Vatican report critical of culture and ethos of Irish College in Rome


A REPORT carried out by the Archbishop of New York for Pope Benedict XVI, which expressed concern about “the atmosphere, structure, staffing and guiding philosophy” of the Irish College in Rome, contained “significant errors of fact”, Ireland’s four Catholic archbishops have said.

Pope Benedict announced an apostolic visitation of some dioceses, as well as seminaries and religious congregations in 2010. The visitation to the Irish College in Rome last year was led by then Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who has since become a cardinal.

A copy of the unpublished visitation report, which was presented to the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome, has been seen by The Irish Times.

It has called for “substantial reform” at the college.

The four archbishops, who were the college’s trustees, were criticised in the report as seeming to be “disengaged from college governance, with meetings, minutes, agenda and direct supervision irregular . . . The general rule of governance is ‘Let’s keep doing what we have been for the last 35 years’,” it said.

The Irish archbishops say they “made a detailed and considered response to the Holy See”.

Cardinal Dolan was assisted in the visitation report by the then Archbishop of Baltimore in the US and now Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Msgr Francis Kelly of the Northern American College in Rome and others.

The college, which was founded in 1628, educates students for the priesthood and is a popular wedding venue for Irish couples who wish to get married in Rome.

The visitation report said “a disturbingly significant number of seminarians gave a negative assessment of the atmosphere of the house”.

Staff, it added, were “critical about any emphasis on Rome, tradition, the magisterium, piety or assertive orthodoxy, while the students are enthusiastic about these features”.

A change in the staff was recommended.

Elsewhere the report said: “The apostolic visitor noted, and heard from students, an ‘anti-ecclesial bias’ in theological formation.”

The Irish Times established contact with four seminary staff mentioned in the report, but none availed of the opportunity to comment.

Cardinal Dolan’s report said “the college suffers from the reputation of being ‘gay friendly’, however unjust such a reputation might be”.

He said he was “eager to underline that he did not find any evidence of rampant immorality or a homosexual subculture, and that the overwhelming majority of the seminarians are committed to a faithful, chaste lifestyle . . .

“Likewise, he is convinced that the staff in no way condones such conduct.”

The report concludes that if the college is “to prepare men as leaders for the renewal of the church in Ireland, which the Holy Father is confident will come, the staff of the college must inspire trust and its programme of formation must engender a vibrant fidelity to Jesus and the teaching and tradition of His church with the fostering of a durable interior life, and a humble, confident sense of priestly identity and mission.

“Such is now lacking.”

However, Cardinal Dolan left the college “filled with affection and admiration for the students and, notwithstanding his criticisms, appreciation for the sincerity and hard work of the staff”.

The four archbishops, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh; the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin; the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, and the Archbishop of Cashel, Dr Dermot Clifford, were sent a copy of the visitation report by the Vatican.

A response prepared for them, and to which The Irish Times has had access, said “a deep prejudice appears to have coloured the visitation and from the outset and it led to the hostile tone and content of the report”.

The visitation report “would appear to prioritise its own view of orthodoxy, priestly identity, separation and devotion” and its “harsh judgments on staff members” were “unsupported by evidence”, the draft response said.

It is not clear how much of the draft response was included in the document the archbishops sent to the Holy See taking issue with the visitation report.

It has since been announced that all four priests who were staff at the Irish College seminary in January 2011 are being replaced. Cardinal Dolan and Cardinal O’Brien received red hats last February.

Asked by The Irish Times to comment on questions arising from his visitation report, Cardinal Dolan responded: “While obviously others do not consider themselves bound by the promised confidentiality – so necessary and understandable to assure a fair and honest gathering of information [and] requested by the Apostolic See – I certainly do.”

He was therefore “unable to comment upon the report, other than to stand by the diligence of the six visitors and the accuracy of the data we found – both of positive and challenging nature – and presented to the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome.”

Responding to questions put by this newspaper, the four Irish Catholic archbishops said in a statement: “As part of the process involved in the visitation to the Irish College, Rome, the trustees were given an initial report by the Holy See.”

They continued: “This initial report contained some serious errors of fact, including named individuals. Attentive to the importance of applying due process, and respecting the rights of those named in this initial report, the trustees made a detailed and considered response to the Holy See.”

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