Maynutianum / Maynooth
Plenary Council; 1956 (7 - 15 August)
The Fourth Plenary Synod of Maynooth was held at the national seminary of St. Patrick’s College in Co. Kildare from 7th until 15th of August 1956. This was now the fifth national synod held in Ireland in modern times. The last had been in 1927 which had brought Irish ecclesiastical law into conformity with the Code of Canon Law of 1917. Pope Pius XII had duly given the necessary permission for the 1956 Synod to be held and it was presided over by the Archbishop of Armagh and primate of All Ireland, Cardinal John D’Alton. D’Alton had been appointed Papal Legate for the Synod.
In a statement issued with the promulgation of the Acts and Decrees of the Synod in 1960, some of which simply repeated a statement the hierarchy issued at the end of the Synod in 1956, the Irish bishops declared that the purpose of the Synod was to review ecclesiastical law and the general tenor of Irish Catholicism since the 1927 Synod. In fact the degrees of the Synod, 335 in all, reflect the fact that little had changed in the Irish Church in the intervening decades. The hierarchy however took the opportunity to praise the high stand of morality among the Irish, their devotion to the Pope, the fidelity to religious duties found in the country, as witnessed by the unprecedented attendance at Holy Week ceremonies that year, and the extent of foreign missionary activity. The bishops also recorded and thanked God for the fact that there was little Communist influence in the country and that anti-religious sentiment was negligible. One preoccupation was emigration, and their lordships were especially concerned about the religious faith and practice of those who found it necessary to leave Ireland out of economic necessity. They also warned of the potentially dangerous influence of the mass media which might serve to undermine the faith.
The legislation of the Synod reflects the backward and insular pre-occupations of the Irish Church at that phase of its history. There was little innovate or imaginative in the fathers’ (Cardinal John Dalton, Archbishop of Armagh, John McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, Jeremiah Kinane, Archbishop of Cashel, Joseph Walsh, Archbishop of Tuam, William MacNeely, Bishop of Raphoe, James MacNamee, Bishop of Ardagh, Patrick Collier, Bishop of Ossory, Daniel Mageen, Bishop of Down and Connor, Thomas Keogh, Bishop of Kildare, Michael Brown, Bishop of Galway, James Staunton, Bishop of Ferns, Neil Farren, Bishop of Derry, Denis Moynihan, Bishop of Kerry, Eugene O’Callaghan, Bishop of Clogher, Daniel Cohalan, Bishop of Waterford, Eugene O’Doherty, Bishop of Dromore, Patrick O’Neill, Bishop of Limerick, James Fergus, Bishop of Achonry, John Kyne, Bishop of Meath, Joseph Rodgers, Bishop of Killaloe, Austin Quinn, Bishop of Kilmore, Vincent Hanley, Bishop of Elphin, Cornelius Lucey, Bishop of Cork and Ross, Patrick O’Boyle, Bishop of Killala, William Philbin, Bishop of Clonfert, Patrick Dunne, Bishop of Nara, auxiliary of Dublin, Fr Edmond Fox, procurator of James Roche Bishop of Cloyne, Dom Celsus O’Connell OCSO, Abbot of Mount Melleray, Dom Camillus Claffey OCSO, Abbot of Mount St. Joseph) (Secretaries: Michael Browne, Bishop of Galway, James Staunton, Bishop of Ferns, Neil Farren, Bishop of Derry, Patrick O’Neill, Bishop of Limerick) conception of the regulation of Irish Catholicism. Statute 47 reiterated the prohibition on priests attending horse races, nor could they watch them from ‘a near-by place.’ It was absolutely forbidden to bet on such races or to have someone do this for a priest. All such activity merited an ipso facto suspension.
Statutes 248 and 249 regulated the task of the clergy with regard to preaching. Each diocese was to draw up a list of the subjects that priests were to preach about in the course of the year and these were to include such subjects as the Creed, the commandments, sacraments and prayer. The 1927 Synod had already regulated that there might be special masses for children at which the truths of the faith could be preached to them in a manner compatible with their understanding.
Given the circumstances of Ireland there was a certain obsession regarding relations with Protestants. Limited participation in non-Catholic religious services had been permitted in the 1917 Code, this was permitted for weddings and civil occasions. Although reflected in Irish ecclesiastical legislation in practice such participation was discouraged by the bishops. When the Protestant President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, died in 1949, the Catholic members of the cabinet lined up outside the Protestant Church of Ireland Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Dublin, rather than attend the funeral service. Despite the scandal there was no attempt in the 1956 legislation to emphasize what the Code of 1917 permitted.
Similar anti-Protestant animus was displayed with statute 287 which extended to the whole country the Archbishop of Dublin’s prohibition on Catholics attended Trinity College, Dublin; which although a state university had historically a Protestant ethos. It was determined that only the Archbishop of Dublin, in accordance with the wishes of the Holy See, could decide whether a dispensation could be granted, provided guarantees could be evinced against the ‘dangers of perversion.’ To otherwise attend the college was to commit a mortal sin. There were similar discouragements against the practice of mixed-marriages. Statute 193 invoked the general law of the Church forbidding such unions. These marriage could only be conducted without religious ceremony, usually in the sacristy of the church, and only after written promises that the children would be brought up Catholics. These written undertakings had the force of law in Irish civil courts. The legislation also imposed an obligation on the Catholic party to try and convert the non-Catholic partner. There was some delay in the Maynooth regulations attracting Roman approval. They were eventually promulgated in November 1960.
Acta et decretal Concilli Plenarii quod Habitum est apud Maynooth Die 7 Augusti et Diebus Sequentibus usque ad Diem 15 Augusti 1956, (Dublin: M. H. Gill et Filii, 1960).
‘Pastoral Address of the Bishops of Ireland issued on the occasion of the Promulgation of the Maynooth Statutes of 1956’, in The Furrow 11:11 (1960) pp. 762-764.
‘Plenary Council, Maynooth 1956: Statement by Irish Hierarchy’, in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record 5th Series LXXXVI (1956) pp. 194-195.
Jean Blanchard, The Church in Contemporary Ireland (Dublin: Clonmore & Reynolds, 1963).
John Cooney, John Charles McQuaid: Ruler of Catholic Ireland (Dublin: O’Brien Press, 1999).
Edward Rogan, Irish Catechesis: A Juridico-Historical Study of the Five Plenary Synods, 1850-1956 (Rome: Gregorian University, 1987) pp. 322-397.
Rafferty, Oliver P.