There is one moment during the Mass, just about the Domine non sum dignus, when the priest, if he is not careful, catches sight of his own features reflected in the paten ... at that sacred moment, an alien thing intrudes upon his thoughts, the sight of his own features ... it is the kind of distraction he can make good use of. Because he will do well to consider the contrast between what he sees on the paten, and what he meant (and was meant) to see there. He lookded there to catch sight of a sinless Victim; he caught sight, instead, of a sinful priest. Domine, non sum dignus —how can this be worthy to receive that?
Fr. Ronald Knox
'What is that?' someone in our group had asked. The seminarian chuckled as he begun an explanation that seemed smutty even to the desensitised ears of a young college student as myself.
'Oh that? Well it's a large candle as you can see. But we nickname it '-------'s erection', after the former rector'. The class I had been taking was on the structure of pre-Vatican II churches, hence our tour guide showing us around the old Cathedral in Maynooth, granting us his words of wisdom, part of which were his references to a male authority figure's genitalia.
Something about this story always stuck in my mind when I read accounts online or heard first hand stories of the sexual subculture taking place at Ireland's main seminary. The homosexual aspect obviously has particular weighty repercussions due to the Church's recent history of homosexual abuse of children, but also because it it not unfathomable to imagine a homosexual seminary culture turning into a homosexual clerical culture behind the scenes. The inclination to engage with the world at large in sexual misconduct and debauchery is a troubling reflection of the sick state of the Irish Church.
For anyone who has not followed this story, the scandal in Maynooth essentially saw senior figures such as President Hugh Connolly have their position within the establishment become untenable amid reports that the trainees for the Priesthood were using a homosexual casual sex app called 'Grindr'. Instead of being aghast at this, many in the clerical community (perhaps because of their affinity with the app, who knows) lambasted those who were concerned as for them, it was apparently less about upholding standards as it was about extracting revenge on a seminary which had the past year sent young men packing for not being toeing in line with the ambiguity and worldliness of Second Vatican Council and its irrelevant perpetual self-celebration.
For those on the outside, that could have been for any reason. After all, if the people who know them best say that they are struggling with their vocation then surely we should take them at their word? These past few weeks have changed that. Allegations of bullying, poisonous intimidation and indifference have emerged and they are as troubling as anything that we have heard from within the Church in recent years. One anonymous seminarian said, ''one of the elements which is destroying life in the seminary is the existence of a homosexual subculture. The bishops have turned a blind eye to this problem. To hear the Monsignor (Hugh Connelly) say a few days ago that there is a healthy and wholesome atmosphere in the seminary was extremely disappointing and far-removed from the experience of seminarians. Neither I, nor I suspect the majority of seminarians, would describe the atmosphere in the seminary this past year as anything other than as anything other than poisonous.' Another, who witnessed two seminarians up to no good with one another, said that seminarians are encouraged to follow the unChristian idea of 'keep your head down'.
So likewise every one of you that doth not renounce all that he possesseth, cannot be my disciple.
Instead of turning Maynooth into a laughing stock, the media instead rallied around this aspect of the seminary. Why? Because they recognised that they desperately need traditional minded priests to keep leaving Maynooth before they can do any damage to the secular cause upon ordination. Instead of expressing concern that a story of secrecy was emerging once again from the Church, the Irish Times rallied the troops to try to paint those opposed to a culture of secrecy by writing under a title about the 'Catholic Right' that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's ''comment on the seminary seeming “like a quarrelsome place” which he did not think “was a good place for students” was music to the ears of many on the Catholic right. As was his decision to send Dublin seminarians to the Irish College in Rome.''
The Association of Catholic Priest's response was equally robust in defence of the homosexual behaviour and pointing the finger of anger instead at those young men who wanted to be priests because shock horror they really believe in the faith as it has been practised for 2,000 years. These outlets are aghast that young men are joining the priesthood AND seeking to embody physically and spiritually those things which it represents. No doubt these are the priests whom we hear of tutting and hissing at ordinations when they see the devotion with which the young men wear their garments. This is something crucial as the priest is someone who represents by even his mere dress a call to holy life. As Fulton Sheen said,
'A priest is one who makes Christ visible. The people see Christ in the saintly priests and they seek even to touch his robes as they did the robes of Christ. Children come to him without fear; non-Catholics give to them a reverence which they rarely give to others. The sure measure by which a priest draws souls to Christ is also the means by which he can drive souls from Christ'.
We are at a pivotal point in Ireland's Catholic history. Diarmuid Martin is not one who normally has his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist of the nation, as his silence and subsequent declaration of a reality check at the state sanctioned same-sex marriage of May 2015 showed, but nonetheless he has at least presented a public example in stating that something here is mortifyingly grotesque. It is because of the toleration of filth like this that it is becoming a source of serious stress in one's life to be openly traditionally Catholic, even within Church circles. Those who identify as liberal in the Church do not have truth as their vanguard so they rely instead on marginalisation and mockery. God is not mocked blessed are we when we are hated for Our Lord's name sake.
For the ACP and for the seminarians who have engaged in these acts (I have no interest in addressing your average Irish Times reader) , it is worth asking.
Can you give your lives fully to the Lord our God at this time of crisis in His Church?
Do your lives as God's servants measure up to the sacrifice of the brutally murdered Father Jacques Hamel?
When you lift up that chalice and catch a reflection of your sinful and mortal self, would your reflection be closer to that of Peter or Judas?
The difficult life that priests have in sacrificing themselves obviously deserves our compassion. However, that compassion comes with a caveat, that they are sincere in seeking it.
Each priest is a man with a body of soft clay. To keep that treasure pure, he has to be stretched out on a cross of fire. Our fall can be greater than the fall of anyone else because of the height from which we tumble. Of all the bad men, bad religious men are the worst, because they were called to be closer to Christ.
The last words of the martyr Father Jacques Hamel, spoken to his Mohammedan murderers, should ring out next time the seminarians see such worldliness in their minds.