Thursday, May 01, 2008

A visit to Maynooth

Yesterday, Melancholicus took a trip out to Maynooth.

The purpose of this trip was work-related and of academic nature, hence his visit was to the pontifical university rather than to the seminary, although since both institutions share the same campus it was an easy thing to visit them together.

Arriving early in the morning and with time to spare before the conference he was attending began, Melancholicus decided to kill some time by browsing in the campus bookshop. As might be expected, he was drawn to the liturgy/theology/spirituality section particularly, which he found a more painful experience even than Cathedral Books.

This is the very bookshop that stocks the textbooks used in their studies by Ireland’s future priests. Melancholicus marvelled at all the modernist pap on display with a horrified yet fascinated mien, in much the same fashion as he might view a train wreck. There was little in the way of Catholic reading; he does not remember seeing St. Thomas, or even a commentary thereon. The liturgy section was full of those ubiquitous Sunday Missals (Novus Ordo, of course) and copies of The Divine Office (Pauline, of course), as well as the inevitable do-it-yourself liturgy manuals, but there was nary a whit to do with the ‘extraordinary’ form. As far as Maynooth campus bookshop is concerned, there might never have been a motu proprio. There was the usual heretical boilerplate by the likes of Hans Küng, Geoffrey Robinson, and even Richard Dawkins (!); there were loads of airy-fairy and dissenting Columba titles; there were at least some Church documents, but no solid encyclicals (Pascendi, as one might imagine, was not stocked). The spirituality in evidence was that of Anthony De Mello and Henri Nouwen rather than that of the saints. All in all a great disappointment, but no less than Melancholicus would have expected for an institution in such an advanced state of meltdown as the national seminary.

After the morning sessions of the conference had concluded, Melancholicus and his fellow delegates were treated to lunch in the historic surroundings of Pugin Hall, which formerly was the seminary refectory but now functions as a mere college eaterie; even members of the general public can walk in if they so wish. Any clerical students actually dining in Pugin Hall during your blogger’s visit would have been so carefully disguised in mufti as to be indistinguishable from the lay students—clerical dress being strictly proscribed by the college authorities for reasons of their own.

While walking through the cloister after leaving the refectory, Melancholicus paused to view the paintings and photographs hanging on the walls, paintings of prelates past and present (the most recent being that of his eminence Desmond Cardinal Connell, sometime archbishop of Dublin (quite a handsome portrait even if the blue background is a little too strong) and class photos of each year’s ordination class, in some instances going back decades. He noted that the number of faces in each class photo significantly decreased as one drew nearer to the present day, a testimony to the gravity of the damage inflicted by implementation of the conciliar revolution on priestly vocations in this as well as every other western country.

Melancholicus did not stay long at each photo, though occasionally he would see a face he knew, a priest now working in such and such a parish in the Dublin diocese, or a priest now fallen away from his vocation. He thought, in some bitterness, about how all these men had been betrayed and brainwashed by the revolutionaries that had been supposed to educate them in religion and prepare them for the Catholic priesthood, how they had been given serpents instead of fish and stones instead of bread, even to the extent that their heads are now filled with nonsense incompatible with the Christian faith and their apostolate weakened correspondingly.

In somewhat grim and pensive mood, Melancholicus was then arrested by a photo of another priest he recognised — Monsignor Míceál Ledwith, sometime president of St. Patrick’s college, and once tipped for appointment to an episcopal See. He was aghast that the college authorities have not seen fit to remove Ledwith’s photo, but have left it on public display in the cloister, as though Ledwith were a priest in good standing whose reputation is beyond reproach. Not many people know that Monsignor Ledwith (whose departure from office was accompanied by dark rumours of sexual impropriety with seminarians) is now living in Washington state, and teaches—wait for it!—at the New Age neo-pagan Ramtha School of Enlightenment run by JZ Knight. I’m not kidding — the reader who cares for such things will find Ledwith’s bio on the Ramtha website here, as well as links to his bizarre writings and broadcasts—things with such wondrous titles as The Great Questions in the Hamburger Universe and What The Bleep Do We Know!?. Kooky stuff, and no mistake. The recent history of the Church contains innumerable examples of clerics who went barmy, abandoned their priesthood and devoted themselves to left-wing politics or to some dotty ideology, but Ledwith has to be the weirdest of them all.

Before the afternoon session of the conference began, Melancholicus attempted to view the interior of the stunningly beautiful college chapel (Pugin, of course), but the doors were locked, so he was unable to do so. So he then headed away from the seminary, back to the north campus, passing by this curious-looking statute. It is a carving—in a very modern style, much at odds with the architecture of the seminary—of the late holy father, John Paul II, enfolding two children in his embrace and looking very unfortunately like a shell-toting insect in the process. Speaking of beetles—or should that be beatles?—some wag apparently christened the statue “John Paul, George and Ringo” when it was first unveiled, an amusing epithet which much outrages the John-Paul-The-Great piety of the humourless neo-orthodox, and the name has since stuck. Melancholicus was in the company of a northern protestant at the time, so he didn’t mind sharing a good laugh at it with his companion. And then it was back to the conference for the rest of the day’s deliberations.

And thus it was, this once proud seminary, which was once filled to its 800-man capacity, producing sufficient priests not only for all the dioceses of Ireland but for the foreign missions as well, now barely hanging on and laicised practically to the point of being closed altogether. Melancholicus was once considering going to Maynooth, back in the late 1990s when he was discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood in the Dublin archdiocese and before he had discovered the FSSP. But reading an alarming exposé of the wickedness, turpitude and heterodoxy of the seminary published in The Brandsma Review by a clerical student (who had to remain anonymous for obvious reasons), as well as viewing that jaw-droppingly astounding True Lives documentary on RTÉ about the lives of three seminarists, each of whom clearly had problems—and one of them was later ordained!—quickly convinced him of the wisdom of pursuing his vocation elsewhere. Talk about an advertisement for the clerical life!

Melancholicus has not heard any fresh news from inside Maynooth for many years, so he is unable to say whether the dire situation which obtained there at the turn of the century has been in any way ameliorated. Time will tell, but so far there is little sign of any improvement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I laughed at the 'John, Paul, Ringo and George' piece - an old story in Maynooth. Many students believed the statue was an endorsement of the Volkswagon Beetle.

My favourite story relates to a rag week prank where a gang of students painted pink spots on the statue's back, making the beetle a ladybird. The leader of this less-than-sober gang thought he was setting a trend and was disappointed nobody tried it next rag week.

A couple of years later I had a conversation with a college security guard who told me he was under a lot of pressure to find the perpetrator at the time. I defended the man. I said he was a pious Catholic student appalled by the insult to the Holy Father and he painted the spots on the statue to draw people's attention away from this insult.