Chambers on... The Maynooth crisis

Richard Chambers looks at why he believes the Catholic Church is failing its flock...

"Strange goings-on" is how Dr Diarmuid Martin described the whispers surrounding 'inappropriate' behaviour by trainee priests at the seminary in Maynooth. And as far as euphemisms go, it's an all timer. 

The Archbishop of Dublin’s decision to pull his diocese’s seminarians from St Patrick’s College was a surprise and, not for the first time, he was left as an isolated voice in Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy.

The allegations of trainee priests using Grindr are embarrassing for the Church, but not as troubling as the longstanding allegations and denials of sexual harassment, which have dogged the institution.

It’s just another example of a controversy that the Church seems to have failed to deal with. Every time an allegation or accusation surfaces about Maynooth, it seems like the matter is dealt with internally and never fully brought to light.

For Diarmuid Martin, certainly the most recognisable Church figure in Ireland, to speak out about his concerns will have an impact on the public, who broadly consider his voice more reasonable and modern than his colleagues.

There are hundreds of thousands of members of the faithful in Ireland who deserve better than rumours, headlines and scandals. They’re forced to witness their Church drag itself from media storm to media storm while never learning the very obvious lesson: It simply must be more open.

The Church needs change but it doesn’t seem to be listening to many changers. Who cares if a priest is gay? Who cares if a priest is a woman? Who cares if a priest is married?

If you were to ask most Catholics those questions, they would certainly entertain the idea of a discussion on the matter.

Don’t get me wrong, the Church has every right to take a standpoint on each of these issues, and more besides, but refusing to even discuss or debate them is nothing but harmful and off-putting to the dwindling numbers considering taking up the vocation.

It’s a very different situation to the failings of the past and the vile crimes that were committed by men of the cloth. There is no comparison. But it’s yet another example of the Church failing its members at almost every turn by refusing to engage with the times.

It’s not just an Irish issue. It never is. Down Under, Cardinal George Pell, one of the Vatican’s top clergymen, has been repeatedly hammered for his handling of abuse allegations and he himself is now at the centre of such a claim dating back to the eighties.

Pope Francis has quite rightly called for due process to take its course but it’s certainly another setback for a global church.

In fact, Francis has been one of the few positives for the Church worldwide in recent years. His outspokenness on social justice, climate change and inequality have all been positive steps but there are far more contentious and pressing matters to attend to. Only with a frank and open debate on reform will the Church find itself a place in the modern world. The wheels of change though aren’t turning and are once again mired in lethargy and denials.