Call for 'substantial reform' of Irish College

Sat, Jun 16, 2012, 01:00

MISSION:THAT THERE should be “substantial reform” at the Irish College in Rome was just one of a number of opinions expressed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in his visitation report.

His “major conclusion” was “that the bishops of Ireland must reaffirm the identity and mission of the college as first and foremost, a house of priestly formation for seminarians from Ireland, with the presence of non-Irish seminarians and graduate priests from Ireland and elsewhere, never allowed to dwarf the primary mission and identity, as he fears it now does”.

His “strong concern” was that “in reality, the Irish seminarians are only a minority subset in the house (18 in an enrolment of 56, less than one-third!). The clear identity of the college as primarily an Irish seminary is thus compromised”. He felt that “the presence of Orthodox students in the house, as well as of the Eastern Rite Catholic men not preparing for the celibate life”, was an added complication.

He noted that “one prelate asked the wisdom of having the bishops of Ireland subsidise a house for predominately [sic] non-Irish seminarians and priests”. He also recommended that “the graduate priests ordinarily come from Ireland and that their number be fewer than that of the seminarians”.

He continued: “The Apostolic Visitor’s recommendation is that the college accept only seminarians from Ireland; if a seminarian is accepted from another country, it should be extraordinary; they should only enter at the start of the first-year and must demonstrate a facility in English. Eastern Rite and Orthodox students should not be accepted.”

It is understood that the four Irish Catholic archbishops found this element of the cardinal’s report “surprising”. This was particularly so as the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity had requested the Irish College, as it did other seminaries in Rome, to take in Orthodox students.

It was also the case that Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, had publicly acknowledged the generous role played by the Irish College in the education and ongoing formation of seminarians and priests from some of the most vulnerable Eastern Rite Catholic communities.

One such was Fr Ragheed Ghanni, a Chaldean Catholic priest murdered in Iraq in 2007. He had studied at the Irish College from 1996 to 2003.