Bishops rebel over Maynooth seminary ‘heave’

College rejects claim students are targeted


Cathal Barry and Greg Daly

A number of Maynooth student priests who were reportedly asked to take time out of seminary because they were ‘too conservative’ are to return to the college in the autumn after interventions by a number of bishops, it has been claimed.

The Irish Catholic understands that of 10 diocesan seminarians who were due to return to Maynooth in the autumn after completing their pastoral year, six were recommended to take time out to reconsider their vocation.

Sources have indicated to The Irish Catholic that the clear impression was given to the students that they were so advised because their theological views were considered at the conservative end of the spectrum.

However, Msgr Hugh Connolly, President of Maynooth, rejected the claim, insisting that there has been “nothing out of the ordinary in terms of usual action between students, dioceses and the seminary in making a decision on what is the best next step for a particular student”.

Msgr Connolly said it was “not a question of conservativism” but rather a question of “getting the right experience”.

However, the issue will put fresh focus on concerns that the Vatican’s investigation of Maynooth, ordered by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, has had little practical effect. In previous years some Maynooth students claimed the college operated an informal ‘litmus test’ to sift out seminarians considered excessively conservative.


The Irish Catholic now understands that after interventions by a number of bishops, three of the six seminarians will in fact be returning to the college this autumn. It is understood that the bishops involved rejected the assessment of their seminarians by those involved in co-ordinating the pastoral year, and that the apprehensions shared were at odds with favourable reports from pastoral placements. The concerns aired were reportedly not shared by the college’s seminary council.

Maynooth President Msgr Connolly, who chairs the council, poured cold water on the claim that a bishop had to bring any student “back on board,” insisting that no student was ever “off board”.

The formation of seminarians “has always been done in discussion with the bishop, who must be involved in the pastoral formation of students,” he said.

Msgr Connolly said “a different itinerary is not a judgement on the individual student. Their life stories and experiences are all different. We are just tailoring it for his own development and to bring out his gifts”.

In addition to the three returning, The Irish Catholic understands that one of the six seminarians is to undertake a pastoral year in his diocese and another is to take time out, while one student remains in a state of limbo about his seminary future.

One of the co-ordinators of the pastoral year, Sr Bríd Liston, has left Maynooth since the alleged controversy to take up a leadership position within her own congregation, the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ). Sr Bríd refused to comment when contacted by The Irish Catholic this week.

This is not the first time the issue has provoked controversy. Some years ago, seminarians were reportedly suspended for wanting to kneel during the consecration at Mass. In 2012, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said “it is not just that the number of candidates is low; it is also that many of those who present are fragile and some are much more traditional than those who went before them”.


While rejecting “priests or candidates who simply go with the trends of the day”, the archbishop warned there is “a danger that superficial attachment to the externals of tradition may well be a sign of fearfulness and flight from changed realities: and that is not exactly what we need”.

His comments drew a sharp rebuke from psychiatrist Prof. Patricia Casey who accused the archbishop of denting priestly morale.

“We are very proud of all of our students,” Msgr Connolly insisted. “They are admirable young and older men who are taking a counter-cultural stance. Whether they are conservative, middle of the road or progressive theologically is irrelevant really as long as they are answering the call of the Gospel in a faithful way.”

The pastoral year used to be undertaken after a seminarian had been ordained a deacon. However, in recent years, Maynooth authorities changed the formation programme to place the pastoral year in the midst of the traditional studies of philosophy and theology before recommendation for ordination.

The year involves a lengthy placement in a parish as well as a module of clinical pastoral education, designed to equip priests further with the skills necessary to minister in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

As The Irish Catholic went to press, Fr Martin McAlinden, Director of Pastoral Theology at Maynooth had not returned a call or email requesting comment.