The future of the Irish College in Rome is now in serious doubt according to reports.
The Irish Times newspaper states that the seminary founded in 1628 may not function as such for much longer.
The future of the college has been under scrutiny since a fact finding mission led by New York Bishop Timothy Dolan issued its report.
Cardinal Dolan, as part of the apostolic visitation, is believed to have instrumental in the removal of three members of the college’s formation staff and their imminent return to their dioceses in Ireland.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has admitted that the transfer of the three priests is ‘related to the ongoing future of the Irish College’.
He told the Irish Times the issue is a follow-on from the apostolic visitation.
“I’d say it’s related to the ongoing future of the Irish College, rather than directly with the visitation.
The big question the visitation never addressed was how can Ireland at the moment maintain two seminaries,” said Dr Martin.
The paper reports that there are currently 23 Irishmen studying for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome from a total of 58 seminarians there.
The remaining 35 candidates for the priesthood there are from 22 different countries. At present there are 72 seminarians in Maynooth in County Kildare.
Dr Martin added: “For me the question for the Irish College isn’t the staff, it is where are we going to get the students for it? If it’s going to be a vibrant seminary then you need the candidates.
“We have to find a way in which we’ll have a sufficient number of seminarians to make it a viable seminary. It could become a postgraduate house or some of it could be a postgraduate house. At the moment the Irish are in the minority there.”
Asked by the Irish Times if there are cost factors involved, he said: “There is a financial question involved because costs are going up, like everywhere else. If numbers go down, you buy less food, but the basic maintenance of the place and staff would be there.”
Asked about the imminent return to Ireland of the three priests, Dr Martin said: “It isn’t a bad idea to change.
“Their replacements will be Irish and the newly appointed rector Fr Ciarán O’Carroll has my full support and I think from everybody else. I think he is doing a good job.
“Speaking personally, as somebody who lived in my early years in Rome in the college of another nationality I have only reason to be eternally grateful. It opened my mind to a totally other world and I still draw the benefits from it.”