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Saturday 19 October 2019

Church leaders admit 'unhealthy atmosphere' at college amid gay dating app Grindr row

Sarah MacDonald

The Catholic Church hierarchy has admitted concerns about an "unhealthy atmosphere" at the country's main seminary amid claims trainee priests there are using the gay dating app Grindr.

Church leaders have ordered a review on the "appropriate use of the internet and social media" at the centuries-old St Patrick's College in Maynooth, Co Kildare, as well as an overhaul of its approach to whistleblowers.

The college trustees - four archbishops and 13 senior bishops - met for crisis talks after the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin confirmed he was boycotting the seminary.

As 14 new seminarians began their six years of training for the priesthood at St Patrick's College this week, Maynooth's trustees issued a range of directives aimed at rebuilding the seminary's tarnished image.

In a tacit acknowledgment of the problems that have beset Maynooth in recent months, the trustees warned in their statement: "There is no place in a seminary community for any sort of behaviour or attitude which contradicts the teaching and example of Jesus Christ."

They ordered Maynooth's seminary authorities to evaluate and review its policy regarding "the appropriate use of the internet and social media".

A source in Maynooth told the Irish Independent that the clampdown goes further than the directives announced by the trustees.

Earlier this month, Dr Martin announced he was withdrawing his seminarians from the Co Kildare college and sending them to the Irish College in Rome.

Review: Maynooth College, founded in 1795 Photo: Arthur Carron
Review: Maynooth College, founded in 1795 Photo: Arthur Carron

In an RTÉ interview, the Archbishop spoke about the "poisonous" atmosphere in the college.

He described gay dating app Grindr as something which promoted promiscuity - and was therefore contrary to the teachings of the Church and the celibacy demanded for Catholic priests and seminarians.

Maynooth's trustees have asked the Irish Bishops' Conference to commission an independent audit and report of governance and statutes in Irish seminaries. This would cover, in addition to Maynooth, the Irish College in Rome and St Malachy's College in Belfast.

In tandem with this, the bishops have been asked to "urgently" develop a uniform national policy for admissions to Irish seminaries.

No such uniform national policy currently exists and so individual dioceses make the decision.

It is also expected that a pre-seminary year will become a mandatory requirement for all candidates for formation to the priesthood.

Another significant development will see the establishment of a sub-committee to examine the pastoral needs of priestly training in contemporary Ireland.

This sub-committee will involve lay people, families and "especially" women in priestly formation, as recently recommended by Pope Francis.

On the issue of whistleblowing, Maynooth's trustees have ordered a review of current policies and procedures for reporting complaints.

This is a matter of particular concern to those seminarians who claimed they were intimidated into silence when they witnessed inappropriate behaviour.

They said this has been directed with a view to adopting best practice and procedures for 'protected disclosures', or whistleblowing.

Founded in 1795, Maynooth College was once the largest seminary in the world. It was built to train 500 trainee Catholic priests every year, but numbers have fallen to just over 40.

Irish Independent

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