Category Archives: Maynooth Seminary

Collapse of Irish Catholicism: A Self-Induced Crisis?

My sincere thanks to Peadar Laighléis, President of the Latin Mass Society of Ireland, for kindly allowing me to repost his excellent article, appended below, concerning the crisis in the Irish Catholic Church. It was first published in the Sunday Business Post in 2001.  He also sent me this helpful bit of background to the article:

I wrote this piece nearly ten years ago and at the time, I was annoyed I left one major source of discontent out.  In the mid-1990s, the Bishops of Ireland transferred the feasts of Ascension Thursday and Corpus Christi to the nearest Sunday.  This was calculated to please the laity and was greeted by the greatest outpouring of lay anger than anyone could anticipate which resulted in the dropping of the second phase of the programme fast (ie the transferance of the obligation to hear Mass on feasts falling on a Saturday or Monday to the Sunday – a ‘two for the price of one’ arrangement).

The bishops were surprised as they were led to believe that that was what the faithful expected.  This was done through a process of consultation enthrusted to the clergy.  The respondents were specially selected and they gave the correct responses.  The problem was that these responses were totally unrepresentative.  This attracted more correspondence to the Irish Catholic than any other single issue in David Quinn’s editorship.

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Leading Maynooth Theologian Decries Disintegration of Maynooth and the Irish Church (1978)


Monsignor Patrick Francis Cremin, Professor of Moral Theology and Canon Law at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, gave a four-part interview 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 in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. The first, second and fourth parts can be read in full here. Posted below is the third-part of the interview, which concerns 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: The Scandal of Maynooth (1973) and Anonymous Seminarians Criticise Maynooth

Change in Irish Catholicism: The Furrow Breaks New Ground

Below is the introductory foreword in the inaugural issue of The Furrow from 1950. The author is the editor and founder of The Furrow, Canon J.G. McGarry, then Professor of Sacred Eloquence and Pastoral Theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Accompanying this foreword was an article warmly commending the editor’s programme by the Most Rev. John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, along with a message of fraternal support from The Catholic Standard.

The Furrow is something new. It is new in the ground it opens. Many branches of pastoral work to which our times have given a special importance demand a fuller treatment — preaching, pastoral organisations, the liturgy, the Church, its art and architecture. And it is in such matters especially that theory needs to be confirmed and corrected by practice. The pooling of experiences in varying conditions of work and the exchange of views on new pastoral methods are means hitherto little used, yet they can give valuable help to all who are charged by God to keep His field.

A new opportunity is offered in The Furrow for the sharing of such experience. Moreover, recent years have given evidence of an increasing interest in writing on the part of our younger priests. Life in the priesthood and Christian culture offer to such young writers rich and fertile themes, opening to them a new way of serving the Church, its faith and civilisation. The Furrow will consider it a point of duty to support and encourage such writers.

In pursuing these aims The Furrow will be guided by the mind and spirit of the Church. Obedience to the Vicar of Christ and to His bishops, whom the Holy Ghost has appointed to govern His flock, will be the corner-stone of its policy. But besides this higher allegiance there is place, too, for a special, domestic loyalty. Reverence for the traditions of the Irish Church and pride in its distinctive way of life must be an influence upon the policy of any Irish Catholic review. For us this reverence is more than an influence. Our past is our special glory: Kells and Cashel, Cong and Glendalough are a rich inheritance, challenging their heirs to high endeavour, to call forth new treasures from old.

How frequently Christ speaks of His Kingdom as the field — the field that is sown with good seed and bad, field of the hidden treasure, the field challenging the ploughman’s courage and persistence! Only the tiller of His field does not work alone; the sower needs the weeder’s help, the ploughman is nothing without the reaper. To all who work in that field the call is to come and share with their fellow-workers the labours of the harvest, to be men of His meitheal.

Yet co-operation alone is not enough. “We are God’s workmen; you are His field,” St. Paul writes to his Corinthians. But the workman counted for nothing, neither Paul who sowed, nor Apollo who watered. The harvest was the gift of God alone.

May He who gives the harvest prosper this sowing.

Irish People and Their Priests

The Revolution Triumphant: Cardinal William Conway says Vatican II Invalidates Old Paternalism

The following speech was given by Cardinal William Conway, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, at the annual prize-giving in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth on the 19th June, 1966:

Today and for a long to come much of the life of the Church will be dominated by the teaching and decisions of the great Vatican Council which has just been concluded.

It is often said that the Council was the Church adapting herself to the conditions of a changing world.

I believe that the changes which have taken place in the world in recent years, dramatic though they be, are but a foretaste of a profound transformation of human society and human thought which has only just begun and which may take anything up to a hundred years to work itself out.
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The Revolution Triumphant: Irish Hierarchy’s June Meeting, 1966

The following press release was issued by the Irish hierarchy following their meeting at St. Patrick’s Maynooth on the 21st-22nd June, 1966:


The Second Vatican Council has called for the development of Catholic University facilities, especially in the sphere of philosophy and theology, in order to show the harmony of Christian teaching with true human culture and scientific development, and to provide all priests, religious and laity with the fullest opportunity of Christian formation.

The Irish bishops at their June meeting have had under consideration how this development could be secured in this country, and propose to develop Maynooth as an open centre of higher studies, and to extend its facilities and courses so as to meet the requirements, not merely of priests, diocesan and regular, but also of brothers, nuns and laity.
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Jansenism and Irish Catholicism

“Jansenism”. The Oxford Companion to Irish History. 2007.

“Jansenism was viewed with great suspicion by Rome, and 17th-century Irish synods toed the Roman line. Indeed, while its moral rigorism made it attractive to elements of the Counter-Reformation church, Jansenism’s theological and political radicalism alienated both local hierarchies and Catholic monarchs. This was especially the case in France and most Irish clerical students there associated with the milieux hostile to the movement. Indeed their anti-Jansenist opinions were singled out for criticism by the pro-Jansenist journal Nouvelles ecclésiastiques, Irish clerics, in general, being more attracted to Jesuit-style humanism. The success of the anti-Jansenist bull Unigenitus (1713) marginalized the movement but it survived as a popular millenarian-cum-miracle cult. Neither as a theology nor as a political attitude did Jansenism recommend itself to the Irish Catholic community, either at home or abroad. The frequent claim that Irish Catholicism was Jansenist-influenced springs from the tendency to confuse Jansenism with mere moral rigorism.”

—Dr. Thomas O’Connor. Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer at the Department of History, National University of Ireland. He is the author of Irish Jansenists 1600-1670: politics and religion in Flanders, France, Ireland and Rome (Dublin, 2008), Strangers to Citizens: the Irish in Europe 1600-1800 (Dublin, 2008), An Irish Jansenist in seventeenth-century France: John Callaghan 1605-54 (Dublin, 2005) and An Irish Theologian in Enlightenment Europe: Luke Joseph Hooke 1714-96 (Dublin, 1995).

John Healy, Maynooth College: Its Centenary History (Dublin, 1895), p. 274

“During the eighteenth century many of the most eminent Churchmen in France were, to some extent, tinctured with these Jansenistic views, even when repudiating the Jansenistic errors regarding the operation of grace and free will. But although so many of our Irish ecclesiastics were educated in France during the eighteenth century, none of those who came to Ireland ever showed the slightest trace of this Jansenistic influence, either in their writings or their sermons. Nor has any respectable authority asserted, so far as we know, that the French Professors of Maynooth were in any way tinged with the spirit of Jansenism.”

—Most Rev. John Healy, D.D., LL.D., M.R.I.A.

Vexilla Regis: Maynooth Laymen’s Annual, 1951, p. 84

“Off the playing-fields [of Maynooth seminary] at the end of a short avenue of tall cypresses, there is a little cemetery. Here are the graves of some of the greatest men in the history of modern Irish Catholicism. Here, also, are the graves of Irish boys who had consecrated themselves to God but whom God took to Himself before they reached the priesthood. A few French priests rest here, too. For the original staff at Maynooth consisted of Irish priests from Paris and some French colleagues whom they brought with them. (To this day the College gown is an adaptation of that worn by the clerical professors at the Sorbonne in pre-Revolution times.)

Those gentle dead are sometimes accused of having brought Jansenism into Ireland. My friend, Mr. Tom Wall, Assistant Librarian at University College, Dublin, has written admirably on this silly accusation and on the whole history of the remarkable part played by Irish priests in Paris in the Jansenist controversy. The so-called Jansenism of late nineteenth century Ireland was nothing more than an element of Victorianism that came over with the compulsory English after the Famine.”

—Chevalier Thomas MacGreevy

The Rise and Fall of the Catholic Church in Ireland

The following is an editorial from Church and State magazine (the organ of the old Campaign to Seperate Church and State), January, 2010:

The Age Of My Craven Deference Is Finally Over.” That was the headline on Professor Ronan Fanning’s article on the Murphy Report (Sun. Independent, 6 Dec.). Well, it was almost the headline. Fanning used the collective “our” rather than the personal “my”. But in the case of the Professor of Modern History at the chief College of the National University the personal and the collective merge. The Professor (singular) determines in great part what characterised the plurality of those who went through the educational system to its highest level.

It became well known to us long ago that the paid intelligentsia of the state were craven in their attitude towards the Church. They were sceptics in private but were cynically respectful in public, because they were craven.
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Anonymous Seminarians Criticise Maynooth

click above to expand and read in full (pdf)

The above article was published in the current Catholic Voice weekly newspaper. I have tippexed out some names.

Vexilla Regis: Maynooth Laymen’s Annual; 1951

Click above to read in full (pdf) – begins at page 33
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