
In the recent past I have spent nine years in community at Begbroke, seven of these as prior. During that time the priory served, as it has done for many years, as our formation house. We also provided retreats at week-ends; many of these were over-booked and seemed to meet a real need in the wider Catholic community. These were happy and fruitful years and ever since I have retained a great love for Begbroke and its congregation. During those years, Mr Andrew Hornsby-Smith and some of his local Catholic councillors were not evident in offering support to the priory and its apostolates. Indeed, one councillor passed the church each Sunday enroute to Mass in Oxford. At that time we had over a hundred people attending Mass at the priory. The recent interest can best be described as "too little, too late".
The selling of such a beautiful and historic priory gives pleasure to no one. Indeed, the decision of the provincial and his council was taken with great sadness. But, faced with falling numbers and ageing friars, hard and difficult financial facts had to be faced. Listed buildings of such beauty and value cannot be maintained on Oxfordshire fresh air! It would be a misuse of our resources to continue to maintain a tiny community of friars in such a large site for an ill-defined and uncertain purpose. It is unwise and unhealthy to live in continuous procrastination.
The "Catholic Project" as it is called, supported by the Centre for Faith and Culture at Plater College, has had over three years "to get its act together". May I respectfully state that the bid received on their behalf was from a limited company, and was far less than stated in your article. This body was not a registered charity and did not present a charity number in its official bid. One would have assumed that Mr Hornsby-Smith would have been conversant with the regulations governing sales by charitable trusts.
I also wish to point out further inaccuracies. The "historic priory" was not sold to "the highest bidder". The decision was not taken behind closed doors. Indeed, prolonged negotiations were conducted with the Catholic Women's League, the Archdiocese of Birmingham, and the Centre for Faith and Culture, then housed at Westminster College. Sadly, nothing substantial, clear and definite emerged from these discussions. Having failed to get a recognised charity with definite and unambiguous interest, the trustees had no option but to proceed with the present course of action. The transaction is far more complex than your article suggests and not all benefits of the sale will accrue to the Servite Friars.
Finally, having spoken with Fr Provincial, who is presently in Rome, I understand that he is not aware of any attempt being made last week by phone, fax, or answerphone to contact him for comment. Is Catholic journalism now reduced to this sorry state? At the very least, surely an editor's apology is in order?
Yours faithfully, PATRICK RYALL, Assistant Provincial, St Mary's Priory, London SW10.
Our reporter did in fact telephone the Father Provincial twice. On the first occasion he was told the Father Provincial was in Ireland. On the second he was told he was in Italy. No one else was prepared to speaA on his behalf — Editor From Revd William M McLoughlin OSM Sir, As a Servite friar at the Begbroke Priory referred to by Paul Burnell (November 12 and 19), I congratulate him or his piece alerting us to the obligations of stewardship that should concern all Catholics looting to the needs of the third millennium.
Being one who definitely sympathises with, prays daily for and long has toped to see a purposeful Catholic use of this particular holy place, I believe the priory's claim to relevance and importance has been providing an oasis of tolerance and peace for many. This has teen hallmarked by a living Servite and Catholic tradition expressed in service of the "Glorious Blessed Virgin".
I do not see it as a natter of indifference that the priory's Roman Catholic purpose will not continue as it for so long has done. I would very much have preferred that the proposedCatholic project spoken of might lave been given enough time to get off the ground.
I nevertheless reel I speak for more than myself among those associated with as priory when I say that I hope the proposed coming of the Anglican sisters will prove in the longterm not to be at variance with tie needs of the Catholic Chantal in serving the work of the Gospel.
• Disappointments for those of us who must move on can become part of a creative suffering that will hopefully more us forward to renewed service aid possible much more.
In that hope, I remain, Yours faithfully WILLIAM M NcLOUGHLIN, Begbroke, Oxford.