Fr Kevin Hegarty
IMAGINE if the director of the Bank of Ireland declared that he had no confidence in the financial procedures of the company. There would be a mass withdrawal of funds. It might even lead to the closure of the bank.
As a less dramatic level, something like that happened in the Catholic Church in Ireland last week. The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, is the second ranking cleric in the Irish Catholic establishment and a trustee of St Patrick’s College in Maynooth. He announced that he was unhappy with seminary formation in the college and was sending Dublin student priests to the Irish College in Rome. Has he sounded the death knell for an institution that was once the biggest Catholic seminary in the world and the place where the vast majority of Irish priests have been trained since 1795. What is happening at Maynooth?
So far the complaints have been general and vague. Dr Martin stated that he is somewhat unhappy about an atmosphere which was growing in Maynooth. You’d learn about it through anonymous accusations made through anonymous letters and blogs, accusing people of misconduct or accusing the faculty of Maynooth of not treating allegations correctly.”
He went on to cite that “one of the allegations is that there is a homosexual, a gay culture and that students have been using an app called Grinder which is a gay dating app which would be inappropriate for seminarians.” The college authorities responded by saying that they shared the archbishop’s concern about the poisonous atmosphere created by anonymous allegations. They deny that a gay subculture exists in the seminary. They assert that students “with specific concerns are encouraged to report them appropriately.” Several bishops including the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Eamon Martin, have rallied to the defence of Maynooth. In the happy event of having student priests, they will continue to send them to the college. So far no bishop has come out in support of Dr Diarmuid Martin, contributing to the impression that he is a kind of lone ranger amongst his colleagues.
In 2003, in the midst of a high profile career as a Vatican diplomat, he was parachuted into the Archdiocese of Dublin to deal with the clerical sexual abuse scandals that enveloped the last years of Cardinal Connell’s tenure. His greatest achievement as Archbishop is his handling of the most traumatic crisis in the recent history of Irish Catholicism. His empathy with the plight of those whose lives were blighted by abuse and his willingness to open up diocesan files for investigation, won the trust of victims. While journalists praise his openness to the media, his communication skills seem to desert him in his engagements with fellow clerics. He has an uneasy relationship with several of his fellow bishops. Many Dublin priests find him brusque and aloof. Behind the current controversy is the reality that most of the few students who now offer themselves for priesthood are very traditionalist. They have been shaped by the culture of aggressive conservatism that characterised the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They believe that the liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council should be recognised. They long for the return to the Tridentine Latin Mass and the regular Sunday celebration. They delight in church pomp, archaic ecclesiastical titles and vintage clerical attire. They are more at home with the dreary polemics of the lona Institute than with the compassionate exhortations of Pope Francis. They see secularism as an energy to be confronted rather than a reality with which the Church should be prepared to engage in dialogue. They are entitled to their views but their rigidity renders them unsuitable for pastoral ministry in today’s complex world. Such ministry requires sensitivity in the application of Church teaching. So it has happened that some students at Maynooth have been deemed unsuitable for pastoral priesthood by the seminary authorities. Angry at the curtailment for their studies, they have vented their spleen in anonymous letters and on conservative media outlets. What is needed is an independent investigation to disentangle truth from rumour.