Sunday 26 January 2020

Maynooth is not the only casualty - the faithful are also being hurt

St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland’s National Seminary. Photo: Arthur Carron
St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland’s National Seminary. Photo: Arthur Carron

Sarah MacDonald

The news that gardaí have told a former seminarian who alleges that he was sexually harassed by a member of staff in the National Seminary in Maynooth that they are taking his complaint seriously and that an investigation will be launched is significant in the latest chapter of the scandal.

A day after the Irish Independent reported the story of a man who made allegations of inappropriate behaviour at the seminary, he approached gardaí to make a preliminary statement about alleged harassment.

"They certainly felt that a couple of isolated incidents which I mentioned did warrant investigation by them, and would be deemed sexual assault," he said.

"I will be meeting them next week in person to provide a written statement concerning the above."

Later that day, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin described the atmosphere in the National Seminary in Maynooth as "poisonous".

He was speaking on radio yesterday following his decision to pull his trainee priests from Maynooth and send them to Rome instead.

Seminarians currently studying in Maynooth have reportedly resorted to anonymous letters in order to bring their concerns to the attention of the bishops and seminary hierarchy.

Now their allegations have been given a much greater platform with the controversial decision made by Archbishop Martin.

Yesterday, the president of Maynooth, Monsignor Hugh Connolly, moved to emphasise that amid anonymous allegations and claims on blogs, due process has to be adhered to and allegations must be investigated in a thorough and facts-based way.

What the current crisis shows is that the seminary has lost the trust of its student priests who don't feel that the complaints procedure put in place in the wake of the McCullough Report is working for them.

Archbishop Martin claimed he had offered to provide an independent person who whistleblowers could approach with their concerns. However, the response to this offer was the publication of more anonymous letters.

He is clearly frustrated - but so are those making the anonymous complaints. An impartial forum needs to be established that has sufficient distance from the seminary and the bishops to make seminarians and staff feel comfortable.

Meanwhile, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), usually one of the most trenchant critics of the hierarchy, issued a statement in defence of Maynooth.

Describing those behind the complaints as either conservative commentators who consistently criticise Maynooth for not facilitating the concerns of traditional candidates, or disgruntled ex-seminarians who were deemed unsuitable for priesthood by the seminary, they appear to find the allegations unsound.

They are concerned that "right-wing commentators who are unhappy with the focus on the theology of the Second Vatican Council" are behind these blogs that "consistently attack the Catholic Church".

But perhaps that is too facile. The type of men currently attracted to the priesthood tend to be serious and conservative and would have little truck with the agenda of the ACP. So the fact that some of them are indulging in inappropriate behaviour suggests that something is seriously wrong with the current formation programme.

One thing the ACP is correct on is that "it is important that the highest standards prevail in Maynooth".

The damage this controversy will do to Maynooth is only exceeded by the damage it will do to an increasingly disillusioned Catholic faithful, wondering just how many more scandals the Church can withstand.

Irish Independent

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