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Seminary finds itself in midst of controversy once again


Monsignor Micheál Ledwith. Photo: Tom Burke

Monsignor Micheál Ledwith. Photo: Tom Burke

Monsignor Micheál Ledwith. Photo: Tom Burke

Once again, the national seminary in Maynooth, which has been educating men for the catholic priesthood since 1795, finds itself mired in scandal.

There are currently approximately 80 men studying for the priesthood at Maynooth.

For most of its recent history, Maynooth comprised three colleges in one: the national seminary; St Patrick's College, a pontifical university; and NUI Maynooth, a secular college.

Under the 1997 Universities Act, the seminary and pontifical college formally split from NUIM, giving it greater autonomy as a secular university.

It was Monsignor Micheál Ledwith, who, in his final year as president of Maynooth, oversaw that separation.

A priest of the diocese of Ferns, Ledwith was first appointed a lecturer in theology at St Patrick's College in 1977.

At just 44, he was made college president. Seen as a future bishop, he was even tipped for the archdiocese of Dublin, before a number of abuse allegations brought his star tumbling to earth.

Ledwith has always denied the allegations.

In a setback for Maynooth, allegations that Ledwith had abused a child exploded just as it was about to launch its bicentenary celebrations and resulted in the president resigning six months early.

It later emerged that as early as 1983-84, Fr Gerard McGinnity, then a senior dean in Maynooth, had made complaints about Ledwith to seven bishops.

The Ferns Report in 2005 noted that the complaints related to alleged homosexual "orientation and propensity" but did not specify any improper conduct.

The then Bishop of Galway, Dr Eamon Casey, conducted a private investigation but as no seminarian came forward to make a complaint, the matter was dropped.

Fr McGinnity was pressured into stepping down from his position while Mgr Ledwith's appointment as president went ahead.

Maynooth again came under scrutiny in 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI ordered an Apostolic Visitation of the Irish Church including an investigation of all Irish seminaries, and St Patrick's College, Maynooth in particular.

As recently as 2011, reports circulated in the Catholic press in Ireland that plans were afoot to close Maynooth as a seminary and move all of the country's trainee priests to the other seminary, which the Irish church operates in Rome.

The decision by one trustee, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, to move his seminarians out of Maynooth this autumn to the Irish College in Rome is causing many to speculate once again about Maynooth's future.

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