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July 19, 2018


Bruce Weiskotten

I happen to know Monsignor Micheal Ledwith personally for some years and while I have never been to Ireland and know little of his past there, I can say that he is currently in a very heterosexual relationship having left the official priesthood years ago. If any of these allegations involve his very close relationship with the former priest from Spain Jaime, I can tell you quite certainly that Jaime, his wife and daughter are still quite close to Monsignor Micheal Ledwith and his companion. Whatever the row might have once been it would seem extremely contrived to me. I suspect that Micheal was smeared because of his controversial tendency to tell the truth in blatant and unsparing terms. His knowledge base, authority as a scholar and the very things he speaks about certainly would have rattled the cages of orthodox and fundamentalist thinking. Given his former position as an educator for the church he'd have to be a prime candidate for the inquisition.

Spirit  of Vatican II

The Irish language poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh has been the object of similar hounding (though his high jinks in Nepal go far beyond the "vague but inappropriate advances" that unleashed a firestorm against Msgr Ledwith). Fintan O'Toole observes the parallels and differences Irish Times, March 18, 2008):

HERE'S THE familiar story. The sexual behaviour of a senior and much respected Irish intellectual becomes a matter of public controversy. He is middle-aged and gay. He has much more power and prestige than those around him.

The allegation is that he has misused that power to make sexual approaches to young men. The young men were above the age of consent, so nothing he did was illegal. But they lived in a culture that was unusually sheltered and many of them had little experience of sex. The older man would, the allegations went, select some of these young men on the basis of their good looks. His offer of favours would be intertwined with an obvious sexual interest.

This man's name is not Cathal Ó Searcaigh. It is Micheál Ledwith. He is the former president of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, where he was professor of dogmatic theology. Before 2003, when the allegations emerged, he was regarded as a distinguished international theologian and a probable future member of the Irish episcopacy.

Although far more serious allegations concerning boys who were below the age of consent were later to be raised, the initial controversy was about his behaviour in the mid-1980s towards young adult seminarians. No one at the time maintained that he had sex, consensual or not, with any of these young men. The perceived problem was that he had misused his power and authority to make vague but inappropriate advances towards students he fancied. When these allegations emerged no one, so far as I can remember, objected that the publicity given to these allegations was fuelled by homophobia. No one defended him on the basis that his supposed behaviour was part of a "gay culture". No one implied that the allegations would not have been made if the man in question had been heterosexual and the young people he approached had been female.

No group of Irish intellectuals wrote to The Irish Times expressing their outrage at the man's treatment and attacking those who had besmirched his reputation. No distinguished senators or artists stood up to defend him and revile his accusers. It seemed clear to everyone that the issue here was power, not sexual orientation. Yet everything that Cathal Ó Searcaigh's supporters have said in his defence actually applied with far more justification to Micheál Ledwith.

In itself, Ledwith's alleged behaviour certainly deserved opprobrium. Older people in positions of authority, of any gender, should not make sexual advances of any kind towards those who are in their care - full stop.

But actually, in Ledwith's case, there really was a discernible element of homophobia. The behaviour initially complained of was not nearly as bad as that of many heterosexual men in positions of power in the academic world at the time. And the complaint to the Irish bishops from six mature students at Maynooth was explicitly about not exploitation, but homosexuality.

As the Ferns Inquiry report subsequently put it, "this concern was definitely more of an anxiety with regard to orientation and propensity rather than with specific sexual activity". When these allegations surfaced in 2003, however, the concern of the intelligentsia was not that Ledwith might have been the victim of anti-gay double standards but, on the contrary, that the bishops had not immediately fired him.

All the sympathy went to the former senior dean of the college, Fr Gerard McGinnity, who had been victimised for raising his concerns about Ledwith. And we don't even have to ask why Ledwith got no sympathy in media and liberal intellectual circles. He was a priest. He was not "one of us".

What saddens me about the whole Cathal Ó Searcaigh affair is the proof that so many distinguished, thoughtful liberal intellectuals have refused to learn the lesson that we took it on ourselves to teach the Catholic Church over recent years. We despised the church for its moral equivocation, for its culture of denial, for putting tribal loyalty ahead of ethical honesty. When we saw the agony of church people at having to give up "one of their own", we thought that "people like us" would never be like that.

We would know, surely, that you don't need moral courage to point out the failings of the other side. You need it for your own side, for people you know and like and believe in. It's precisely when friendship and loyalty are at stake that morality is tempered in the fire.

There would have been something morally bracing in 2003 about a group of poets writing a letter in defence of Micheál Ledwith like the one that appeared in The Irish Times last week in defence of Ó Searcaigh. A claim that the allegations against him were tinged with homophobia would have been a revelation of an uncomfortable reality rather than a distraction from an obvious truth. But, as a defence of someone whose admitted behaviour was so clearly exploitative it would have taught the church, in its worst days, lessons in denial and disingenuousness.

Spirit  of Vatican II

It's not at all clear that one can say Ledwith's "admitted behaviour was so clearly exploitative". Even were it so, I wonder how many male journalists would meet the high standards of probity they apply to priests and poets.

Spirit of Vatican II

Irish Times, March 20, has the following:

Madam, - I was puzzled by Fintan O'Toole's comparison between the current Cathal Ó Searcaigh controversy and that concerning Michael Ledwith in 2003. There is in his piece (Opinion, March, 18th), as in much commentary on the issue, a failure to put it in a wider context.

Ledwith was a key member of staff in a seminary run by one of the most powerful institutions in Ireland, and indeed the world: the Catholic Church. He consequently betrayed the trust of the institution as well as the parents of the young men in his care. Furthermore, the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality is well known - that it is evil, a position that Ledwith probably had to inculcate in the seminarians in his trust. [MISLEADING: the Church condemns not orientation but acts; there is no evidence that Ledwith solicited acts; Ledwith was not engaged in moral theology or any other branch of seminary work involving sexual ethics; even if he were it is well known that many moral theologians disagree with, nuance, or call for development of church teaching on this topic; this is consistent with their professional integrity] Ledwith therefore was not only abusing his institutional position, but contradicting that institution's public position on homosexuality. Despite this he was protected by the church until the story broke and even then the church's own institutional procedures dealt with the matter.

Ó Searcaigh, on the other hand, is part of no such institution whose values he has to uphold and teach, nor does he have the resources or protection it affords. He is a private individual, an Irish-language poet who openly and publicly embraces his homosexuality. This in itself, in the context of Irish society, makes him a vulnerable target, aside from the rights or wrongs of his behaviour. He does not have the institutional procedures of the Church to deal with his case, thus relieving him somewhat of the pressures of media interest, but rather is being subjected alone to the court of public opinion, the nearest we have to a contemporary lynch-mob.

Ireland is a homophobic society. The Catholic Church's aggressively expressed position on homosexuality, reports showing increasing homophobic school bullying, street attacks on gay people, and the heated nature of the controversies over gay marriage and adoption are only some examples of the truth of that statement. Homophobia is therefore the context which frames the Ó Searcaigh case and the inordinate media and public interest in the affair provides, I would venture, further proof of that. That individual commentators do not make express homophobic statements cannot deny this fact. It is Mr O'Toole who is being disingenuous and living in denial by claiming otherwise.

Ó Searcaigh's behaviour in Nepal was quite reprehensible. But can this excuse the highly questionable ethics of the other parties involved? The documentary maker, for betraying her subject's trust and for thrusting the young men involved into a scandal that was not of their making; RTÉ, for shamelessly milking the film for publicity; the media, for their unending hounding of a man who did not, it is important to emphasise, break any law. All of these parties, not just Cathal Ó Searcaigh, should hang their heads in shame.

And what have the young men and boys involved, and their families, gained from it, they being the supposed centre of everyone's concern? Most likely the opprobrium and ostracism of their equally homophobic society, which the recently announced police investigation there suggests. Facile comparisons such as Mr O'Toole's add nothing to resolving any of these moral and ethical contradictions. - Yours, etc,

BARRY CANNON, Park Terrace, Dublin 8.

COMMENT: More than private morality is involved in the disbursement of funds intended for a charity. The poet's case is not a very reliable one on which to pin a critique of Irish homophobia. The dubious methods of the film and of RTE illustrate how the collateral damage of moral vigilantism often exceeds the alleged damage it is investigating or attempting to prevent.


No gays are welcome in the priesthood or anywhere in society and any priest who has tendency to such or practises such immoral behaviour is not welcome.

Abuse against young males is a result of homosexuals being in the priesthood. The church has to cleanse itself of this both from the seminary and priesthood and have a church that is homosexual free, and there is so many good priests in fact nearly 100 percent is, yet these evil ones dwarf their brilliance

Mike Garde

Joe I have good memories of us going to a Philosophy congress in Cork by bus from Maynooth. someone illustrated a point by doing a streak there in UCC. You were trying to come to terms with a bishop who was not lux but Lucey. Like James Good you were around cork until you found freedom in Japan.
The issues around McGinnity are now coming to roost. I remember I was asked to be Santa at the Christmas party when McGinnity was junior dean.
A group of women and myself came into give the lads in the dorms some gifts. McGinnity came out fuming and said he would call the gardai. I told him I had a tricycle for him but because he was so naughty I would bring it back to Lapland! Others told me he was great crack.
Last week I was at Maynooth for a conference on NRMs. The old hostels are now parts of various departments. Auxilia is now Sociology and The SMA hostel is called Rye Hall, well at least the section which was the chapel there. I remember meeting Frank Duff there in 1974. utterly changed and the place is a Catholic shell after the Hiroshima that has hit the country. I remember a lot of the students there became Evangelicals. Mossie, Colm, and Billy O'Mahony who runs the Book shop in Tuckey St. Also Pat O'Sullivan the mathematician who became a very strong Pentecostal. He married Elaine from the bookshop. I will have to write my reminiscences of Maynooth student soon.


I assume you will be coming home soon for the free bus pass unless that is abolished in the next budget.
Someone in Japan was sentenced to death on Feb 27, 2005. That is where I am at working to clear the decks for those who survive and those who go under
Regards your old East Cork South African
Mike Garde

Spirit of Vatican II

Hello, Mike -- delighted to hear from you. I see you are still as engaged and challenging as in the days when we disputed about Mennonites. (After that I taught in Notre Dame for a year and had John Yoder in the neighboring office.) The weird religious lunacies sweeping Ireland are really a scary symptom; I hope you can bring a ray of sanity and healing! I'll be in Cork Dec 29 to Jan 3. By the way, Cornelius Lucey was a remarkable bishop -- he took real interest in the welfare of Corkonians. Fr Good tells me that it was he who got the rotten schools of Greenmount and Upton closed down by telling people to tear up the Government transfers of pupils. Your mention of our evangelical friends brings back a disturbing memory of trying to persuade a young girl to take the medical treatment that would save her life while one of them pleaded the opposite case. I read Mark 7 to her ("not what goes into a man defiles" etc.) and she read the text on her own later and stopped at the simpler words, "honor thy father and thy mother", which she did, happily.


Here is John Henry Newman's defense of "particular friendships," and should the Church move to condemn such, it is no longer the religion of Jesus Christ or of love.

Sermon 5. Love of Relations and Friends

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God." 1 John iv. 7.

{51} [Note] ST. JOHN the Apostle and Evangelist is chiefly and most familiarly known to us as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He was one of the three or four who always attended our Blessed Lord, and had the privilege of the most intimate intercourse with Him; and, more favoured than Peter, James, and Andrew, he was His bosom friend, as we commonly express ourselves. At the solemn supper before Christ suffered, he took his place next Him, and leaned on His breast. As the other three communicated between the multitude and Christ, so St. John communicated between Christ and them. At that Last Supper, Peter dared not ask Jesus a question himself, but bade John put it to Him,—who it was that should betray Him. Thus St. John was the private and intimate friend of Christ. Again, it was to St. John that our Lord committed His Mother, when {52} He was dying on the cross; it was to St. John that He revealed in vision after His departure the fortunes of His Church.

Much might be said on this remarkable circumstance. I say remarkable, because it might be supposed that the Son of God Most High could not have loved one man more than another; or again, if so, that He would not have had only one friend, but, as being All-holy, He would have loved all men more or less, in proportion to their holiness. Yet we find our Saviour had a private friend; and this shows us, first, how entirely He was a man, as much as any of us, in His wants and feelings; and next, that there is nothing contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, nothing inconsistent with the fulness of Christian love, in having our affections directed in an especial way towards certain objects, towards those whom the circumstances of our past life, or some peculiarities of character, have endeared to us.

There have been men before now, who have supposed Christian love was so diffusive as not to admit of concentration upon individuals; so that we ought to love all men equally. And many there are, who, without bringing forward any theory, yet consider practically that the love of many is something superior to the love of one or two; and neglect the charities of private life, while busy in the schemes of an expansive benevolence, or of effecting a general union and conciliation among Christians. Now I shall here maintain, in opposition to such notions of Christian love, and with our Saviour's pattern before me, that the best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to {53} cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.

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