A week when Maynooth was the only show in town

A week when Maynooth was the only show in town

Oh well, that didn’t last long. Last week Catholic euphoria over World Youth Day gave way to Catholic agony over the Maynooth controversy.

Predictably, the few Irish clerics and seminarians involved in that kerfuffle garnered a lot more media attention than the thousands of enthusiastic young Irish Catholics that attended World Youth Day. I suppose a story of sex, religion and conflict was bound to get the airwaves buzzing.

In what I heard two aspects didn’t get enough attention – the question of theological orthodoxy got only a cursory treatment, while the alleged confidentiality agreements for seminarians were largely ignored. Further, the various media debates showed a dismal level of religious illiteracy, with confusion between celibacy and chastity, between homosexual orientation and activity, between Church teaching and discipline and between conservatism and orthodoxy.

The first I heard of the controversy was when Sean O’Rourke, on Monday of last week, referred to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin removing priests from the cemetery in Maynooth! As I did a double-take on that one, pro that he is, he immediately corrected that to ‘seminary’.

On Tuesday’s Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) journalist Sarah MacDonald mentioned those confidentiality agreements, while Anthony Murphy of the Catholic Voice paper made the important point, that with vocations so ‘thin on the ground’ it wasn’t good enough for this to be going on.

However his reference to the seminary in Maynooth as a ‘madhouse’ didn’t go down well with O’Rourke.  Patsy McGarry of the Irish Times gave lots of background information on the Maynooth controversy going back several years and said it was believed that Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore was also withdrawing seminarians.

Main problem

McGarry didn’t repeat that when he spoke on that day’s Lunchtime show on Newstalk, and by Wednesday this was being denied.  On that same show Fr Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests thought Maynooth’s main problem was reduced numbers and seemed happy enough with it otherwise. He suggested that some of those who were ‘deemed unsuitable’ for Maynooth were now using the seminary’s difficulties for ‘target practice’, and he got in a dig at ‘right wing commentators’.

On Wednesday’s Today With Sean O’Rourke show David Quinn, wondered about the nature of seminary training. He said that there had been no such thing as seminaries in the first 1,500 years of the Church’s life, more like an apprenticeship system. He thought the events were indicative of the way many organisations reacted to whistle-blowers.

Mostly agreeing with Quinn, Fr Brian Darcy outlined the qualities of priesthood that were important along with orthodoxy, such as psycho-sexual maturity, ability to communicate, to be a person of the world and apart from the world at the same time, ability to know a loving God and communicate the compassion of that God in a real way.


During this controversy I thought I remembered something about an earlier and similar controversy in Maynooth involving Fr Gearad McGinnity as whistle-blower, and sure enough Fr McGinnity turned up on the News at One (RTÉ Radio 1) on the Wednesday, recalling how he brought the concerns of seminarians to the authorities, whereupon he was, as he characterised it, ‘shafted’.

On Today With Sean O’Rourke last Thursday, college President Monsignor Hugh Connolly got quite a grilling from Keelin Shanley on his governance in relation to recent controversies. He struggled on some points and provided clarity on others.

His message seemed to be that there were robust and clear reporting or complaint procedures in place in the college and that some complaints weren’t substantiated.

Last Saturday’s Talking Point (Newstalk) discussed the issue at length and I couldn’t possibly do justice here to all the interesting complexities, but apart from Dr Mark Dooley’s contribution I thought it was weighted way too heavily towards liberal Catholic viewpoints. Guests included politician Jerry Buttimer and Fr Iggy O’Donovan.

Pick of the week

BBC 2 Sunday, August 14, 4.25 pm

Josie d’Arby finds out how Christians in the Gypsy and Traveller community express their faith.

EWTN Sunday,  August 14, 9 pm

New series with Bishop Robert Barron, starting with themes of adoration and priesthood.

RTÉ 1 Monday, August 15, 10:00 am  

Eurovision Mass from the Dominican Convent in Fanjeaux, France, where St Dominic first conceived the idea of an Order of Preachers.