The chair of governors at Westminster Cathedral Choir School has hit out at a widely circulated resignation letter from the cathedral’s music administrator, describing it as “dishonest and misleading”.
Madeleine Smith publicly resigned as music administrator at Westminster Cathedral at the end of last month. In her resignation letter, Smith claimed a “frightening and toxic atmosphere” and attempts to “undermine” the choir had caused her to leave her position. She also said the Catholic hierarchy had “tacitly enabled” the situation through “its refusal to recognise the problem, intervene, and mediate to find a workable solution between its employees.”
“I am leaving because I feel there is no alternative; that the position in which the Music Department finds itself is untenable, and I feel it has been so for quite a while,” Smith said, adding: “I thus reluctantly leave this wonderful and unique place with an extremely heavy heart, and no small amount of depression and anxiety.”
However, in a letter to parents obtained by the Daily Telegraph, David Hemingway, chair of governors at the choir school, urged parents to ignore “this constant barrage of untruths and deliberate misrepresentations”.
The letter, dated September 14, said: “I am reluctant to dignify this dishonest and misleading letter with a comment, but the School has been under sustained, hostile and unfair criticism from a number of people opposed to the modest changes it made to the chorister boarding schedule at weekends. I cannot responsibly allow further calumnies to remain unchallenged.”
“Absurd conspiracy theories about covert plans to close the choir, or phase out boarding altogether, or convert dormitories into classrooms to fund the Pre-Prep, have abounded,” he added. “None of them are true.”
Last year, the school’s governors announced controversial changes which included sending boarding students home on Fridays, returning on Sundays. Writing for the Catholic Herald, Colin Mawby, Westminster Cathedral’s late former Master of Music, said the changes put the choir’s musical quality “under serious threat”.
Calling for Cardinal Vincent Nichols to intervene, Mawby said the changes would make it impossible for families living outside of London to send their children to the school.
“There is no way a family living well outside London could collect a boy at 4pm on Friday and return him for 9pm on Sunday,” he said.
In January, Martin Baker suddenly resigned as the cathedral’s Master of Music with little immediate explanation. The Telegraph later reported that he had quit after failing to persuade Cardinal Nichols not to approve the new timetable changes.
In March this year, the paper also reported that current and former parents and members of staff claimed to have become embroiled in a regime of non-disclosure agreements, payoffs and settlements.
Referring to Madeleine Smith’s resignation letter, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Westminster said: “This letter, circulated by a former employee, is replete with inaccurate and baseless claims, which are personal attacks on certain individuals. It would appear that this employee is acting from a personal grudge.
“Westminster Cathedral Choir School and Westminster Cathedral, with its Music Department, are working closely together on the challenges of these difficult Covid-19 circumstances to secure the future of sacred music in the cathedral.”
The diocese responded to criticisms of the new timetable earlier this year, saying: “Parents of current choristers have overwhelmingly told the school that their children are happier and less tired under the new arrangements, and enjoy being with their families at the weekend.”
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