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Life no longer so gay at Ireland’s seminary Maynooth

August 3rd, 2016

DO you have that Trumped-out feeling? One can only be outraged, sickened, appalled, and yet entertained, for so long, right? And Trumpetisation has been ongoing for over a year. The topic of DJT has now been banned from my family dinner table. We are just putting our fingers in our ears, casting down our eyes, and hoping that we will wake up on November 9 and it will all have been a nasty dream, and a responsible human being is in the White House.

And just when there’s a need for something new to be exercised about, the Catholic Church obliges.

It’s the decision by Archbishop of Dublin and Good Egg, Diarmuid Martin, to stop sending his trainee priests to St Patrick’s College at Maynooth. Maynooth has for over 200 years been a “pontifical university” (offering courses in theology and related disciplines) and a training college for novice priests. The Archbishop referred to homosexual activity and “strange goings-on” – a rather twee and non-specific term, from such an intelligent man. The media, certain sections of it revelling in this story, have run reports that the gay dating app Grindr was being put through its paces at Maynooth.

Well: maybe you are shocked. But surely not at the idea of gay activity among priests? Perhaps the past two decades have blunted our sensibilities with regard to the sexual activity of the clergy. There have been so many shocking and disgraceful cases of sexual abuse, particularly of children in the care of the Church. But consenting sex among adult males? Is the Church still pretending that homosexuality doesn’t exist, or doesn’t exist among its staff?

About 40 years ago Australian director Fred Schepisi made a film called The Devil’s Playground. It centres around a 13-year-old boy, yes, coming of age, in a Catholic boarding school. The theme, as I remember it, is handling, if you’ll forgive the expression, sexuality in its different forms. The internal torture of some of the “brothers” because of their homosexual urges was portrayed both artistically and memorably – because I still remember it. Back then, few Catholics would have been astonished to learn that there were gay priests and brothers (setting aside my mother, who I think went to her grave not knowing about homosexuality). The juicier stories were about the parish priest who ran off with a married mother of three, or was keeping a very young and good-looking “housekeeper”. The gay priest was very much an undercover figure.

One of the sadder things about this story is how few new priests are involved – just three from the Dublin diocese will be sent to Rome for their training, rather than Maynooth, which is in County Kildare, about 25 kms from the capital. And a spokesman for the Irish Association of Catholic Priests noted that the real problem is a lack of vocations, and an ageing priesthood. Father Brendan Hoban said there is only one parish priest in the whole of Dublin aged under 40.

Pope Francis is starting to look at the question of women priests – and has said in the past that Christian attitudes towards homosexuality should become more loving and inclusive. Wouldn’t it be a leap forward if a Catholic priest could be a man, a woman, a gay man, a gay woman – any good person who wishes to embrace the lifestyle of pastoral care, in fact. For what has gone before has so often failed to deliver responsible carers to Catholic parishioners, and resulted in the defiling of their children. This Pope could leave a great legacy if he has the courage, and time, to examine, strengthen and broaden the priesthood.