This month, the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, is to meet staff at Our Lady of Victory, which is run by an American religious order called the Servants of the Paraclete, to discuss its future.
The clinic, in Brownshill,Gloucestershire, and known by clergy simply as "Stroud", purports to offer "therapy in a spiritual context". Residents stay there for between a year and 18 months, during which time they are forced to face up to their failings. Until now, it has been the Roman Catholic Church's answer to dealing with errant priests.
A statement from Fr Liam Hoare, the senior appointment in the order, who has come over from the United States, said that the archbishop had been appointed "to assist us refocus our priorities in ministry and to define future directions".
In the past year, three of the eleven "core" clinical staff at Our Lady of Victory, including the recently appointed clinical director, Fr John Murphy, have left. The reasons given by Fr Hoare are stress, end of contract and illness. For instance, "John Murphy left on December 1st because of the stress inherent in holding two positions - that of clinical director of the treatment centre and his other work outside the centre."
While the Vatican intervention is understood to be an "investigation" within Catholic circles, Fr Hoare yesterday insisted: "It is not an investigation. It is a visitation, which is a clerical term." The Servants of the Paraclete requested the visit because 1997 was their 50th anniversary, he added.
Rumours that Stroud is closing because of improper sexual relationships between staff and clients were emphatically rejected by Fr Hoare. "Those are the rumours simply because we are the only treatment centre that is still open," he said. "We do have our critics, our enemies and disaffected former graduates, and there's a lot of anti-Catholic feeling out there. It's not fashionable or profitable to be treating wounded clergy."
The Right Rev Christopher Budd, the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Portsmouth who is responsible for handling the problem of clerical sexual abuse in England and Wales, said last week that he believed Our Lady of Victory was to close. When the prospect of closure was put to him, he said: "Yes, yes. That's my understanding from one or two sources. Obviously nothing has been announced officially from Stroud."
Fr Hoare said that the centre had decided to stop treating priests with problems of sexual identity, homosexual or heterosexual relationships and paedophilia "because of the sensationalism surrounding such issues". He said: "We've had people like yourselves ensconced outside our centre ... knocking at our door, interrupting staff. It's been horrendous ... If people are in your parking lot, how can you treat people?"
When asked if media hindrance was the only reason for the move, Fr Hoare admitted that Stroud did not have the specialised skills to deal with "high risk cases" and that they had come to the conclusion that treatment in a secular institution would be more effective.
Servants of the Paraclete was established at Jemez Springs, New Mexico, in 1947, by Fr Gerald Fitzgerald. In the Sixties the order opened its only English house, at Brownshill, which is now understood to have about 30 residents.
Our Lady of Victory hit the headlines in 1993 when Fr Sean Seddon, a 38-year-old priest, was sent there after a six-year affair with a teacher. On learning that his lover had lost their baby, he committed suicide by throwing himself under a train.Reuse content