This morning I went to a town called Athboy to attend a funeral of a former workmate. She was a stylish, funny woman who loved her family and was looking forward to her retirement. Cancer killed her. These occasions in Ireland tend to be about respect, not breast-beating mournfulness. On the way there, Hugh Connolly (president of the Maynooth seminary) was interviewed on RTE radio, naturally introduced as “Monsignor”, in a way that the director of the Dublin Theatre Festival wouldn’t be.
Listening to his overly technical explanation of the naive complaints by the ultramontane student group, a couple of thoughts came to mind. If you don’t find this remotely interesting, stop reading this and go back to facebook. Despite the mass media focussing on this, it is not a sex v. celibacy thing at Maynooth. It is about a small group of students who think the college is theirs, who insist on throwing gay men under the bus to further their rigid worldview. This group is not mature enough to recognise that the Catholic world is bigger than their narrow need for control of their education. Worse still, they think we care about their concerns over Grindr use.
Both gay men and straight women have been treated badly by some students in Maynooth. Women have been treated badly by some students over the years, being excluded from social contact in the later stages of training; that has caused hurt. Gay men are routinely belittled and subject to juvenile behaviour, for the want of some basic human empathy. But the evident and frequent misogyny and homophobia are signs of other problems.
There is nothing intrinsically interesting about Maynooth seminary politics. But some there want it to be the centre of their own world. That tells the rest of us more about those who want it like that, not much about anyone else. Like racism and other forms of discrimination, the homophobia evident among some in Maynooth seminary betrays a lack of understanding of human relations as they exist and change. If these men are being trained to be pastors for parishes then they will soon enough discover that parish life is demanding and reflects the ambiguity and toil we all know (Catholic or not) to be our lot. Parish life for priests can be repetitive and discouraging of self-care. Over the time I worked in the Bishops’ Conference I met and talked with older priests who had mental health problems, mostly related to a frustration with their lot. The change around them is baffling; they’re largely lost in a mass of meaningless events. Some priests become decent local leaders and human beings; others descend into a vortex of bitterness with the world, resenting the people they pastor.
Mock if you will but Maynooth seminary is a place of study, work and politics. Friends reading this will see that in their own everyday workplace, Maynooth University. In that way, it is little different to many other places of education. But this small group of students wants only to hang on to a vision of a church that is crumbling under them and doubtfully ever existed anyway.