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August 8th, 2016

Maynooth: An Uncleansed Augean Stable

All this talk about homosexuality in Maynooth seminary brings me back 14 years or so, when the Brandsma Review was about  the first publication to tackle the problem in a reasonably robust fashion.  A great deal of printer’s ink was spilled, and airtime given, to clerical paedophilia—but Big Media shied away from suggesting that the two problems could be intertwined, even though it must have been known even then that most of the victims were not strictly speaking children but adolescent males on the verge of adulthood. 

There was great reluctance to admit the existence of any homosexual network  among the Irish clergy, although it was already clear that the problem was rife throughout the Catholic Church, extending  to the highest levels. Pope Benedict later commented: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the Priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!” Fr Hunwicke recently referred to the present state of affairs as “The Coprocracy” (rule by filth).

Back in the early 2000s, during one RTE discussion mainly about clerical paedophilia, the station’s former religious affairs correspondent Kieron Wood raised the question of  whether a Lavender Mafia existed  among the clergy, and whether this  had any connection with  the incidence of clerical child abuse. The rest of the panel wouldn’t even discuss the possibility. Breda O’Brien, an Irish Times columnist but an orthodox Catholic wrinkled her nose and intimated that the idea was most unhelpful. The two clerical panellists agreed. One of them, I recall, refused to commit himself when asked whether he approved of “gay marriage” (that phrase had only recently come into use in Ireland.)

In 2002 I wrote a piece in the Brandsma entitled “Maynooth: Seminary or Sewer” dealing, among other matters,  with homosexuality in the seminary. The problem hasn’t gone away, you know… 

In our last issue we previewed a devastating American book entitled Goodbye! Good Men by Michael Rose, which revealed in detail the parlous state of seminaries in the US. It was a catalogue of institutionalised vice and blatant heresy. At the end of the article I speculated about the possibility of a similar picture emerging in Ireland, without going into detail as I didn’t then consider I would be justified in publishing what I had already heard about Maynooth. I said that any further evidence we received would be treated in the strictest confidence.

Since then, there have been several unsavoury revelations in the secular media in relation to Maynooth. Quite apart from these, the response to our article—from several different Maynooth men who have spoken with, or written to me—has amply confirmed that many of Michael Rose’s strictures can certainly be applied to our National Seminary. The young men concerned, who are appalled by their experiences, are the best hope for the future of the Irish Church, and if this article seems written in a somewhat cumbrous fashion, with a vagueness about dates and personalities, that is necessary to protect their identities.

Of course I am well aware that there is still much good to be found at Maynooth—orthodoxy, integrity and genuine Catholic scholarship. The names of Fr Vincent Twomey SVD, Fr Thomas Norris and Fr Bede McGregor OP spring immediately to mind. But I am convinced there is enough badly wrong with the National Seminary to justify publicising these revelations.

In general, our sources believe that a different creed frequently takes hold in the College—one that highlights feeling and satisfaction over principles and true happiness.

Our sources were particularly critical of some of the retreats to which they were subjected, which served to inculcate moral relativism under the guise of “compassion”. These began with a call by a director of formation to be “open” to what they would hear and a suggestion that some would find it “challenging”.

One such retreat, given by a lay person, contained a blatant attack on the truths of the Catholic Faith. It seems particularly appropriate that this person should have thumped a fist on the altar (the symbol of Christ) of St Columba’s Oratory while verbally bashing Christ’s Body, the Church. The retreat-giver appeared to justify drunkenness by misquoting the Bible story of the wedding feast of Cana; and then justified homosexual unions—even marriages—suggesting that Jesus was homosexual, and dismissing some of the teachings of the Church as “human error”.

Taken as a whole, this retreat session amounted to a plug for situation ethics. It had a profound effect on some of the more naïve clerical students, who continually referred to it for months to come. “What are we to do,” ran the line, “if some people are different by nature?”

Predictably, this retreat giver’s moral relativism tended to encourage those with homosexual tendencies. My sources noticed that in an environment where there was already a shared understanding among some students, in the form of a dirty little secret, whispered just loud enough to draw those of similar interests into a circle, just threatening enough to keep the secret safe, this endorsement of an alternative morality was not ignored. The fact that the act of sodomising other men renders inauthentic the exercise of priesthood had no relevance in such a circle. The fact was that some could now feel invited to twist their conscience and find it easy to establish homosexual bonds among themselves, or even do damage to other gullible people.

One student, who became a target of the homosexuals, had many callers to his room late at night and these almost always had alcohol with them. Some said they were “in love” with him and made it clear that they wanted to spend the night with him. When he reported this to the authorities he was only told to be “open”. Eventually he took things into his own hands and threatened those who made sexual approaches to him. They complained that he was difficult to work with, and he was diagnosed by the authorities as having “a lot of anger stored up” within him. This young man was sent to the seminary counsellor (who, incidentally, left the priesthood the following summer). Extraordinarily, it does not appear to have occurred to the Maynooth authorities that drunken homosexuals might not be suitable people for ordination.

I am informed that one “team skills” weekend descended into one long drinking orgy by half the class, resulting in the distress of others. One three-day workshop on sexuality appeared to the more orthodox students simply to be an attempt to justify the use of artificial contraception.

Orthodox students seldom get the opportunity to do anything other than swallow what they are given. A seminarian dare not try to justify or defend the truths of the faith for fear that a director of formation will label him “rigid”, costing him his ordination. While the formation staff continually preach about how “inclusive” the students’ attitudes must be, how loving and caring and sharing, how kind and supportive they ought to be, a young man need only question them, only hint that he doesn’t accept their personal interpretation of religion, and the jackboot is immediately apparent.

Indeed, I am told that very recently a thoroughly orthodox seminarian was dismissed from the college without a word of explanation. Worse, when he reported the matter to his bishop, the authorities even refused to give the bishop a reason for their action. This story had a happy ending, as the bishop simply sent the young man to study in Rome and agreed to take him into the diocese after ordination.

Words such as “challenging” and “open” and “rigid” are used as cajoling and deceptive ambiguities which expose the college community and even the Church in Ireland to invented spirituality, invented liturgies and invented doctrine.

Symptomatic, perhaps, is the newly “reordered” St Mary’s Oratory, which stands as a symbol of the new Maynooth. The altar consists of a wooden table with the seats gathered around it, conveying the message that the Mass is merely a meal and not a sacrifice. Two large hosts are broken up, and Communion is distributed under both kinds. Some of the Precious Blood is kept in a bottle until it is poured into a second chalice. After Communion both chalices are purified by eucharistic ministers. No kneeling or genuflexions take place during the Mass. At the Consecration the priest merely bows, while the congregation remains standing.

An organisation called “Young Christian Students” serves officially as an instrument for lay and clerical students at Maynooth to “apply the Gospel in their daily lives”. At its retreats, female students outnumber the males by 10 to one. It is common knowledge that many female students are in the habit of “dating” clerical students; and also that some clerical students are in the habit of carrying packets of condoms.

My sources are agreed that the unsavoury goings-on related above contribute to the manifest lack of fruits coming from Maynooth—in the form of a lot of men leaving, and even priests leaving after ordination.

We are publishing their revelations not because one likes to sensationalise the Church’s problems—the secular media are already doing that with great glee—but because something drastic has to be done about Maynooth. The only conclusion one can draw from these seminarians’ accounts is that the National Seminary, far from being “a school of priestly holiness” (in the words of Pope John Paul II) has degenerated into a fetid Augean stable in urgent need of cleansing. But where will we find a Hercules?

I can’t believe that Maynooth, with its long and glorious history, is incapable of reformation. To paraphrase Fr Brian Houghton in his book Mitre and Crook: “I am a great believer in failure because it gives Divine Providence a chance. It is because in this year of grace the Church [read ‘National Seminary’] has the appearance and odour of a dung-heap that God will use it to manure the most exquisite flowers, fragrant with the odour of sanctity.”

I’ve become much more cynical since then. I now think the only solution is to close the place down and start all over again.


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