Leading Maynooth Theologian Decries Disintegration of the Irish Church
Monsignor Patrick Francis Cremin, Professor of Moral Theology and Canon Law at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, gave a series of interviews to the Irish Independent in November, 1978, denouncing the doctrinal turmoil in the Irish Church and the pastoral negligence of the Irish hierarchy. A theological conservative, Mgr Cremin grew increasingly disillusioned with the liberal drift of the Irish Church following the Second Vatican Council. In his interviews, Mgr Cremin was highly critical of the implicit endorsement given by the Irish bishops for the legalization of contraception, and what he viewed as their failure to uphold Catholic doctrine on sexual morality. Appended below is the section (abbreviated) on Maynooth seminary, where he was chair of both Moral Theology and Canon Law from 1949 until 1980.
Mgr Cremin had been appointed by Pope John XXIII as an expert to prepare for the Second Vatican Council and served on three of the Council’s commissions. He served as a peritus to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and as an expert to the Irish bishops throughout the Council (as he did at the 1956 Maynooth Plenary Council) and was charged by the papal nuncio with giving the press conference on Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae to an unreceptive Irish media, following its release in 1968. He would later become involved in drafting the new Code of Canon Law.
Mgr Cremin was an instinctively obedient churchman but felt compelled to speak out as a result of concern expressed by laity and fellow-clergy and because he felt the situation in the Irish Church had deteriorated to the point of desperation: “It should go without saying that for one in my position it is quite distasteful to make a contribution that is necessarily critical of the conduct of ecclesiastical affairs by bishops, who, in communion and subject to the Supreme Pontiff, occupy the sacred office of rulers in the Church of Christ. But I am moved to make it because of the great seriousness of the matter in question.”
There is, first, the fact that the Irish Bishops as a body, and especially some of them individually, have not taken the necessary steps to protect our Catholic Faith and Teaching, by ensuring that, in Ireland, professional theologians and pseudo-theologians (and priests influenced by them) were not permitted to propagate with impunity doctrinal and moral teaching that was misleading or unsound.
(I) But they have been permitted, and at a time when our faithful people have become particularly vulnerable to the effects of wrong or confused teaching, since the valuable, indeed the indispensable, programme of catechetical instruction, that had to be covered, in a two or three-year cycle, by priests in their sermons at Sunday Masses, has largely been abandoned.
Moreover, this has happened at a time when such systematic instruction has become particularly necessary for the reassurance of the faithful, who are disposed to think right but are bewildered because of the absence of confirmation of their religious views.
The result is that nowadays our people receive little solid instruction and rarely hear of the commandments of God, or of sin and repentance, or purgatory and hell, or of some of the great Christian truths and devotional practices, such as the sacrifice of the Mass or the value of devotion to Our Lady, especially in the Rosary.
In addition the faithful, and particularly parents of school-going children, have the further anxiety of having to try to cope with the “new catechetics”, and its delayed presentation or dilution (or worse) of the truths to be believed or of the moral principles to be followed by those who are members of the Catholic Church.
(II) There is, secondly, the fact that the Irish Bishops have not taken the necessary measures, over the past several years, to save our national seminary at Maynooth from progressive deterioration and, as I believe, in certain respects near disintegration in vital areas of the life of the seminary and of the formation of the young men being trained in it for the priesthood.
One factor that has largely contributed to this has been the ill-conceived decision taken by the Bishops in 1966 to open our national seminary, in the way it was actually opened, to non-clerical students, including male and female lay students and nuns, 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.
I am not directly concerned here with the National University side of Maynooth College. As regards the seminary proper, things were just allowed to happen and happen, to the detriment of the seminary itself and therefore of the Irish Church, of which this national seminary had been the nerve-centre for more than a century and a half.
And the glory that once was Maynooth, especially in the English-speaking ecclesiastical world and in missionary lands, has vanished, perhaps never to return.
There has been no evidence of order in this seminary for many years, and I am not speaking here of order based on an application of the old strict Maynooth discipline. Moreover, there has been much evidence of disorder, and of lack of due respect for the standards of community living. In fact, when the infection discernible early on in our seminary was not dealt with, it inevitably spread to the point where disorder has gradually come to be taken for granted, and accepted by many as the “order” of the day.
Not only that, but there has been what rather incredibly appears to be a permitted policy of drift and of anarchy or absence of rule. And I am not speaking of authoritarian rule, but of the exercise of that rule which, as the Second Vatican Council emphasised, consists in service that consults the best interests of the individual and of the community.
These unwelcome facts — referred to only very briefly here — concerning our national seminary cannot be discounted by the whitewashing or window-dressing that has gone on, for a number of years now, on the part of some of those who, at the different level of administration and government, have had responsibility for the situation which the facts represent.
From time to time, in publicity exercises in the press or elsewhere, the public have been given to understand by some of them that “All, or nearly all is fair in the garden,” when in actual fact there is no longer any garden but something of a wilderness.
In a situation of this kind, no ordinary business concern could survive, not to speak of an institution comparable to Maynooth College, which is not just any institution but Ireland’s national seminary for the training of young men for the priesthood. But of course the question must be asked: Has our national seminary really survived, if survival is understood to involve the preservation of essential values and standards without which it is no longer what it was?
A tragic aspect of this situation is that those seminarians, who are seriously aspiring to the priesthood, are not receiving the full essential formation for which they came to Maynooth College, even though they are not only willing but anxious to receive it. Naturally they themselves or at least many of them do not even know what they are being deprived of, since they are not aware of what their formation should be. The students themselves, therefore, are the losers and the victims of the situation in the seminary, even without their knowing it.
After all, they did expect some challenge when they came to Maynooth College to be trained for the priesthood. But for that training the only real challenge ultimately is the practice of self-denial and the cultivation of the spiritual life. As a means to that end, some silence, some spirit of contemplation, some curtailment of liberty must be insisted upon, and must be accepted by those who are aspiring to become the official representatives of Christ, who appeals even to any ordinary follower of His to deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Him.
It is not really too surprising then, if, not finding the challenge they expected in some form of curtailment of liberty and self-denial, some clerical students who did appear to have a genuine vocation to the priesthood, have left the seminary in their early years through disillusionment. Neither is it very surprising if, by reason of the confusion to which they have been exposed in some of their theological formation, other clerical students have left the seminary only at a very late stage in their course — perhaps, unfortunately, too few such students.
How many, notwithstanding some theological confusion, have been accepted by their Bishops for priesthood without their complete theological formation being assured, only to add to the confusion of bewildered members of their flock?
Even if our national seminary were to be recreated tomorrow in some appropriate, sensible form, and enabled to rise phoenix-like from its ashes; the question would still have to be asked — how badly served some Irish priests have been who were resident seminarians at Maynooth College during the past ten years. Only the passing of time in their ministry can answer that question for them or for those to whom they will have ministered.
At this stage, the reader must be asking a question he may well have asked for the first time many years ago: What ever went wrong with Maynooth College? Since this question can be answered definitely only by the Bishops responsible for governing the College, and perhaps only by those of them with first-hand knowledge of its government since it was opened to non-clerical students in 1966, one can only speculate on the answer to it.
Is it, perhaps, that the Bishops who did perceive the early ailments and the progressive sickness of our seminary, and who had the will and the courage to try to remedy them, were just not able to prevail against those, maybe only one or two, who gave a bad lead and were supported by others? Certainly, in the recent abnormal and critical years, as never before in the life of Maynooth College, a lead was needed which would be courageous as well as enlightened and wise; or was this too much to hope for in the disordered state of the Catholic Church? The lack of such a lead has cost our national seminary dearly, and therefore also the Irish Church.
For how long more, under Providence, must Maynooth College, and those who are attached to it or concerned about it, suffer in this way?
Read this for an insight into a very different Maynooth (and a very different Ireland). Mgr Cremin is actually mentioned on page 91.
See also: Anonymous Seminarians Criticise Maynooth