The press secretary of the newly appointed Archbishop of Westminster has apologised for verbally abusing a student during a meal at Blackfriars College.
The senior aide to Vincent Nichols, who was installed as Archbishop of Westminster yesterday, is alleged to have launched an unprovoked “foul-mouthed tirade” against Oxford student Matthew Tye after a dinner with Francis Campbell, British ambassador to the Vatican and former policy advisor to Tony Blair, at the Aquinas Institute at Blackfriars College, Oxford.
Mr. Campbell had delivered an open lecture on Faith and Foreign Policy before attending the dinner with other distinguished guests, to which Tye had been invited.
A masters student at Campion Hall, Tye claims that after “drinking heavily” at the dinner, a “plastered” Mr. Jennings – whom he had met once before while interning for a Catholic organisation at The Birmingham Oratory – launched into a verbal attack on him, repeatedly calling him a “sh*t”, concluding with “Nobody wants you, good riddance” as he made for the left the room.
“It was completely unprovoked… and quite unbelievable,” said Tye.
“There were guests who tried to calm him down but to no avail.”
He said that he was “in shock and dismay” at the incident, and he wrote to the Archbishop requesting an apology, in which he wrote, “I’ve never been subjected to such sustained verbal abuse in public in my entire life.”
The letter was leaked to the Mail on Sunday and the incident has subsequently been widely reported in the national press. On Monday the story featured on the front page of the online edition of Bugün Gazetesi, a major newspaper in Turkey, under the headline ‘Blasphemy scandal at Oxford’.
Although Mr. Jennings has issued an apology, Tye said that it was not sufficient, and was frustrated that neither Mr. Jennings – nor the Archbishop – had made any personal apology expressly to him.
“In his political apology, he made up the excuse that I’d brought up at dinner that he’d been sacked as spokesman of Birmingham Oratory,” he said.
“More than anything I’m appalled that someone in his position is lying and trying to spin his way out of trouble.
“His credibility is completely destroyed, and the political apology is a disgrace. I just want an honest and sincere apology, accepting what he did and apologising for the embarrassment caused to all the guests who were there,” he added.
He also remarked that he thought that Mr. Jennings would be “fired in a subtle way” once the storm had died down.
Mr. Jennings has referred to the scandal and subsequent press coverage as a “storm in a teacup, or rather a typhoon in a teaspoon”, and denied many of the allegations against him.
“I most emphatically was not drunk,” he insisted. “I probably used the derogatory term beginning with ‘S’, two, maybe three times.”
He also denied that Tye had he had failed to apologise to Tye directly, and refuted claims that the attack was unprovoked.
“I have sent Mr. Tye a letter of apology which he requested, but have had no acknowledgement of this. I would expect him to accept the apology; instead, he has not had the courtesy to reply.”
Asked whether Archbishop Nichols might make a statement or apology, Mr Jennings was resolute that he would make “none whatsoever.”
“I was not representing him at the time, I was invited there in a private capacity.
“Far more offensive is that the letter has been leaked to the Mail on Sunday. Someone has deliberately given them the letter… out of malice and mischief.
“But again, I do apologise for speaking out of turn.”
Mr. Tye, on the other hand, joked that “he should probably go and be spokesman for Al-Qaeda or something,” but insisted that he was trying to “laugh off the matter”.
The outburst was not the first in Mr. Jennings’ career. Last month, it was reported Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, had been on the receiving end of a similar tirade following a discussion on the fact that Mr. Wynne-Jones had recently reported in the Telegraph “that a couple of Vincent Nichols’s colleagues were not particularly warm to the idea of him arriving in Westminster.”
“Considering Peter should have been celebrating given that his boss has just got the top job, I thought he might have been in a slightly better mood”, Mr. Wynne-Jones reported.