Cardinal Timothy Dolan has been attacked by four Irish archbishops for a misleading report which had led to major changes at the Irish College in Rome.

The Irish Times reports that the four archbishops are heavily critical of Cardinal Dolan’s role in a visitation and review of the College ordered by the Pope.

The four archbishops, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh; the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin; the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, and the Archbishop of Cashel, Dr Dermot Clifford, were sent a copy of the visitation report by the Vatican.

They say Cardinal Dolan’s report, which has resulted in the college hierarchy being sent back to Ireland and may see it close down, is riddled with errors.

Under orders from Pope Benedict, Cardinal Dolan led a root and branch review of all structures and processes at the famous Irish seminary in the Vatican.

His report expressed concern about ‘the atmosphere, structure, staffing and guiding philosophy of the Irish College in Rome’.

But now four of Ireland’s leading clerics have hit out at the report.

In a statement to the Irish Times, they said: “As part of the process involved in the visitation to the Irish College, Rome, the trustees were given an initial report by the Holy See.

“This initial report contained some serious errors of fact, including named individuals. Attentive to the importance of applying due process, and respecting the rights of those named in this initial report, the trustees made a detailed and considered response to the Holy See.”

Cardinal Dolan was still an Archbishop when he led the apostolic visitation to the Irish College in Rome last year.

He was assisted in the visitation report by the then Archbishop of Baltimore in the US and now Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Msgr Francis Kelly of the Northern American College in Rome and others.

The Irish Times reports that it has seen a copy of the unpublished visitation report which was presented to the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome.

The report calls for ‘substantial reform’ at the college.

The four Irish archbishops, the college’s trustees, were criticised in Cardinal Dolan’s report as ‘seeming to be disengaged from college governance, with meetings, minutes, agenda and direct supervision irregular. The general rule of governance is ‘Let’s keep doing what we have been for the last 35 years’.

In response, the Irish archbishops told the Irish Times that they made a ‘detailed and considered response’ to the Holy See.

The Irish College was founded in 1628 and educates students for the priesthood. It is also a popular wedding venue for Irish couples who wish to get married in Rome.

The visitation report said: “A disturbingly significant number of seminarians gave a negative assessment of the atmosphere of the house.

“Staff were critical about any emphasis on Rome, tradition, the magisterium, piety or assertive orthodoxy, while the students are enthusiastic about these features.”

The Dolan report recommended a change in the staff.

It also stated: “The apostolic visitor noted, and heard from students, an ‘anti-ecclesial bias’ in theological formation.”

Cardinal Dolan’s report also said: “The college suffers from the reputation of being ‘gay friendly’, however unjust such a reputation might be.

“I am eager to underline that I did not find any evidence of rampant immorality or a homosexual subculture, and that the overwhelming majority of the seminarians are committed to a faithful, chaste lifestyle.

“Likewise, we are convinced that the staff in no way condones such conduct.”

The report concludes: “If the college is to prepare men as leaders for the renewal of the church in Ireland, which the Holy Father is confident will come, the staff of the college must inspire trust and its programme of formation must engender a vibrant fidelity to Jesus and the teaching and tradition of His church with the fostering of a durable interior life, and a humble, confident sense of priestly identity and mission.

“Such is now lacking.”

Cardinal Dolan said he left the college: “Filled with affection and admiration for the students and, notwithstanding his criticisms, appreciation for the sincerity and hard work of the staff.”

A draft response prepared for the four Irish archbishops, seen by the Irish Times, said ‘a deep prejudice appears to have coloured the visitation and from the outset and it led to the hostile tone and content of the report’.

It said: “The visitation report would appear to prioritise its own view of orthodoxy, priestly identity, separation and devotion and its harsh judgments on staff members were unsupported by evidence.”

The paper says it is not clear how much of the draft response was included in the document the archbishops sent to the Holy See taking issue with the visitation report.

Since the report it has been confirmed that all four priests who were staff at the Irish College seminary in January 2011 are being replaced. Cardinal Dolan and Cardinal O’Brien received red hats last February.

Asked by The Irish Times to comment on questions arising from his visitation report, Cardinal Dolan responded: “While obviously others do not consider themselves bound by the promised confidentiality – so necessary and understandable to assure a fair and honest gathering of information [and] requested by the Apostolic See – I certainly do.”

The paper says he was therefore “unable to comment upon the report, other than to stand by the diligence of the six visitors and the accuracy of the data we found – both of positive and challenging nature – and presented to the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome.”