Maynooth’s opaque culture major part of problem

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is clearly frustrated with history of controversy

Of Maynooth, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said:“I don’t think this is a good place for students .” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Of Maynooth, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said:“I don’t think this is a good place for students .” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

‘The closed strange world of seminaries,’ was how Archbishop Diarmuid Martin put it yesterday, when speaking of the latest Maynooth crisis. There is no doubt that the opaque culture of such institutions has contributed greatly to the latest controversy besetting Ireland’s national seminary.

“Maynooth is 200 years old. It has a long tradition and a proud tradition but I feel that for the situation in Dublin we probably need a different way in the long term,” the archbishop said.

O tempora! O mores! (Oh the times! Oh the customs!) It is already clear, whatever the reaction of other bishops, that nothing can be the same again if Maynooth is to retain the confidence of Irish Catholics.

When a trustee at Maynooth such as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin publicly articulates in such forthright terms his anxieties about what has been going on there, action will be forced on his fellow trustee archbishops and bishops to act. But venerable institutions are notoriously difficult to change, as has been seen with the Catholic Church itself. Old customs/practices die very hard.

In 2002 this newspaper disclosed how a senior dean at Maynooth, Fr Gerard McGinnity, had his career destroyed. Acting as whistleblower on behalf of senior seminarians in 1983/84, he alerted trustee bishops at St Patrick’s College to allegedly inappropriate behaviour involving then college vice-president Msgr Micheál Ledwith and younger seminarians . Msgr Ledwith went on to become president but resigned suddenly in 1994. In 2002 a statement from the bishops admitted Msgr Ledwith had made a private settlement with a minor who claimed he was sexually abused by him.

In 1984 Fr McGinnity was sent on sabbatical to Rome before being appointed to a rural parish in the North. He was never allowed hold another post in Maynooth while the man whose alleged activities he attempted to expose was promoted to one of the most senior positions in the Irish Catholic church.

There is an uneasy parallel between how the Maynooth authorities dealt with Fr McGinnity and how another whistleblower was dealt with there more recently. It is one of the main stories behind the current crisis. In this instance a seminarian, and late vocation, made allegations of ongoing sexual harassment by an adult at the college between his entering in 2007 and 2009, when he made the complaint.

Aggrieved

An internal inquiry found his allegations unproven and he was invited by college authorities to move on and continue with his studies. He has told The Irish Times that he felt so aggrieved at the process of the inquiry and its finding, that he left Maynooth depressed and disillusioned. He has since married. He further alleged that after he left the college a seminarian who witnessed an incident of his alleged harassment and four others who were friends of his at Maynooth, also left following dealings with authorities.

Serious questions were also raised about the fairness of a more recent inquiry which led to another seminarian’s dismissal. Last April/May he faced bully- ing complaints by two fellow seminarians he allegedly had found in bed together.

Unrelated to the allegations above, and the recent allegations of sexual misconduct, two senior departures also added to the disquiet. These included the unexpected resignation of Fr David Marsden, vocational growth counsellor, in June which was said to be related chiefly to his concerns about theological formation. This became an issue last year when six seminarians were advised to take time out as they were deemed too theologically rigid/conservative. Three were allowed continue after their bishops’ intervention.

In June it also emerged that president Msgr Hugh Connolly was granted leave of absence for study purposes. What made this seem odd was its timing, as Msgr Connolly is due to end his term as president next year. It was emphasised that his going on sabbatical was unrelated to recent events and he would continue his duties as president into 2017 when, at the conclusion of his sabbatical, he would return as professor of moral theology.

Clearly, cumulatively, this has all proven too much for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin which, combined with his own frustrated attempts to have something done about it all, would appear to have prompted his decision to send future Dublin seminarians to the Irish College in Rome. Of Maynooth he said:“I don’t think this is a good place for students .”

‘Anti-ecclesial bias’

An irony in this is that the Irish College in Rome was eviscerated by the Cardinal Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan when he led an apostolic visitation in 2011. In his report, leaked to The Irish Times , he found the college had an “anti-ecclesial bias” in theological formation; it was not orthodox enough. He described as injustice a perception that the Rome college had a reputation as “gay-friendly”. Detailing four alleged incidents, he found no evidence “of rampant immorality, or a homosexual subculture”. Since then all priests/staff at the Irish College in Rome in 2011 have been replaced.

The cardinal’s report on Maynooth was never published or leaked but a recommendation in a published summary was that “the seminary buildings be exclusively for seminarians of the local church” and it was said he was concerned about theological formation there . In January 2012 doors were installed at St Patrick’s College separating seminarians’ living quarters from the rest of the campus and a new entrance was constructed. A separate dining room was set up for seminarians.

Behind all of this lie ongoing concerns at the financial viability of the two seminaries at Maynooth and Rome. In March 2011 Msgr Connolly denied speculation that Maynooth was to close. In 2012 Archbishop Diarmuid Martin raised concerns about the future of the Irish College in Rome, to which Dublin priest Msgr Ciaran O’Carroll had just been appointed rector.

“The big question the visitation never addressed was how can Ireland at the moment maintain two seminaries,” Archbishop Martin told The Irish Times then. “Where are we going to get the students for it? If it’s going to be a vibrant seminary then you need the candidates.”

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