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A FORMER WONERSH SEMINARIAN SPEAKS.

Dear Pat Buckley,

Thanks for adding a couple of posts on your blog about what’s going on at St. John’s Seminary in Wonersh.
I’m an ex seminarian who spent almost 6 years at that place. The first years under the old rector Mgr Jeremy Garrett were great, but once Canon Brian Coyle took over as rector all hell broke loose.
You might find the following information interesting and helpful for future blogs about Wonersh (Pls. don’t stop writing about what is going on there, the stories need to be told and hopefully there will be a change in the regime at the seminary)

Canon Brian Coyle arrived at St. John’s seminary in the beginning of 2014. He introduced himself at the first lunch after half term saying something like “My bishop sent me here because I have emotional problems I need to work on and this might he suggested St. John’s seminary in the countryside would be a good place to do so”. He clearly stated that he had emotional problems and that it was his bishop (Then Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark) that had sent him there. I remember I thought it was a very weird that a bishop would send a priest that is suffering from emotional problems to a seminary.
He didn’t have a role at the seminary until the new seminary year started in 2014 but he did walk around in the building correcting seminarians for what he thought and found the seminarians needed to be corrected for, shouting at them for things like coming back from the bathroom still brushing their teeth when walking back to their room, or for seminarians laughing and playing board games in “the dive” (students common room which was supposed to be student only area free from staff – just like staff had an staff only area free from students)

From September 2014 he took over the role for Human formation at the seminary. He became the one to one human formation tutor for the new students where they had to talk about personal things. Earlier the seminary had used professional psychologists for this task and it had been a free zone where students could went and deal with personal things and issues – now everything had to go through Canon Brian Coyle, at this point not a voting member of the staff but had a seat and the right to speak at staff meeting where students were discussed and voted over.

Canon Brian was also the teacher in “priesthood and sexuality” where theological aspects of the celibacy for priests were supposed to be taught. While the other teacher (there were two of them) stuck to the topic, Canon Brian was obsessed with homosexuality and what ever he talked about during the course was in one or other way about homosexuality and gay people. How he had ended up at a meeting for gay priests, how we should be careful in our approach when meeting people so they wouldn’t think we were gay etc.

He was not liberal in what he said, he stuck to the church teaching, but he talked about it so often during the course that he almost seemed obsessed about the topic and that the course in that sense – even if it was very classical church teaching and conservative in his view – became very “homosexualized”.

Another thing that I remember from these classes are how Canon Brian became furious if someone brought a glass of water or similar with them to the lecture. It was ok, according to him, if a teacher or priest did that but God forbid if a seminarian did that! If it happened Canon Brian would shout at the seminarian in a very nasty way in front of everyone in the classroom.

During the seminary year 2014-2015 there were rumors and whispers about what Can Brian’s role actually was at the seminary. Was he there to spy on the rector, staff and seminarians and report back to the archbishop?

Was he investigating something, if not anything that had happened but if it would be possible to close the seminary due to love numbers of students and move the remaining students to other seminaries? Or was he actually there to learn more about the seminary and become the new rector when Mgr Jeremy Garrett had done his 10 year term as rector?

These rumors and whispers became even stronger during the seminary year 2015-2016 when it was clear that the old rector was going to move out at the end of the year and there was no new rector appointed.

Archbishop Peter Smith paid the seminary a visit every month, and in February he announced at lunch that Fr. Brian was appointed the new rector. I and many other seminarians started to worry about our future, how could they appoint a man that is clearly having deep emotional problems a rector of a seminary?

Immediately after he was appointed Canon Brian openly started to talk about changes he would implement once he took over as a rector, for example he thought it was too much free time that had to be filled with something (the free time is actually not free time – it is study time when students are supposed to do academical work like reading and writing) and the seminarians had way too much freedom – they should really learn about the hierarchy and learn their place in the hierarchy!

I was lucky to be on pastoral placement in a parish the first year Canon Brian was a rector. But during my time in the parish I heard about what was going on a the seminary – students being pinned to the wall by the throat by the rector and threatened, freedom of movement was taken away, people shouted at for having a beard or if they had a cup of tea outside their own room or the refectory. Students that in their free time walking up to Chilworth abbey for mass or prayer were in the same ways shouted at and corrected. I wonder if this had something to do with that the Benedictine community in Chilworth is the same community that Canon Brian used to be part of but left when they still were in Ramsgate?!
When we came back to the seminary at Christmas to take part in fellow seminarians ordination we were called into the rectors office and shouted at that He is the rector and in charge and whatever old rules that we are following are not valid anymore.

He told us that he hated the old rector Mgr Jeremy Garrett and he wanted to get rid of everything that reminded about him. One student on placement had traveled over 24 hours to get back to the seminary due to placement overseas, and he was not allowed to catch up with the jetlag and time difference, instead the student was called into the rectors office and shouted at that such behavior was not to be tolerated.

I have a lot more to tell about how St. John’s has turned into hell after Fr. Brian took over as a rector, more will come in a future email. A last thing for this time:
In February 2018 Can Brian came up with new rules for movement around the seminary. While staff and guests can move freely around the seminary students are now cut off from 2/3 of the seminary building like they are prisoners.

They are also encourage to use the Gym instead of going for walks in the area – a way to keep them away from the world outside and under control. See attachment for a picture of the fancy expensive brass signs he put up on most doors at the seminary!

God bless and keep up the good work with your blog.