Drunk Tory official defaces church

OUCA official tore down papal flag after drinking event, sparking allegations of club’s anti-Catholicism

The papal flagpole outside the Oratory Church, Woodstock Road, where the incident took place. Photo: Jack Hunter/Cherwell.

An appointed committee member of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) was suspended last term after an act of drunken vandalism.

Following OUCA’s weekly Port and Policy event, at which the individual in question served port, he and two accomplices crossed St Giles’ road, climbed the flag pole of the Oratory Church, and tore down its papal flag.

The incident has sparked allegations of prevalent anti-Catholicism within the Assocation.

The Oratory Church refused to publicly comment, with multiple members of the church expressing an attitude of forgiveness towards the individual.

The individual was immediately suspended from OUCA by then-President William Rees-Mogg. The morning after the incident the individual attended mass, apologised profusely to a priest, and left his contact details, apparently at the request of OUCA committee members.

He has reportedly agreed to pay for the re-attaching of the flag to the pole, which at the time of print is yet to occur.

Speaking anonymously, the individual expressed regret, telling Cherwell: “This was a personal mistake and not indicative of the University or of OUCA”.

A former OUCA Political Officer said: “This is a microcosm of the abuse and debauchery at the top of OUCA. It is shameful that such anti-Catholic sentiment runs rife, especially from an unelected member personally appointed by William Rees-Mogg – a president whose primary wish was to protect his surname.”

Another OUCA member remarked that ‘Papist’ was regularly tossed about as an insult at Port and Policy, while the loyalty of Catholics towards the monarchy was frequently questioned. He commented that “by an eighth week Port and Policy, anti-Catholicism is pretty widespread”.

While acknowledging that ‘papist’ is used as an insult, Rees-Mogg strongly denied the allegations of anti-Catholicism. He told Cherwell: “I was of course deeply shocked to hear what had happened on that evening, and at once suspended the person in question. Such behaviour has no place within the modern Conservative movement.

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“As a confirmed and practising Catholic myself I do wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment given by the Oratory, that the individual, having apologised, and paid from his own pocket for the flag’s replacement, should be forgiven and allowed to move on”.

“I’m also a little confused about the above claims of a rise in anti-Catholic sentiment within OUCA. If such a sentiment exists it seems odd to me that I should not have encountered it during two years of involvement within the society.

“I certainly do not think that the use of terms such as ‘papist’ should be taken to heart any more than friendly cries of sound and shame. My accuser, being an ex-member of committee, also knows full well that he was welcome to attend the meeting at which I proposed the individual become a committee member (an event which passed with no objections).

“I will admit that, like most people, I do tend to try to avoid my name being blackened unfairly, especially in circumstances where I have not actually done anything wrong.

“I’m only sorry that my accuser has decided to be quite so openly vile, while making sure to protect his own anonymity. He is of course welcome to come forward and address his concerns to me in public”.

Another member of OUCA, speaking anonymously, told Cherwell: “It’s a source of great puzzlement to me, but there seem to be people with little better to do than go after William Rees-Mogg via the rumour mill and the press.

“Anyone who has met him knows he has done nothing to deserve it.”

The incident follows a confidential Conservative Party report leaked to the media which suggested moving “risky student politics” completely out of the official party structure.

By integrating Conservative Future branches within local associations, the party hope to “bring the youth wing firmly into the mainstream Party”.

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It comes after a wave of recent student Tory scandals, such as reports of student Tories at St Andrews setting fire to an effigy of Obama.

Earlier this year, a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association suspended his studies after a video emerged of him burning a £20 note in front of a homeless man. The student has since resumed his studies.

The Oratory Church declined to comment.