by Anthony Murphy


Are we going to let another academic year begin without concrete action being taken to reform St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth? If our bishops will not take the necessary steps to reform the seminary, and if they continue to send men there for priestly formation while it remains in its current state of decay, we must send out a clear message to the Irish hierarchy: “Not in our name!”


Apostolic Visitation 2012


In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland in which he announced that there would be an Apostolic Visitation into the dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations of Ireland. When the findings of the Apostolic Visitation were released in 2012 – or, rather, the highly redacted version of the findings – the then-Primate of All-Ireland, Seán Cardinal Brady, said the following:

  As the work of renewal in the Church in Ireland continues, certain elements of today’s findings will be progressed through engagement with the relevant offices of the Holy See…

…It is important that we, together, as the Catholic community in Ireland, take responsibility for the continuing renewal which has received such encouragement and further direction from this Apostolic Visitation. We express our heartfelt gratitude to all who worked so generously to ensure a fruitful outcome from the Visitation. As a Christian community we are strengthened and encouraged by the care and commitment shown to us by the Holy Father in so many ways throughout this crisis.

Reading this, anyone would think that Cardinal Brady seriously intended that he and his fellow bishops would have taken the report seriously, and that the faithful could have hoped for real renewal after decades of neglecting to guard the Catholic faith in Ireland. Yes, indeed, Cardinal Brady said the right words – but can we say, four years on, that his words translated into action?

The first thing that readers will note is that we have only ever seen a redacted version of the Visitation report. Last summer, when Maynooth once again descended into controversy over the fact that six seminarians out of a class of ten received negative end-of-year reports which recommended that the students take “time out” or additional “pastoral years”, Monsignor Hugh Connolly, President of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, pointed out in an article in The Irish Catholic that “…it is not fair to simply state that Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 ordered an ‘investigation of Maynooth’”. Of course, Monsignor Connolly is correct – the remit of the Visitation was much wider.

However, it is surely completely logical to conclude that if the shepherds of the faithful have not received a priestly formation which is in full conformity with the model laid down by the Church then the faithful in turn will not receive an adequate formation in the faith. So, while the seminaries were not the only focus of the Apostolic Visitation, it is not overstating matters to say that the Visitation of the seminaries was the most important and significant part of the Visitation as a whole.

 Visitation’s recommendations

 So, what about this redacted version of the report? In itself, it is actually quite revealing when it comes to the question of seminary formation, despite the fact that it clearly lacks specifics. For the improvement of the seminaries, the report recommended the following:


      •  That the formation be rooted in authentic priestly identity, offering a more systematic preparation for a life of priestly celibacy by maintaining a proper equilibrium between human, spiritual and ecclesial dimensions;
      •  That there would be a reinforcement of structures of episcopal governance over the seminaries;
      •  That there would be a more consistent system across the dioceses of admitting candidates to seminary;
      •  That the intellectual formation of seminarians would be in full conformity with the Church’s Magisterium; 
      •  That the academic programme would include an in-depth formation on matters of child-protection and increased pastoral attention to victims of abuse and their families.
      •  That the seminary buildings would be exclusively for the use of seminarians to ensure a well-founded priestly identity.

Malaise had been festering for decades


Given these points were made in the report it is a clear indication that these elements were lacking in Irish seminaries at the time of the Visitation. No one who had followed newspaper reports on Maynooth over the past number of decades was surprised at the recommendations. For example, there had long been reports of teaching which was not in conformity with the Church’s Magisterium – going back at least to the late-1960’s when then-Professor of Moral Theology, Fr. Enda McDonagh, was a leading opponent of Humanae Vitae. In 1978, a well-respected theologian and Maynooth professor, Monsignor Patrick Francis Cremin, gave an interview to the Irish Independent in which he decried the disintegration of the seminary, saying that there was very little evidence of order in the seminary. Monsignor Cremin also pointed out the failure of the Irish bishops to prevent “theologians and pseudo-theologians” from propagating “with impunity doctrinal and moral teaching that was misleading or unsound”. In short, with regard to the Irish seminaries, the Visitation report was pointing to a malaise which had been festering for decades.

So what has changed?


And so we repeat the question: five years on from the Apostolic Visitation to Maynooth Seminary, what has changed? Where, for example, is the evidence of a reinforcement of structures of episcopal governance of the seminary? We have heard in recent days that the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, is taking his seminarians out of Maynooth Seminary. The Irish Independent reported that Archbishop Martin informed the other bishops at the June meeting of the Bishops’ Conference of his intention to do this. Why, then, are other bishops not taking similar serious drastic action to ensure a proper Catholic formation for their future priests? Given recent controversies about the existence of a homosexual sub-culture among some seminarians, and reports of students being suspended for very dubious reasons, why are our bishops not taking their role as governors of the seminary seriously. If a bishop does not feel that he can reform Maynooth Seminary, then why not remove his seminarians and send them to Rome? The persistent failure of our bishops to face the reality that St. Patrick’s College is not fit for purpose as a Catholic seminary is a clear sign that this particular recommendation from the Visitation report has been ignored.

The widespread dissent


Similarly, there is no evidence whatsoever that our bishops have taken measures to ensure that intellectual formation of seminarians is in full conformity with the Church’s Magisterium. Again, we have seen that issues which were present before the Visitation remain issues in the daily life of the seminary. In 2010, before the Visitation took place, Dr. Mark Dooley, a former philosophy lecturer in Maynooth, and highly respected by his students, wrote a series of articles about the seminary. These articles shed much light on the heterodoxy to which seminarians were being exposed both in class and in other areas of seminary life.

Seminarians had reported to Dr. Dooley that they had been told by priestly professors that “there is no such thing as transubstantiation”, that the Holy Mass is a mere memorial rather than the same sacrifice offered by Our Blessed Lord on Calvary, and that they should not look to Rome as “they don’t know anything”. Other seminarians at the time lamented that they were not permitted to kneel for the Consecration of the Mass. Current seminarians who have been in touch with me more recently have indicated that many of these false doctrines still remain. Seminarians have – in the years since the Apostolic Visitation – been told by professors not to reference Pope Benedict XVI in academic papers on the grounds that “he is not a scripture scholar” or “he is not a liturgist”.

There have been reports as recently as last year that at least one senior lecturer in Maynooth denied, during a lecture, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Last summer, it emerged that a number of seminarians who had undertaken the course in pastoral theology had been criticised for kneeling at a Mass which is organised by the National Centre for Liturgy, which is based in Maynooth and operates with the blessing of the Bishops’ Conference. Despite Monsignor Connolly, claiming in an article in The Irish Catholic that “it is the policy and practice of our seminary community in Maynooth to kneel throughout the entire Eucharistic Prayer”, the students concerned received no backing from the seminary authorities when they argued in favour of kneeling at these Liturgy Centre Masses.

Monsignor Connolly is right that the seminary community kneels for the Eucharistic Prayer at community Masses. However, it is incredible, to say the least, that the seminary authorities permitted members of the pastoral theology department to criticise their students for kneeling – for doing nothing more than showing reverence to Our Blessed Lord and by following the norms of the Church. Do the faithful readers of this paper seriously believe that this is the sort of behaviour that Cardinal Dolan was sanctioning in calling for formation of seminarians which is in conformity with the Church’s Magisterium? It also begs the earlier question: where was the reinforcement of episcopal governance of the seminary while all of this was happening? This newspaper has learned that several seminarians complained to their bishops about heterodox teaching in the seminary, but sadly their cries were not heeded. 

The cultivation of Priestly Identity


A very clear message which was sent out by the Visitation team, as evidenced in the points listed above concerning our seminaries, is that there must be concern shown for the cultivation of priestly identity. There are many ways in which such an identity is cultivated. One way is by instilling in our seminarians a love for the Church and her teaching. Yet, at least one student in recent times was criticised by a member of the theology faculty for being “too quick to defend the Church”. Surely in our confused and hurting world, the faithful would be blessed to have a young priest who readily defends the beautiful and timeless truths of our Catholic faith! 

Returning to Monsignor Cremin’s interview of 1978, it is very clear that he was gravely concerned about the question of priestly identity – even at that stage he could see the loss of priestly identity in Maynooth Seminary. He blamed, in large part, the fact that the college had been opened to laypersons in 1966 “…without any proper planning or direction then or since, as far as protecting some seminary way of life and the proper formation of its resident clerical students was concerned”. The situation now in Maynooth is that the seminary is almost completely subsumed into the secular university which now dominates the entire campus. Where once the seminarians had acres of land which was quiet and suitable for reflection and prayer, the entire space (barring a small area within the seminary cloister) is accessible to the public. The interior of the college is no better, with most of the cloister being accessible not only to students but to the general public. It is often noisy, with an atmosphere not befitting a place which should be an oasis of calm. 

The tradition of wearing clerical clothing appears to be all but gone from Maynooth. With the exception of a few members of staff, very few priests wear the clerical collar unless there is a visit from such as Cardinal Mueller of the CDF (as there was in 2014) or Archbishop Patron Wong of the Congregation for Clergy (as there was about two months ago). While in the past seminarians wore the soutane every day, now it is hardly ever worn. It appears that the soutane is only worn now by the entire seminary community during the Holy Week ceremonies or when there is a visit from Maynooth’s benefactors or the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. While some will argue – and rightly – that a man does not need to wear a soutane to be a good Catholic or a good priest (and conversely, wearing a soutane does not make one a good priest), the soutane has traditionally been seen as an important means of cultivating one’s identity as a cleric. At very least, the Code of Canon Law exhorts priests to wear clerical dress, and this is echoed by the Irish Catholic Bishops:

“…the Irish Episcopal Conference hereby decrees that, since a distinctive form of clerical dress has a particular significance and since such a distinctive attire is expected by the faithful in our country, all clerics will continue to wear such clerical dress as will give public witness to their priesthood or clerical state.

Another norm of the Church which is disregarded in our National Seminary – presumably this was all part of Cardinal Brady’s plans for the renewal of the Church in Ireland.

Finally, with regard to priestly identity, the faithful have been dismayed to learn that one of the key figures in Maynooth who strove to cultivate a strong masculine and priestly identity among the seminarians suddenly resigned from his post in June. Fr. David Marsden, a vocational growth counsellor, was highly regarded by the seminarians. Reports which I have received from seminarians indicate that Fr. Marsden was a priest whom they admired greatly. He is described as a prayerful man and many have admired his integrity and his courage in always preaching the Catholic faith without ambiguity. Is this not precisely the type of priest that our future Catholic priests need?

All of these observations lead to one stark and sad conclusion: the words uttered by Cardinal Brady as the Visitation report was released were merely words. They have not translated into action, and this is evidenced by the fact that the criticisms made in the redacted report are still very much in evidence. It seems very clear that the faithful must now begin to demand that the full and un-redacted version of the Apostolic Visitation report be released. No one seriously believes that Maynooth’s woes were completely summed up in the six points listed above. The decay is so deep that there must have been reams of criticisms. We, the faithful, have a right to know the problems of our National Seminary; we have a right to know the sort of environment into which our bishops are sending our future priests for study; we have a right to know what our hard-earned money is funding when we contribute to the collection basket at Sunday Mass.

Not in our name!


I will propose two courses of action to readers of the Catholic Voice:

- Firstly, as many of you wrote to the Archbishop of Armagh to protest the state of affairs in Maynooth Seminary, you could consider writing to Archbishop Eamon Martin, your own diocesan bishop, and the Apostolic Nuncio, demanding that the full text of the report of the 2011 Apostolic Visitation be released.

- Secondly, many of you contribute to the wonderful work of the St. Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society. You could consider asking members of the society to withhold all funding from Maynooth Seminary until such time as there are clear steps taken to ensure that our future priests are receiving a thorough and faithful Catholic priestly formation. Is the St. Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society willing to give the money of faithful Catholics to Maynooth in its current state or could they help fund the growing numbers of Irish men choosing to study for the priesthood in England, Spain, France, America, Argentina?

Are we going to let another academic year begin without concrete action being taken to reform St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth? If our bishops will not take the necessary steps to reform the seminary, and if they continue to send men there for priestly formation while it remains in its current state of decay, we must send out a clear message to the Irish hierarchy: “Not in our name!”