The Irish bishops have sorted out the Maynooth crisis – to their own satisfaction at least. I’m not sure, though, a curfew policed by mandatory attendance at a 9.00 p.m. Rosary and introduced at the behest of the Catholic militant should be part of the ‘solution’. Treating adults like children is no preparation for living priesthood.
It’s a failed policy, as experience and common sense remind us.
But, leaving aside the ‘solution’, what lessons have learned from the Maynooth fiasco?
After the clerical child sexual abuse scandals and the way they were dealt with, the Irish bishops should have known that a scandal – real or imaginary – about Maynooth as a seminary would be another nail in the coffin of the Catholic Church in Ireland. They should have known that investigations by Rome or what appeared to be well-meaning in-house committees are simply not credible after the experience of the child abuse scandals. Structures have to be not just transparent and independent but seen to be transparent and independent if they are to stand their ground in Catholic Ireland.
That’s a given today and if we haven’t learned that then we have learned very little.
It’s time for the bishops to get their structures in effective working order.
For example, the Association of Catholic Priests, after its annual AGM last October (at which specific resolutions were passed that needed a response from the Bishops) asked for a meeting. This was granted five months later and eventually took place in May. The bishops promised a response but three months later we have received no response. We don’t even know, ten months on, as we are preparing for our 2016 AGM, whether our proposals were discussed or not.
Clearly, the structures around the way the bishops function have to be dragged into the 21st century when it’s clear to everyone they’re not fit for purpose.
If the bishops didn’t see the Maynooth problem coming they could miss any train coming down the track. It’s simply not good enough.
A third criticism applies to some bishops rather than others. In accepting students for the priesthood, bishops have a responsibility not to accept unsuitable candidates – for their own good, the good of the seminary and the good of the Church.
Some bishops are rigorous in discharging this obligation; others seem to accept almost anyone who applies, even now (it’s reported) some bishops are going abroad to find candidates, as if filching vocations from other countries to camouflage the problem in Ireland is any solution to anything.
It’s well known that some bishops imagine that it’s pleasing Rome and impressing the Papal Nuncio for a diocese to have a significant number of seminarians, even though to most sensible members of the human race this policy is a recipe for future problems. In effect, it’s nothing else than irresponsibility on a massive scale.
If the present seminary model is not fit for purpose – and there are compelling arguments to suggest that it is not – then Archbishop Martin should set up a different model.
With more than a million Catholics, 199 parishes and two collections at every public mass at every weekend in Dublin, instead of moving the Dublin seminarians from Tweedledum to Tweedledee, he could model his ideas by setting up a new seminary in Dublin for his 12 students, combining direct experience of parish life with study in one of the many theological institutes in Dublin.
We need as a church to examine the high price we have paid in recent years for indulging the obsessions of ultra-conservative bishops.
At the Vatican, during the pontificates of Popes John Paul and Benedict, senior positions were filled with bishops notoriously out of sympathy with what the Second Vatican Council represented (what Pope Francis is now struggling to undo). Some have had to be removed; others need to be removed before they do even more damage to the credibility of the Church.
And in Ireland, uncomprehendingly, in the pontificate of Pope Francis we are still appointing bishops who have the mark of Benedict on them rather than the vision of Francis. To paraphrase Archbishop Martin’s comments about Maynooth, the congregation of Bishops in Rome seems to be ‘a strange closed place’.
We need as a church to examine the high price we have paid for indulging the obsessions on ultra-conservative Catholics, especially the often ludicrous and sometimes dangerous campaigns of ‘Catholic’ papers, including the recent campaign to de-stabilise Maynooth. This has been in train for some years, lead by journalists, some of whom clearly have specific personal history with Maynooth.
Certain ‘Catholic’ papers have had to apologise publicly to the Maynooth authorities for some of their coverage of this issue. When doctoral thesis are being written in future years on the Maynooth problem of 2016, a gallery of ultra-Catholics – some overly-pious, others disgruntled and others homophobic – will be listed among the architects of the decline of Catholicism. They know not what they do.
Working as a priest in Ireland demands a clear set of skills to deal with the complex issues and the complicated environment that is Catholic life today. The tendency towards over-parenting – parents solving every possible problem that arises – is seeping into seminaries and it would seem that some seminarians now seem to be incapable of dealing with the day-to-day problems of modern life: divisions, resentments, teasing, (good natured and malicious), squabbles, etc. While no one would want anyone to be bullied, etc., seminarians need to learn how to stand up for themselves as we all had to do.
Sorting out the present problem is a failed policy, if it just diverts attention from the fundamental issue about vocations – we haven’t enough. And unless we’re prepared to deal effectively with this problem, where or how the few seminarians we have are trained is superfluous.
Here endeth the lessons for this week.
Fr Brendan Hoban; Western People; 7 September 2016