Irish College staff in Rome given no right of reply


OPINION:There is not a court in the world where a case based on such ‘evidence’ would even be heard

WHAT IS most striking about Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s visitation report on the Irish College in Rome is its ferocity towards staff at the seminary.

Its core conviction is that the college had an “anti-ecclesial bias” when it came to the theological formation of students. In other words, it was not orthodox enough for the cardinal or his team. There seemed to be a “tilt” there towards “theologians somewhat ambiguous on church teaching,” it said.

His report noted, for instance, that one lay lecturer at the college favoured a text which asserted that “the renewal of Vatican II has been clawed back . . . theologians have been made to suffer”.

He also found that “a disturbingly significant number of seminarians gave a negative assessment of the atmosphere at the house”. It was clear “the staff and students are dramatically divided in their approach to the church and the priesthood”, he reported.

How does he know this? Seminarians said so. As corroboration he quoted one seminarian, who said: “The house is tense and dysfunctional. The seminarians want to be priests as the church teaches. The staff work from approaches more characteristic of the 60s and 70s. Therefore, the level of trust between seminarian and staff is destroyed.”

The cardinal reported: “Such comments were, unfortunately, common among the students.” He continued: “The staff is critical about any emphasis on Rome, tradition, the Magisterium, piety, or assertive orthodoxy, while the students are enthusiastic about these features.” How does he know this? The students told him.

It allowed him conclude “substantial reform is needed at the Pontifical Irish College”.

And the staff? There is no record in his report of any instance where he discussed any of the seminarians’ criticisms with any of the four college staff. Nor is there one indication that he offered any of these men an opportunity to answer their student critics.

The consequences have been clear. Where the criticised college staff are concerned it has been a case of “off with their heads”. Dolan approved of just one staying on, terms and conditions applying, but this man too is heading home, at his own request.

The parallel between how Dolan and his team prepared their report on the priests at the Irish College and how those other Irish priests recently censured by the Vatican were dealt with would be uncanny in any other institution. Sadly, it has become all too familiar where the Catholic Church is concerned.

Where else today would unnamed accusers be so entertained as are those who bring criticisms of priests to the Vatican where they will be listened to earnestly if not eagerly?

Where else would you get away with censuring a person without them being allowed any opportunity to offer a defence?

Where else would such student-assisted evisceration of staff, as at the Irish College, and the meting out of punishment without a hearing, as there, be tolerated or even considered tolerable?

On top of this, there is the utter lack of any sort of consideration or respect for these men who have devoted their lives to the church.

Cardinal Dolan noted in his report that one of the priests criticised by seminarians had been planning to leave the college anyhow. “This is good,” he said. Years of loyal service dismissed in a spare, if pithy, three words.

For good measure he added that the replacement should be “neither” of the two priests considered most likely to suceed.

A second priest at the college had “created mistrust in the community”. He “should move on”, the cardinal said. A third priest appeared to seminarians to be “overworked, unprepared”. He should “be replaced”.

The fourth priest on the staff seemed “reluctant to address the unique identity of the priest”. He should “continue”, but “seek some further education in his field”. A priest who made occasional presentations at the college should be replaced.

The fate of these priests seems to have been decided upon, based almost entirely on one side of the story as told to Cardinal Dolan and his team. There is not a court in the world where a case based on such “evidence” would even be heard.

To compound this injustice, the priests complained of were not even entitled to see his report on them or the recommendations he made about them to the Vatican.

That, of course, has not stopped those recommendations being acted upon, and with some alacrity. By the end of this academic year all staff who had been at the Irish College seminary when Cardinal Dolan and his team visited there will be gone.

He also does the college no great favour in another context. He refers to the injustice of a perception that it had a reputation for being “gay-friendly”. Then, “for the sake of thoroughness”, he quotes at length three cases reported at the college involving foreign seminarians which may or may not have involved homosexual intent. It is not at all clear. He names names throughout.

The more concrete fourth case involved two named Irish students, one of whom was dismissed for paying “undue attention” and making “improper advances” to another.

Having lavished much space on these cases, where there was not one actual incident of homosexual activity, he was “eager” to underline that he “did not find any evidence of rampant immorality, or a homosexual subculture” at the college.

Rather, he found, “that the overwhelming majority of the seminarians are committed to a faithful, chaste lifestyle”.

So why all the rigmarole over homosexuality in his report then?

He could have dismissed gossip in the same pithy way he dealt with the staff, or with child protection at the college.

In his entire 17-page report, child protection merits just two three-line paragraphs. One outlined the personnel involved. The second said that child and youth protection at the college was “inadequate”. No explanation is provided, no grounds given, no seminarian quoted. Just simple assertion.

And there is nowhere near the detail on child protection in his report comparable to that on the “unjust” perception of the college as gay-friendly or advice by seminarians that staff might be less than orthodox theologically.

Child protection is not the real focus in this report. Cardinal Dolan and his team, it seems, had bigger fish to fry.

PATSY McGARRYis Religious Affairs Correspondent for The Irish Times

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