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Thursday 8 December 2016

Crisis in Maynooth: Growing disquiet about scandal won't just go away

Published 06/08/2016 | 02:30

St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Picture:Arthur Carron
St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Picture:Arthur Carron

'The dogs in the street know Maynooth in its current state is not fit for purpose... this is my experience of Maynooth. What have our bishops to fear in thoroughly reforming our national seminary?"

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These words were those of a young student at the national seminary.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath

He loves the Church, he explains - but what he has met with in Maynooth is a formation structure that prefers him to be "worldly, to be just one of the lads, to be a 'yes man' who'll not offer the challenge of the Gospel to the modern world".

His words were spoken by an actor on RTÉ radio - but there can be little doubt that the authorities in Maynooth have already figured out the identity of the young seminarian behind the sentiment.

If the situation at the national seminary is as many claim it to be, it seems possible that he will soon be approached and advised that his vocation is not working out. But his removal will not quell a disquiet that has mounted to a deafening hum in the wake of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's announcement that he would be transferring three Dublin seminarians to Rome because of "strange goings-on" at Maynooth.

"There seems to an atmosphere of strange goings-on there, it seems like a quarrelsome place with anonymous letters being sent around," Dr Martin stated simply.

Monsignor Hugh Connolly,President of St. Patricks College,Maynooth. Photo Kenneth O Halloran
Monsignor Hugh Connolly,President of St. Patricks College,Maynooth. Photo Kenneth O Halloran

He pulled no punches, describing allegations of a "homosexual, gay culture, that students are using an app called Grindr, a gay dating app".

The nation gaped at the incongruity of a high-profile Archbishop explaining such a concept on the national news.

Coming from a man sent by the Vatican to clean up the Irish Church in the wake of the horrifying child sexual abuse scandal - in addition to his overwhelming popularity with the public - his verdict on Maynooth carried special weight.

Yet, over the next 48 hours, the rest of the Catholic hierarchy scrambled to express their unwavering commitment to Maynooth.

Technically more senior, the Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland, told the Irish Independent that the Archdiocese was "extremely grateful to St Patrick's College, Maynooth, for the spiritual, human, pastoral and academic formation that he received there".

He was echoed by Archbishops Michael Neary and Kieran O'Reilly.

What could have prompted Archbishop Martin to take such a bold step in the full knowledge that he would be left isolated by his peers?

An uneasy question now hangs over an institution that dates back to 1793 - opened when the French Revolutionary wars forced the closure of Irish Colleges on the continent.

Rumours swirling around Maynooth for decades were confirmed by the Ferns Report in 2005 - which found truth in the allegations that former Maynooth president Michael Ledwith had abused a young man called 'Raymond' in the early 1980s from the age of 13 until after his 15th birthday.

With that matter laid to rest, this latest crisis had its roots in the ongoing rumblings in the blog posts of self-styled 'Bishop' Pat Buckley - with plenty of axes to grind and little to lose, which claimed a 'gay sub-culture' existed in Maynooth.

"Clearly, if anyone is not living in celibacy, they should not be in a seminary," said President of the seminary Monsignor Hugh Connolly yesterday.

He told RTÉ that it was "difficult" to investigate anonymous complaints.

Put to him that the editor of the 'Catholic Voice', Anthony Murphy, had attempted to show him a picture of a young seminarian on the Grindr app, but he had refused on grounds that it was anonymous, Mgr Connolly argued that being shown it on a phone while walking up the corridor was not "the proper way to do things".

Amid this unsettling backdrop, young seminarians are preparing to return to Maynooth in September.

Brian Sheehan of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network warned of the pressures facing these young men at this time.

"It's very hard to devote yourself to an organisation that says 'you're evil'," he said of the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality.

He added that there were key issues to be addressed by the Catholic Church - the issue of celibacy and whether they will openly acknowledge the existence and contribution of gay priests.

Meanwhile, Mark Dooley has been in touch with the Irish Independent to point out that he formerly worked as a philosophy lecturer at Maynooth University and not at the seminary, St Patrick's, as reported on Thursday. Seminarians are obliged to take courses in philosophy at the university.

Read more: 'I felt it was not the healthiest place for my students to be' - Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Read more: Seminary system is 'alien to the needs of the student'

Irish Independent

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