Trustees accuse Visitators of "deep prejudice" against Irish CollegeSunday, June 17th, 2012
A, “deep prejudice appears to have coloured the visitation,” to the Irish College in Rome according to its four trustees, the archbishops of Armagh, Dublin, Cashel and Tuam.
Their leaked response to the criticisms outlined in the apostolic visitation’s report on the seminary was revealed by the Irish Times, which also gained access to the conclusions of the visitation team led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
According to the Irish Times, the unpublished visitation report claimed the four trustees were, “disengaged from college governance, with meetings, minutes, agendas and direct supervision irregular.”
The report called for, “substantial reform,” and warned that the trustee's prevailing attitude of, “Let’s keep doing what we have been for the last 35 years,” could not be allowed to continue particularly in view of the, “disturbingly significant,” number of seminarians who gave a, “negative assessment of the atmosphere of the house.”
However, in their response, which was seen by the Irish Times, the trustees: Cardinal Sean Brady, and Archbishops Diarmuid Martin, Michael Neary and Dermot Clifford, hit out at the, “hostile tone and content,” of the visitation report. They accused the visitators, led by Cardinal Dolan who was assisted by among others, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien and Mgr Francis Kelly of the North American College in Rome, of prioritising, “their own view of orthodoxy, priestly identity, separation and devotion.”
They also claimed that the report’s, “harsh judgements on staff members,” were, “unsupported by evidence.”
Despite adopting a defensive stance on the staff members, the trustees nevertheless backed radical changes at the College including the return of three members of staff to ministry in Ireland, while a fourth, former rector Fr Liam Bergin left last year and was replaced by Fr Ciaran O’Carroll in September 2011.
The report was also highly critical of the college’s graduate students, accusing them of being, “less than positive examples of priestly life,” who needed a, “clear rule of life.”
The visitators recommended that the graduate students be given increased supervision and attention and that a clear dress code be part of the rule of life. The report called for a confessional to be erected in the chapel of the Irish College and that an outside confessor be appointed.
The visitation report said the Irish College suffered from a reputation of being, “gay friendly,” but Cardinal Dolan’s team said there was no evidence of, “rampant immorality or a homosexual subculture, and that the overwhelming majority of the seminarians were committed to a faithful, chaste lifestyle.”
One of the visitation team’s major conclusions was that the Irish bishops, “must reaffirm the identity and mission of the college as, first and foremost, a house of priestly formation for seminarians from Ireland, with the presence of non-Irish seminarians and graduate priests from Ireland and elsewhere, never allowed to dwarf the primary mission and identity.”
Cardinal Dolan’s team of visitators expressed concern at the fact that due to the decline in vocations to the priesthood in Ireland, the number of Irish seminarians is now, “a minority subset.” Just eighteen of the 56 students currently studying at the Irish College are Irish seminarians. The college, which was founded in 1628, also caters for international students, a number of whom belong to the Orthodox tradition.
“The presence of Orthodox students in the house, as well as of the Eastern Rite Catholic men not preparing for the celibate life, “made the situation more complex,” the visitators stated. The Apostolic Visitors recommended that the Irish College accept only seminarians from Ireland and that if a seminarian is accepted from another country, “it should be extraordinary.” They also concluded, “Eastern Rite and Orthodox students should not be accepted.”
This recommendation is reported to have perplexed the Irish trustees on account of the request made to the College by the Council for Christian Unity in the Vatican to take Orthodox students, and particularly to offer formation to members of vulnerable Eastern Rite Catholic community.
One of the College’s best-known students was Fr Ragheed Ghanni, a Chaldean Catholic priest, who was killed in Iraq in 2007. He had studied at the Irish College in Rome for seven years before returning home to his war torn country and meeting his death.
By Sarah Mac Donald