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Maynooth crisis raises questions about model of seminary formation

By Sarah Mac Donald - 07 August, 2016

“I think the days of a big big seminary are over. I think if anything good comes from this it is an examination of a better way” - Fr Brendan Purcell.


Dublin priest, Fr Brendan Purcell, has described the anonymous allegations which surfaced in Maynooth in recent weeks over inappropriate behaviour among seminarians as “really toxic”.

Speaking on the Marian Finnucane Show on Saturday, Fr Purcell said the issue with such allegations was “you can’t do anything with them”, though he said he understood why people might resort to them.

The well known philosopher and former UCD lecturer, who studied for the priesthood in Clonliffe College in Dublin, backed Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s idea of putting seminarians into smaller communities, as he stressed “Maynooth is a very big building”.

He revealed that his “best seminary was the place I went to after I was ordained, where I lived in this community of Focolare. We lived in small communities together. I figure I learnt more in my eight months there than I did in the seven years in the seminary.”

According to Fr Purcell, what the Irish Church needs is “not a huge big place but a smaller place where people are living together. Jesus actually lived with 12-14 guys. We really have to have that scenario – where we are growing as a family, maybe with the parish priest.”

He added, “I think the days of a big big seminary are over. I think if anything good comes from this it is an examination of a better way.”

He said the Archbishop, rather than saying close it down, was suggesting that the seminarians could attend Maynooth for classes and then go aback and live in parishes.

He repeated the President of Maynooth, Mgr Hugh Connolly’s statement that celibacy is “non negotiable” for seminarians.

The philosopher, who has written a new book ‘Where is God in Suffering’ (published by Veritas) told Marian Finucane, “If a guy is not taking it seriously now, he is not going to be taking it seriously ten years later.”

Separately, well known BBC presenter, Fr Brian D’Arcy has said the issues raised by the Maynooth controversy are broader than a “couple of guys in some form of homosexual contact”.

He said the seminary is drawing students who want the security of traditional views.

He added, “The issue is that the Archbishop feels that Maynooth is not suitable to educate priests and that is a major issue.”

He added, “There must be other issues going on which are not suitable for the training of spiritual leaders.”

“We need somewhere that is all-inclusive, not just top-down. Maynooth is living in the past. We are not in the past and it is never coming back.”

Meanwhile, on Newstalk’s ‘Talking Point with Sarah Carey’, politician Jerry Buttimer, who spent five years in Maynooth training to be a priest, described his time there as “excellent” years in which students were challenged spiritually and intellectually.

“I never regretted going or leaving,” he said.

“The deans and professors I studied under were very genuine people,” he said and added that their aim was to allow students to become the best person they could.

He said the reason he left was due to celibacy and sexuality.

“I would still pray, go to Mass and have a great belief. My faith hasn’t changed. My stance on the Church has definitely diminished given the lack of leadership around many issues on the protection of young people and child abuse and its teachings around LGBT issues.”

He said the current controversy showed that the current model of Church is not working.

“Vocations have declined, priests are swapping and sharing parishes; I just feel it is a model that should be cast aside so we can see how a person of faith, gay or straight, can play a participatory role in an ordained way like the Church of Ireland.”

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