Vocations Crisis in Ireland

Do not expect the young Catholic men of this country to commit their lives to anything less than the fullness of truth!

Ignoring the Crisis

As news circulated earlier this year about the Irish Bishopsdeparture for their ad limina visit to Pope Francis, one of the most prominent stories was that they would not be proposing that Pope Francis readmit to the priesthood men who had left ministry to marry. The Irish Catholic newspaper reported (12/01) that the bishops had discussed the issue, along with the question of admitting female deacons, but the Bishop of Kilmore, Most Rev. Leo OReilly, said that they did not reach a consensus. However, all is not lost, it seems – Bishop OReilly told the Irish Catholic that the matter could still be raised during the ad limina, even if not with the Holy Father himself. The proposals which Bishop OReilly brought to the Irish Catholic BishopsConference came about as a result of a pastoral planning and “listening process” in the Diocese of Kilmore which discussed challenges facing the diocese, including the declining number of priests in active ministry. According to Bishop OReilly, “The request of the plan was that I would bring it to the bishopsconference”. The bishop had sent in this pastoral plan for the Diocese of Kilmore in advance of the ad limina, and he believed it was still possible that the proposals could be raised in the Vatican during the visit.

Only two days after the Irish Catholic reported this news about the ad limina visit, Sarah McDonald, writing in the Irish Independent newspaper, told readers that a middle-aged man had accused a young cleric of sexually assaulting him in a presbytery in 2015. This cleric who, as Ms McDonald notes, had taken a vow of celibacy but had met this alleged victim through a gay dating site. The Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, was made aware of the allegation, but no comment was forthcoming when the Irish Independent attempted to contact him. Sarah McDonald, also wrote an opinion piece in the same edition of the Irish Independent, in which she claimed that, “The priesthood as a celibate, male profession, is a broken model”. She also stated that the bishops of Ireland intend to “doggedly uphold” the discipline of clerical celibacy “despite all the indications that it is destroying the priesthood”.

Ongoing failure to tackle the major problem

So, what is the meeting point between Bishop Leo OReilly (and his dioceses “action plan” for the decline in priestly vocations), the ongoing scandal of some seminarians using gay dating apps and seeking homosexual sex, and the assertion of Ms McDonald that the discipline of clerical celibacy is destroying the priesthood? The meeting point is, undoubtedly, as we have highlighted several times in this newspaper, the ongoing failure of the Irish bishops to tackle once and for all the serious problems which exist in Maynooth Seminary.

As readers of the Catholic Voice will be aware, we have highlighted on several occasions the ongoing disintegration of the seminary at St. Patricks College, Maynooth. In May 2015, we reported the disgraceful situation where a number of seminarians from one class had been asked to take time out on account of their orthodoxy – or, as the Maynooth authorities preferred to term it, “theological rigidity”. Last summer, in a series of articles, we learned that a seminarian who had concerns over the existence of a homosexual sub-culture within the seminary was suspended by the seminary authorities, and it was reported here and in the secular media that the Archbishop of Dublin was removing his seminarians from Maynooth on account of his concerns that there was a “poisonous” atmosphere in the seminary and amidst reports that some seminarians were using a gay-dating app. However, what we were drawing attention to was the ongoing failure of the Irish bishops to deal with scandals in the seminary stretching back to at least the 1980s – hence we traced the allegations against former president of St. Patricks College, Monsignor Micheál Ledwith, and the response of bishops to seminariansclaims of abuse and impropriety on the part of Monsignor Ledwith. Their response was, of course, grossly inadequate, as detailed in the McCullough Report in 2004. One bishop, for example, had dismissed claims saying that Ledwith “is a distinguished international theologian”. Another bishop reportedly rubbished the seminariansclaims, reportedly telling them to “Go back and say your prayers”. Despite these denials, failures and negligence, after the publication of the McCullough Report the Irish bishops had to admit in an apology that “…those seminarians who expressed concerns in the early eighties were acting in good faith. We regret any hurt felt by those involved and that the investigation in 1984 was not more thorough”.

Trustees bury their heads in the sand

Fast forward eleven years to summer 2015. How did the Catholic bishops of this country react to seminarians who expressed concerns? Did they express regret for any hurt felt by those who had recently been victimised, suspended, or otherwise mistreated by the regime in Maynooth Seminary? On the contrary, practically every bishop in the country offered their support to Maynooth by vowing that they would continue to send seminarians there. This was despite the fact that several bishops had seminarians in Maynooth whom they knew were suffering the effects of poor priestly formation – some seminarians had personally brought their concerns to their bishops, but loyalty to the institution trumped duty to their seminarians who were, after all, merely offering their lives to Christ and His Church. One more academic year came to an end, and one more year where the trustee bishops of Maynooth College decided to sweep the issues under the carpet. Of course, there was one bishop – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – who removed his seminarians from the seminary on account of the homosexual sub-culture, the “strange goings-on” as he termed it. Conversely – and hopefully to their shame – the rest of the bishops effectively denied the existence and danger of the homosexual sub-culture which had been reported for a number of months previously. Like Monsignor Hugh Connolly, President of Maynooth College (currently on sabbatical), who had described the atmosphere in the seminary as “healthy and wholesome” in an RTE radio interview, the Trustees one by one publicly affirmed that they would continue to send seminarians to Maynooth, giving it their stamp of approval. However, the story that the bishops thought had been put to bed has raised its ugly head once again. Will they continue now, in January 2017, to deny that there are issues in our National Seminary, to try to convince the faithful Catholics of this country that Maynooth is a fit place to train their future priests? Is it not about time that our bishops – who should always be acting with the utmost concern for their seminarians – admit that their decades-long series of denials has done nothing but further harm the integrity of priestly formation in this country?

One might argue that the Trustees issued a statement in August with regard to the seminary and that it included some points for renewal, thereby showing that they are beginning to take the problems seriously. As this newspaper reported in September, in a commentary of the Trusteesstatement, the Trustees certainly did acknowledge the existence of an “unhealthy atmosphere”. However, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail” – the Trustees said that this unhealthy atmosphere was caused by “anonymous accusations together with some social media comments which can be speculative or even malicious”. This surely indicates that the bishops were only willing to address the more superficial issues. Why, for example, did the bishops not issue stronger proposals to deal with the homosexual sub-culture? Instead they referred only to complaints and anonymous letters as the basis for the unhealthy atmosphere. They did not address the reasons why complaints were anonymous: the few seminarians that there are do not have confidence in the seminary authorities. To further illustrate the degree to which the bishops appear to be detaching themselves from the real issues in Maynooth, the Trustees proposed the establishment of a pre-seminary (propaedeutic) year for all seminary applicants. This approach does nothing whatsoever to address the current problems of the seminary, particularly that which has caused the most controversy over the past eight months – that of seminarians leading double lives and engaging in homosexual lifestyles. We ask again, with the latest revelations, will the Trustees continue to bury their heads in the sand with regard to the real issues afflicting Maynooth and priestly formation?

Can we blame celibacy?

Let us examine Sarah McDonalds position: she claims, on the basis of the recent sexual scandals at Maynooth, that the discipline of clerical celibacy is destroying the priesthood. It can be so easy for us to come up with every explanation under the sun as to why there are so few men studying for the priesthood in Ireland. We can blame the culture and secularisation. We can blame the sexual abuse scandals, which have undoubtedly tarnished the reputation of the Catholic Church. And we can blame celibacy. Ms McDonald goes so far as to say that it is “destroying the priesthood”. We must remember that she made this comment on the back of comments with regard to the state of affairs in Maynooth Seminary. The logic appears to be that some men are entering Maynooth and are using gay-dating apps and looking for promiscuous sex, therefore celibacy is the problem. However, the problem is much deeper. How are these sexually immature men getting into seminary in the first place? Why are they permitted to remain in seminary after their misdeeds are brought to light? How can these men – and those who know about their lifestyles – think that they can be priests and yet live lives that are so gravely at odds with the priestly life? Why is the strongest condemnation of these practices from a bishop termed merely, “Strange goings on”? All these questions point to a much deeper issue: Either our bishops do not believe any more in the sacredness of the priesthood or they do not have a problem with homosexuals being ordained to the priesthood. Whichever is the case, our bishops, through their failure to firmly govern Maynooth Seminary and to preserve its integrity as a Catholic seminary, have made the Catholic priesthood unattractive to men who have a genuine vocation. What man, feeling called to the priesthood, to holiness, to a life of sacrifice, to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, would willingly enter Maynooth Seminary? Why would he risk is vocation by studying in a place with these “strange goings on”, to use Archbishop Martins phrase, where heterodoxy is rife, and where there is a history of good and holy men being shown the door?

Learning from the US vocations boom

If Sarah McDonald thinks that celibacy is the problem – and she is not alone in that – perhaps she should look at seminaries in the U.S. which are bursting to capacity. Take, for example, the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. It has a Catholic population of less than 100,000, yet it has over forty men studying for the priesthood. In Maynooth there are currently about forty men studying for the priesthood, in a country where the majority of the population still identifies as Catholic. The Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, has over fifty seminarians in formation; over fifty seminarians for a Catholic population of 114,000 people across ninety parishes! A similar picture is replicated in several other dioceses in the U.S., and in a 2013 article observing these trends, Brian Williams noted that there are a number of common factors in these dioceses which attract many vocations: faithful families, strong orthodoxy in the diocese and in the seminary, and beautiful liturgy, often in the Extraordinary Form. The answer seems very clear, and Ms McDonalds assertion is untenable: why are these seminaries, where orthodoxy and fidelity are evident, bursting to capacity, while many dioceses in this country have not had a seminarian or an ordination in several years? The seminarians in these unflinchingly orthodox seminaries are committing to celibacy, yet the commitment is being joyfully made by many men – because they know they are committing to the authenticity, beauty, splendour and truth of our Catholic faith.

National Seminary continues to flounder

Our bishops collectively give their unflinching support to Maynooth and the status quo therein, yet vocations are plummeting; the bishops of Lincoln, Wichita etc. give their unflinching support to the fullness of Catholic truth, and their seminaries cannot contain the number of men wishing to commit their lives to Christ in the sacred priesthood! All of this brings us back to the beginning of this article: the bishopsad limina. Why are our bishops lamenting the decline in vocations? Why are they willing to promote the permanent diaconate as if it were a solution to the fall-off in priestly vocations? Why is Bishop Leo OReilly so apparently determined to advance his diocesan discussion groups call for married priests and female deacons as a solution to the crisis? Perhaps our bishops simply do not believe that the Lord is calling young men to priesthood any more.

Why is the topic of bringing priests who left the priesthood to marry back in to ministry considered a viable option, but no bishop appears to be willing to call for a radical reform of the National Seminary? Our bishops seem to be willing to do anything but upset the status quo in Maynooth. Despite the decades-long issues which have afflicted Maynooth Seminary, there does not seem to be any real desire to bring about the radical reform that it needs; reform which, on the basis of the trends in the U.S., would ensure a revitalisation of diocesan priesthood. Instead, the bishops are permitting our National Seminary to be choked by ongoing scandals and by rampant heterodoxy, and in the process are choking countless priestly vocations to death. Why on earth are our bishops not prepared to learn from the U.S.? Why on earth is a thoroughly orthodox seminary so distasteful to them? Our Lord expects big things of His priests, so Bishops: Please do not disgrace yourselves further by lamenting that there appear to be few priestly vocations while you continue to preside over the disgraceful state of our National Seminary. Do not expect the young Catholic men of this country to commit their lives to anything less than the fullness of truth!