The Catholic church flounders again over sexuality within

You couldn’t make it up. The decision of the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin  to remove  his diocese’s ( only) three trainees from  St Patrick’s Maynooth and pack then off to the comparative safety of Rome (!),  because of a  “poisonous atmosphere” surrounding allegations about the use of a gay dating app in the College, is more farce than tragedy – or would be, if the seminarians are as worldly – wise as most young people are these days.

To this outsider the episode speaks poorly of the inability of  the Catholic bishops’ conference to act collectively and hold an investigation for the good of  the non-Dubliners still attending. It’s hardly satisfactory for the church  once again to default  to anonymous denial  – assuming of course that it still dismisses gay nature as “objective disorder”.

Columnist Patrick Murphy in the Irish News  pins more of the blame on  the archbishop for taking evasive action than on the college authorities for failing to get to the bottom of  the allegations ( no pun intended).

The explanation for this bizarre episode appears to revolve around Dr Martin, who is known to be something of a maverick. He has a good reputation for the way he handled the child abuse scandal. He handed over 80,000 files from the archdiocesan archives to the Murphy Commission, including 5,000 papers which his predecessor, Desmond Connell, took court action to keep secret.

The term “ maverick” has been used by a few writers on the story as if it was part of a briefing . It’s a strange term to apply to someone as senior as the Archbishop of Dublin in what is supposed to be a new era of transparency and dates from that remarkable tussle with his predecessor.

The response of the college authorities has come in the form of a unattributable, qualified denial by   “ a seminarian… who contacted the Irish Times.”    

The man was not aware of any gay subculture at Maynooth – “and I know everyone. I mean everyone. There are a lot of cliques, but there are not even whispers about guys practicing,” he said.

He might have surmised that some colleagues were gay, but that was as far as it went.

“I didn’t even know what Grindr was before this,” he said, referring to the gay dating site used by some seminarians at Maynooth, it has been claimed.

“If there is a gay culture, it must be among a very small number of men because the rest of us had no idea about it.It wasn’t an open secret, which is the way the press is covering it. If the seminarians didn’t know about it, then there’s no way the staff could have.”

Fionnuala O’Connor in the Irish News set the Maynooth boycott in a wider context of social  and sexual change still very much in progress…

The gap between progress towards homosexual equality and acceptance of a woman’s right to control her own reproductive process is painfully obvious.

But the giddy cheer of Pride is not the whole story. As campaigning groups well know, across the north young teenagers and even adults are still sick with fear about telling parents and even siblings it’s a girlfriend they crave not a boyfriend, or that their gender is a work in progress.

Once it was beyond the Irish Church’s imagination – and that of the global institution – to question official structures from within, let alone exposing their failings to public view.

The archbishop as before in his twelve years in the post made his move regardless of shock value.

Experts on recent Church history, in particular the Irish Times religious correspondent Patsy McGarry, have reported his near-isolation from the rest of the hierarchy since his first, hard struggle to winkle diocesan records out of his predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell.

But where Martin focused on gossip about sexual promiscuity, real or alleged, as scandalous and bad for trainee priests, some new recruits have apparently been told they are too rigid, ultra-orthodox; conservatives complain about liberal Maynooth teaching.

The cumulative effect of insider truth-telling is still rolling, Ireland north and south healthier every time another dogmatic institution develops a crack.

Patrick Murphy sees in  the archbishop’s boycott a struggle for clerical power.

He also appears to be promoting Dublin above Armagh in speaking for the Irish Church. For example, Armagh can handle the pettiness of Stormont, but only the Dublin Archdiocese can deal with the Irish government. (Even the Church is now partitioned.) It may not have been a coup, but it was certainly a statement of intent. Armagh’s silence suggests that he won.

Well it ebbs and flows. Desmond Connell of Dublin wore  the cardinal’s hat during much of Sean Brady’s primacy at Armagh. And although Cardinal d’Alton was the  all-Ireland primate, there was no doubt who  wore the socks in the era of John Charles McQuaid.

McQuaid was never made a cardinal and de Valera had something to do with that. In 1953 he was a leading contender but the honour went instead to the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, John d’Alton. McQuaid was informed by a friend in Rome that the reason for d’Alton’s appointment was political. The Vatican fully realised that McQuaid was the leading contender for the red hat but, his friend wrote, he had been informed by Joseph Walshe, the Irish minister to the Holy See, that the reason for d’Alton’s appointment was ‘an attempt to conciliate the North and emphasise the unity of Ireland’.

Between Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh with his very localised experience and the former Vatican official Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who will get the next red hat? It would  be a quite a statement if Dublin is preferred over Armagh.