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Sunday 11 December 2016

Ex-trainee priest to meet gardaí over Maynooth sex abuse claims

Sarah MacDonald

Published 02/08/2016 | 02:30

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Photo: Collins
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Photo: Collins

A former trainee priest who alleges he was harassed by a member of staff while studying at the national seminary in Maynooth is to meet members of the Garda sexual assault unit over the coming days to file a formal complaint against the priest.

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The man, who wishes to remain anonymous for now, told the Irish Independent that the priest concerned was meant to be his "spiritual father" who would help him to "discern if God was calling" him to serve in the priesthood, and also to "act as a support and guide in living a chaste and celibate life".

Instead, he alleges that the priest placed his hand on him inappropriately on a number of occasions, and that he asked him very intimate questions concerning his sexuality during meetings. This, he said, was not part of the priest's remit.

He also told salacious jokes during the meetings.

"I am now, thank God, a happily married man. My faith was severely shaken after my experience in Maynooth, and I suffered from severe depression for a long time," he recounted.

He said he would "definitely not suggest Maynooth to any young man currently considering a vocation".

"I am not homophobic - my main issue with the priest is that he grievously abused his position of power and influence," he said, adding that he believes the Church has lost many vocations because some members of staff in Maynooth have behaved inappropriately and because seminarians' grievances are not listened to.

Investigation

The man, who joined the seminary at 26, reported his experience at the hands of the priest to the college president and vice president in Maynooth, and though he was invited to return to his studies, he declined, saying the priest concerned needed to be "investigated and disciplined".

However, an internal complaints panel which investigated his claims did not find any grounds on which to discipline the priest.

"I was highly disillusioned and depressed with the Irish Church at the time," he said.

"When I was in Maynooth there was an atmosphere of neurotic fear among seminarians who loved the Church and wanted to be holy priests. Seminarians felt they had no support from their bishops in relation to voicing their concerns about problems with priests or formation programmes in the seminary.

"This type of atmosphere protects and enables abusers."

Separately, another former seminarian who studied in Maynooth for three years has told the Irish Independent that he believes part of the problem which prevents abusive behaviour by staff and senior seminarians being tackled in Maynooth is the culture of secrecy that pervades the seminary and the Church.

"Within nine weeks of commencing formation, each seminarian is summoned by order by the president to enforce the signing of confidentiality agreements forbidding the disclosure of any activities - heard, seen or experienced - within the seminary, including disclosure to our families," he said.

He likened the practice to confidentiality agreements signed by victims of child sexual abuse, and said it contributed to the "culture of secrecy within the Church".

"The hierarchy of the college still enforces this same type of emotional abuse and control over its own seminarians, stripping them of their liberty and human rights to speak freely," the disappointed former trainee priest said.

He claimed the compulsory agreements are "deceitfully presented to the fledgling and naive seminarian without prior warning, explanation or consultation".

They are told they must be signed when presented, and the seminarian is given no choice or any opportunity for understanding or seeking advice on the agreement.

He said the experience had left him "feeling disgusted, intimidated and ambushed".

Meanwhile, the editor of the 'Catholic Voice' newspaper has warned that seminarians who report inappropriate behaviour are being expelled from Maynooth, as happened last May.

Read more: Martin removes priests from Maynooth amid allegations some seminarians were using gay dating app Grindr

Read more: Unholy row as Martin removes priests from Maynooth seminary

Anthony Murphy said: "It is unfathomable - the one who speaks up is punished, while those engaging in behaviour which the Church regards as objectively sinful remain in formation for the Catholic priesthood.

"The only thing that can save Maynooth is a complete overhaul - a new leadership team needs to be appointed."

He also called on the bishops to publish the full report of the Apostolic Visitation and appoint a senior bishop to ensure the recommendations made within it are implemented in full.

Separately, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin (pictured inset) has explained that his decision not to send trainee priests to St Patrick's College, Maynooth was due to a worrying "atmosphere" at the national seminary.

Following on from the Irish Independent's story yesterday, Dr Martin said that he "wasn't happy with Maynooth".

"There seems to be an atmosphere of strange goings-on there, it seems like a quarrelsome place with anonymous letters being sent around," he told the 'Irish Times'.

"I don't think this is a good place for students. However, when I informed the president of Maynooth of my decision, I did add 'at least for the moment'."

Irish Independent

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