The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has been accused of leading a "toxic and draconian" culture at Westminster Cathedral Choir School (WCCS) as part of a long-term strategy to abolish the choir.
The Daily Telegraph claims school staff members have reported being "silenced" by Cardinal Nichols, who sits as the school's president, through a string of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), pay-offs and settlements in a regime that more closely resembles "the Stasi training manual than the Bible," according an anonymous source, referring to the repressive security services in East Germany during the Cold War.
Rows have intensified at the school over the future of its choirboys after full-time boarding for choristers was scrapped last year, despite the fees for pupils remaining around £10,000 a year.
In response to the move, parents wrote an open letter to the cardinal in 2019, accusing him of disregarding the school's Catholic and cultural heritage.
A statement from the Diocese of Winchester outlines that "the change to the boarding schedule at Westminster Cathedral Choir School was made because of declining chorister recruitment," and explains that at the time of the timetable change the school had received just one sign up for the following September term.
It goes on to state that all chorister parents were consulted prior to the change being made, fulfilling the "contractual obligation of the school to the parents."
The statement clarifies that the Cardinal consulted the Trustees, the Archbishop's Council, the Cathedral Chapter, the Cathedral Administrator and the Cathedral Master of Music prior to March 2019.
WCCS insists that "the choristers are intrinsic to one of the School's aims: to support a world-class choir for Westminster Cathedral. The success of the Choir and the School (WCCS) are interdependent."
An investigation by the Telegraph reports that at least six current and former staff members have been prevented on speaking out on the issue, while at least three NDAs are thought to have been directly linked to the timetable changes.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Westminster told Premier "the Cardinal has no involvement with admissions to or management of the school" and has accused the Telegraph's article of being "full of conjecture and inaccuracy".