By Sarah Mac Donald - 03 August, 2016
The Association of Catholic Priests has hit out at the current coverage of the crisis at the national seminary in Maynooth describing it as “unfair and unwarranted”.
Their criticism on Tuesday followed an interview by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin with RTE Radio 1 in which he said he had decided to send his seminarians to study at the Irish College in Rome rather than Maynooth because he was “somewhat unhappy about an atmosphere that was growing” there.
Referring to a culture of anonymous letters, Archbishop Martin said it had contributed to a “poisonous” atmosphere and he hit out at accusations being made anonymously on blogs as “quarrelsome”.
On Monday, the Irish Independent reported that the country’s largest diocese had confirmed it would not be sending any of its trainee priests to study in Maynooth this autumn.
Amid reports of a crisis at the Co Kildare seminary, Archbishop Martin has opted to send his student priests to the Irish College in Rome, which is headed up by Dubliner Monsignor Ciaran O’Carroll, who has worked closely with the Archbishop in the past.
According to the current issue of the international catholic journal, The Tablet, Archbishop Martin said he had made the decision “some months ago” and informed the other bishops of his intention at the summer general meeting of the Irish hierarchy in June.
Archbishop Martin is a trustee of Maynooth along with the three other catholic archbishops in the Irish Church and a number of bishops.
On Tuesday, the Irish Independent reported that a former trainee priest who alleges he was harassed by a member of staff while studying in Maynooth is to meet members of the Gardaí’s sexual assault unit over the coming days to file a formal complaint against the priest.
‘Jack’ said the priest concerned was meant to be his “spiritual father who would help me to discern if God was calling me to serve him in the priesthood, and also to act as a support and guide in living a chaste and celibate life.”
Instead, he alleges that the priest placed his hand on him inappropriately on a number of occasions and asked him very intimate and prurient questions concerning his sexuality during meetings. This, he said, was not part of the priest’s remit as a formation director.
“I am now, thank God, a happily married man. My faith was severely shaken after my experience in Maynooth, and I suffered from severe depression for a long time,” he recounted.
He said he would “definitely not suggest Maynooth to any young man considering a vocation, currently.”
“I am not homophobic – my main issue with the priest is that he grievously abused his position of power and influence,” he said and added that he believed that the Church has lost many vocations because some members of staff in Maynooth have behaved inappropriately and that seminarians grievances were not listened to.
The man, who joined the seminary at 26, reported his experience at the hands of the priest to the college president and vice president in Maynooth and though he was invited to return to his studies, he declined saying the priest concerned needed to be “investigated and disciplined”.
However, an internal complaints panel, which investigated his complaint, did not find any grounds on which to discipline the priest.
In an interview with RTE’s Drivetime, Mgr Hugh Connolly, President of St Patrick’s College Maynooth described the broader atmosphere in Maynooth as “quite a wholesome, healthy one because there are a lot of interplay between students of many, many disciplines, lay students and clerics, male and female, people who are engaged pastorally”.
He said he was interested in comments made by Archbishop Martin on the possible evolving or developing of a new model of seminary “which I think would be very apt for an urban setting such as an Archdiocese of Dublin”.
He said the use of gay dating apps “certainly worries me as much as it worries the Archbishop”.
“First and foremost it has to be said that we expect all our seminarians to live celibately here. Celibately means preparing for celibate priesthood. There can’t be any compromise around that for seminarians. A seminarian has to know very clearly and honestly that he is preparing for a lifetime of celibacy, that’s part and parcel of what it means to be a priest.”
“And that’s non-negotiable so clearly anything that compromises that in any way which involves sexual activity, or inappropriate social media apps or any of that particularly domain, is simply wrong and simply is incompatible with life in a seminary.”
However, he claimed there was no concrete detail on any usage of gay dating apps by seminarians.
He said the seminary authorities would “always act only when we have clarity and when we have grounds to act. It’s very important we get those grounds and that’s part of the difficulty with dealing with complaints or rumours which are sourced anonymously, it’s so difficult to process.”
Of the complaints procedure currently operating in Maynooth, Mgr Connolly said, “We have for quite a number of years a very professional, independent panel which is completely independent of the college, not college employees, people who have all the skills that are necessary. Those skills involve safeguarding skills, they involve law enforcement skills, they involve arbitration skills and therefore are legally resourced and they are separate from the college.”
“These are structures which are there and which should be used. That’s why they are there. They are there to be used and anyone who has any concerns that are reasonably held concerns, that they themselves have and they want to share with someone, that’s why the independent panel are there.”
The president of Maynooth also denied that student priests sign confidentiality clauses.
Meanwhile, in their statement, the ACP said it is the prerogative of bishops to decide where students for the priesthood receive their formation but it is also the responsibility of seminary authorities to make sensible judgements on what candidates for priesthood are deemed suitable and to be allowed to make such decisions in good faith.
“It goes without saying that Irish priests should within reason be educated in Ireland.”
The group claimed that the current crisis is being driven by a number of agendas including “conservative commentators, particularly in ‘Catholic’ newspapers who consistently criticise Maynooth for not facilitating the concerns of very traditional candidates, notably their interest in Latin Masses and traditional clerical dress.”
They suggested that it was also being driven by former students who were deemed unsuitable for priesthood by the seminary authorities but who remain convinced that they should have been allowed to continue to priesthood and who anonymously offer support to critics of Maynooth.
They concluded their statement by saying, “The damage this controversy will do to Maynooth is not in the best interest of the Irish Church.”