Monday 27 January 2020

Anna Nolan: 'I knew nuns and priests who loved to meet for a snog - and some light petting'

Anna Nolan
Anna Nolan
‘I have reconnected with my Catholic faith as an adult after a long journey of endless possibilities.’ (Picture posed)
St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which has been at the centre of controversy over the experience of seminarians. Photo: Arthur Carron

Anna Nolan

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin is not happy with how the Maynooth seminary is being run, so he has decided to send his trainee priests to the Irish College in Rome. Other bishops don’t seem too put out.

By the sound of things, there seems to be a few shenanigans going on in Maynooth. Not only is there alleged use of dating sites, you naughty boys, but they’re all ratting on each other through anonymous letters and blogs.

“Dear Vocations Director, I was doing my weekly wash in the laundry room when out of the corner of my I saw Brother Whatsisname swipe right. No, he wasn’t swatting a fly, he was on dating site Grindr.

“I would like to bring this to your attention because, if Bro-ther Whatsisname is on Grindr, why can’t the rest of us? Yours sincerely, Brother Anonymous.”

OK, I’ll be serious for a moment. From the age of 19 to 22 I trained with the Loreto sisters.  In my first year as a postulant, I trained in Mount Argus with about 12 other trainee nuns and priests. We had people from Mercy, Daughters of Charity, Franciscan orders. Young men and women. All there to learn the ropes. We were a sweet, young, innocent group who were filled with enthusiasm and vocation.

The following year, I was in a different group. It was a training group for novices, with other young men and women. But this was different. We were a bit older, more confident. The relationships in the group were stronger. I know that as well as testing out our faith, some tested their ability to snog.

Two friends of mine who had been on that course the year before as novice nuns (they’ve since left) would regularly go out and meet some of the trainee priests for a little light petting.

It was seen, by us anyway, as working out whether a life of celibacy was one that we could handle. And many couldn’t.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath

I remember when I left Lor-eto and came out as a gay woman, I was in the old Parliament Bar, on Parliament Street. I was there one evening and I noticed one of the young trainee priests in there on his own. When he saw me he left.

I felt sad for him because I wondered if he would have to live his life as a lie. Would he be a gay man secretly going into gay bars or would he have the confidence to leave the order and live an honest life?


Archbishop Martin is trying to bring some semblance of what it means to be a priest back into their training, but that horse has bolted.

Celibacy doesn’t work unless it’s voluntary. When you think about it, the hermits and anchorites of yore lived in seclusion. To expect men and women to live a celibate life is unreasonable and cruel.

The anonymous letters sounds like there’s a toxic environment in Maynooth. As for the boys being on Grindr? Here’s the rules – you sign up to being a priest, you sign up to being celibate. You don’t like that? Then leave.

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