Maynutianum / Maynooth
Plenary Council; 1875 (31 August - 20 September)
The second national synod over which Paul Cullen presided as Apostolic Delegate, he had been made a cardinal in 1866 the first Irishman so honored, its assembling had been approved by Rome in 1873. In the 25 years since the Synod of Thurles Ireland had experienced profound religious change. It was now much more recognizably a devout Catholic country. The Protestant state Church, the Church of Ireland, had been disestablished and disendowed in 1869. As part of that process St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth had lost its endowments and was now free of government control.
Of the 27 bishops (Paul Cardinal Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin and Papal Legate, Daniel McGettigan, Archbishop of Armagh, John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, Thomas W. Croke, Archbishop of Cashel, William Delany, Bishop of Cork, Francis Kelly, Bishop of Derry, David Moriarty, Bishop of Kerry, John Pius Leahy, Bishop of Dromore, Laurence Gillooly, Bishop of Elphin, Thomas Furlong, Bishop of Ferns, John MacEvilly, Bishop of Galway, Michael O’Hea, Bishop of Ross, Patrick Dorrian, Bishop of Down and Connor, George Butler, Bishop of Limerick, Nicholas Conaty, Bishop of Kilmore, Thomas Nulty, Bishop of Meath, James Donnelly, Bishop of Clogher, George Conroy, Bishop of Ardagh, James McDevitt, Bishop of Raphoe, Patrick Duggan, Bishop of Clonfert, Hugh Conway, Bishop of Killala, Francis MacCormack, Bishop of Achonry, James Ryan, Coadjutor bishop, procurator for Bishop of Killaloe, Patrick F. Moran, Bishop of Ossory, James Power, Bishop of Waterford, John McCarthy, Bishop of Cloyne, James Lynch, Coadjutor bishop, proctor for Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick O. Cist., Abbott of Mount Melleray) (Secretaries: George Conroy, Bishop of Ardagh, Gerald Molloy, Vice Rector Catholic University, Dublin, William J. Walsh, Professor of theology St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth) and one mitred abbot who voted on the decrees of the Synod, four had attended Thurles in 1850. So far as Cullen was concerned one of the aims the Synod was to put ‘nuns and priests in order,’ and to counteract increasing infidelity and lukewarmness in religion. Rome had expressed some concern at the lack of discipline in ‘larger’ Irish seminaries, a rebuke that did not sit well with 21 out of the 27 members of the Irish hierarchy attending the Synod who had been educated at Maynooth. Nevertheless the decree De Seminariis Ecclesiasticis was enacted which among other things stipulated that the professors and staff of seminaries should be selected by bishops from among only the very best men at their disposal.
The 1875 Synod lasted from 31st August until 20th September, and its decrees were approved by the Holy See in June 1876. It was determined that there should be stricter discipline in the administration of the sacraments. The reforming legislation of Thurles concerning stations and the administration of baptism in private houses was to be more stringently observed. It was determined that only in the most remote areas were stations to be held. A proposal to abolish entirely the custom, which had existed from the late 16th century was rejected by the synodical fathers. The station system had grown up partly as a result of penal legislation against the practice of Catholicism in Ireland. It consisted of the celebration of Mass and the sacraments in private houses, usually of the wealthier parishioners, in the absence of a church building. Some bishops and members of the Roman curia objected to the system since it involved priests hearing the confessions of women in close proximity and in the absence of a confessional grill. Stations were also associated with excessive eating and drinking.
The Synod also condemned widespread drunkenness but did not endorse the increasingly popular temperance societies that had sprung up everywhere in Ireland. The traditional practice of wakes for the dead were denounced and pastors were urged to put an end to such unchristian practices. The Maynooth Synod of 1956 reiterated this degree and would speak of profane and unbecoming wakes.
There was continuing concern about ecclesiastical property, and it was stipulated that funds must be deposited in a trust in a bank, and that ecclesiastical property should be insured. Maynooth also reiterated the legislation of Thurles with regard to the appointment of pastors. There would be no concursus for such office, however it was stipulated that parishes should not be given to candidates except those who had been approved by synodical examiners or by theological experts appointed by bishops. These stipulations were widely ignored. The Synod also provided that a regular complement of diocesan officials should be appointed. It was decreed that in addition to Vicars General and Forane, and in the absence of cathedral chapters, diocesan consultors could be appointed.
A series of statues was enacted concerning the Irish Christian Brothers who administered some 300 schools in Ireland at that time. The aim of the legislation was to bring the Brothers under greater episcopal supervision. Among the stipulations was that local priests might examine the Brothers students in secular as well as religious subjects. Property of the Brothers and legacies were to be subject to the control of three trustees, the local bishop and two others appointed by him. By 1880 all the stipulations had been overturned on appeal by the Brothers to the Holy See, much to the astonishment of the Irish hierarchy.
There was much greater unity and harmony at Maynooth that at Thurles, but there was spirited debate on the wisdom of reiterating the 1870 papal condemnation of Fenianism. The Fenians were a secret oath bound society which had attempt a revolution in 1867. The condemnation was passed by majority of 24 to 4. The published decrees also reasserted the Vatican Council’s teaching on papal infallibility. The teaching of Maynooth, which included a catechism not issued until 1882, provided the law for the Irish Church for the next 35 years.
Acta et Decreta Synodi Plenariae Episcoparum Hiberniae Habitae apud Maynutiam, An. MDCCCLXXV (Dublinii: Brown and Nolan, 1877).
Desmond Bowen, Paul Cullen and the Shaping of Modern Irish Catholicism (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1983).
Keenan, The Catholic Church in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: A Sociological Study (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1983).
Emmet Larkin, The Roman Catholic Church and the Emergence of the Modern Irish Political System, 1874-1878 (Dublin and Washington: Four Courts Press, 1996).
Oliver P. Rafferty, The Church the State and the Fenian Threat (London and New York: Macmillan, 1999).
Edward Rogan, Synods and Catechesis in Ireland, c. 445-1962 (Rome: Gregorian University, 1987).
Patrick J. Walsh, William J. Walsh: Archbishop of Dublin (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1928).
Rafferty, Oliver P.