A ‘culture of secrecy and fear’ at Maynooth seminary

Former seminarians tell of being obliged to sign confidentiality agreement on day one

Seminarians were called together by a senior staff member who reminded them of the document they had signed and pointed out that talking to the media about the college was a breach of confidentiality. Photograph: Getty Images

Seminarians were called together by a senior staff member who reminded them of the document they had signed and pointed out that talking to the media about the college was a breach of confidentiality. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Two former seminarians have said they were told to sign a confidentiality agreement binding them to secrecy about Maynooth in their first weeks in the seminary.

The first former seminarian, who contacted The Irish Times, was 21 when he entered St Patrick’s College in September 2005. He was “not streetwise, and this was my first time moving out from home”, he said.

Students at Maynooth are normally invited to sign the college register on their first day. “This happens in front of the student’s class and some, if not all, of the seminary council,” he said.

Following this, however, the seminarians were presented with another document pledging not to “sue the seminary trustees for anything that happened within” Maynooth.

“One can draw their own conclusions concerning why this happened. I reserve my own,” he said.

At evening prayer on the first day, a senior figure at the college told the new seminarians “that some of us were in Maynooth because we had vocations, while others were there for human reasons.

“He said that his job was to discover which category each of us fitted into and then ensure those of us who were there for human reasons did not make it to ordination.”

The then new seminarian said he had found this to be “a frightening beginning. The following morning at morning prayer I sat on the seat closest to the oratory door.

“I was the last to leave morning prayer that day. I remember it distinctly because I felt unable to leave before I stopped crying,” he said.

The second seminarian was 19 when he entered St Patrick’s College in 2007, one of 24 new seminarians that year. Throughout his time there, he said he found it was a place dominated by “a culture of fear and secrecy”.

This was down primarily he said to the fact that it was at the formation team’s discretion whether men were allowed progress to priesthood or not. Dismissals and/or explusions took place without explanation.

Departing colleagues

Occasionally those left behind might be told when a colleague left that “such and such had taken the mature decision to leave. It was always about maturity,” he said.

He too recalled that evening he and fellow first-years had to sign the register. “It was at 7.15 pm in St Mary’s oratory with prayers and candles, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.” It all took place “in the guise of a religious ceremony,” he said. Each of the seats for the seminarians had a piece of paper on it which detailed such things as “not bringing the college into disrepute; not repeating anything seen or heard; acceptance of the bishops’ and (seminary) staff’s right to expel without explanation”.

The purpose of this document, this seminarian felt, “was to instil secrecy in those fledgling weeks and ensure that if we saw anything or heard anything we would keep it to ourselves, even from our families”.

The seminarians were not allowed keep this document, he said. It was collected by staff but a fellow-seminarian kept a record of the document’s content in a diary he wrote up later that evening and which was now available to corroborate what he and other seminarians were saying, he said. “If needs be it can be carbon dated,” he said of the diary. “We’re not all telling lies,” he said.

The seminarians were acutely aware of this document and its content as each, separately, signed “this enormous tome” that was the register before their class and the seminary formation team in St Mary’s oratory later that evening.

This confidentiality document was even referred to explicitly by a senior staff member at the college in March 2010, recalled the former seminarian, after a series of articles had been published about Maynooth.

Seminarians were called together by a senior staff member who reminded them of the document they had signed and pointed out that talking to the media about the college was a breach of confidentiality.

Anyone who claimed such a document did not exist was “an absolute liar,” the former seminarian said.