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Martin needs to end the gossip by telling Catholics what is going on


St Patrick’s College, Maynooth: ‘If there is a problem, the country’s Catholics need to be told about it; it is, after all, the national seminary’ Photo: Arthur Carron

St Patrick’s College, Maynooth: ‘If there is a problem, the country’s Catholics need to be told about it; it is, after all, the national seminary’ Photo: Arthur Carron

St Patrick’s College, Maynooth: ‘If there is a problem, the country’s Catholics need to be told about it; it is, after all, the national seminary’ Photo: Arthur Carron

Following one official report after another into the disastrous handling of clerical child abuse scandals by the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, at the end of 2010, announced an 'Apostolic Visitation' to Irish dioceses, religious orders and seminaries.

To put it more simply, he sent an inspection team to investigate the church's child-protection systems. In the case of the seminaries, in particular St Patrick's College, Maynooth, the national seminary, the purpose was to see how well they were being run.

The man who headed up the inspection of the seminaries was the Archbishop of New York, the ebullient Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was himself rector for a time of the National American College in Rome - that is the North American seminary in Rome, the American equivalent of our Irish College there.

The details of his subsequent investigation into the seminaries were never published. All we got was an outline of his recommendations.

One recommendation was that the 'episcopal governance' of the seminaries be improved; that is, the bishops should exercise more oversight. In the case of Maynooth, that means those who are its trustees.

What must Cardinal Dolan be thinking now, several years on from his inspection, assuming he has heard that Dublin will not be sending any of its trainee priests to Maynooth this autumn?

Instead, the three new entrants for this year from the Dublin archdiocese will be sent to the Irish College, which is headed by a Dublin priest, Mgr Ciarán O'Carroll.

Unfortunately, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has not given his reasons for doing this. He told this newspaper merely: "I have my own reasons for doing this" and that he had made the decision "some months ago".

Elsewhere, he referred to "strange goings-on there" and a "quarrelsome" atmosphere.

However, Dublin's Catholics - and indeed Ireland's Catholics generally - need and deserve to be told more than this. It is less than transparent to give that answer and no more.

If there is a problem at Maynooth, then the country's Catholics need to be told about it in some detail because it is, after all, the national seminary. It trains the great majority of the country's priests.

Perhaps the answer is as innocent as Archbishop Martin merely wanting to support the Irish College because it is being run by a friend and because it, like Maynooth, has low student numbers. If there is more to it than that, however, then ordinary Catholics doubly deserve to know.

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Otherwise, the gossip-mongering will go on and on and it will be very hard to sift fact from fiction.

I was editor of 'The Irish Catholic' from 1996 until 2003. Right from the start, past and present seminaries would contact me from time to time to make complaints about St Patrick's.

The complaints sometimes concerned the quality of the teaching and, in particular, the extent to which some lecturers departed from church teaching on certain key doctrines.

Some of the time, the complaints were about "inappropriate sexual behaviour" among the seminarians themselves.

I was never sure what to do about the complaints from a news point of view because even the past seminarians were extremely reluctant to go on the record.

If they were now ordained priests and went on the record, there could be a backlash from their bishop.

I know of one priest to whom this did happen.

Despite concerns such as the above, I did run stories about Maynooth from time to time. When I did, there were inevitable and immediate complaints that I was listening to 'gossip' and as editor of the country's main Catholic paper I should be above that.

However, complaints about various facets of life at Maynooth are incredibly persistent and this is why the trustees, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin included, owe it to the country's Catholics to give some idea of what is going on there.

Otherwise, all we are left with are the whispers and this will further reduce vocations to the priesthood.

As it is, Ireland is one of the world's vocations blackspots. Vocations here are low, even by the standards of other Western countries. The Irish church is doing well if it attracts 20 vocations in a year.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales, which is comparable in size to the Irish Church, had 35 vocations last year.

The figures there have bounced around from the mid-thirties to the mid-forties over the course of the last few years.

Maynooth currently has about 55 students training for the priesthood. If we had proportionately the same number of seminarians as the Catholic Church in the US, it would have about 180 students. Maynooth wouldn't know itself. Those sorts of numbers improve morale and generate confidence and both of these things in themselves attract vocations.

The very low morale that seems to be evident at St Patrick's College has the opposite effect and this will only be made worse following Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's decision.

This is why the bishops need to be transparent about what is happening and then they need to tell Ireland's Catholics what they intend doing to improve the situation there.

We might hear a lot about the lay church these days, and we ought to. But the church needs to have priests and a vibrant seminary can help provide them.

Whatever else might be said about Maynooth, it is certainly not vibrant.