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Mount Melleray
May 30, 2022, 3:02 PM admin

A Catholic Reject writes

Mount Melleray threatened with closure
Tectonic plates of Irish monasticism are shifting
Secret plans to turn it into a University Campus

SHH. Be warned. Those vast, tectonic plates of Irish monasticism are shifting. Slowly. Slightly. Imperceptibly. But they are on the move. And they are heading in the wrong direction. The result could mean the closure of Mount Melleray, the country’s most sacred, most historic centre of monasticism, a site of genuine national importance, religiously, culturally and architecturally. To be replaced, they say - God help us - by a Canadian University campus.
The reason is numbers. In its heyday, Mount Melleray, which even today is of vital sacramental importance to Catholics all over the world, had over 130 Cistercian monks. Today, depending on who you talk to, there are four priests, two brothers and me. At least, there were. I’ve just been thrown out. Not, I hasten to add, because of something I did or did not do. But because - the mind boggles - the last Abbot brought a whole new meaning to The Rule of St Benedict. Chapter V. Obedience. “… they live in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them …” (The Rule of St Benedict, The Liturgical Press 2001) He admitted, in the boilerhouse atmosphere he created, to making whooppie with a young seminarian in the guesthouse of his own monastery.
The official thinking is as follows. At least, that is what I was told in a brutal, direct, no-holds barred ten minute discussion with a new Abbot I had never met before.

  1. The last Abbot admits he was making whoopee with a young seminarian in the guesthouse of his own monastery.
  2. The Abbot resigns and immediately disappears into a monastery. In the sun. In Australia.
  3. Biddlecombe is fired. Dumped. Sacked. Kicked out. In the cold. In Ireland.
    No. I don’t understand Cistercian logic either. And, believe me, as St Paul says, I’ve tried to.
    But enough of my problems. What is even more sinister and frightening for the future of Mount Melleray and its priceless monastic buildings, the people who depend on it not to mention the surrounding area, is the oh-so-subtle manoeuvring going on in the background. In silence. Behind closed cloister doors. Students of the great Catholic philosopher whose teachings have kept the Catholic Church in business for the last 2,000 years will recognise the strategy. The great Catholic philosopher? Machiavelli, of course. The 16th Century Florentine philosopher. The arch-manoeuvrer. The underhand schemer. The author of The Prince, every politicians’ guide to corrupt, devious, underhand yet entirely respectable ways to remain in power. By all means. At all costs. Regardless of the consequences.
Machiavelli, the 16th century Florentine philosopher known primarily for his political scheming

The shame is the poor, innocent monks of Mount Melleray can’t do anything about it.
If a Cistercian Abbot resigns, the rules say, the Abbot of another Abbey takes over. In the case of Mount Melleray, the Abbot, the Rt Rev Dom Richard Purcell, who at the time he was appointed was Ireland’s youngest Abbot, resigns. Another Abbot, known as Father Immediate, takes over. In this case, Dom Michael, Abbot of Bolton Abbey, Moone, Co Kildare.
Now to the Machievellian manoeuvrings.
All over the country, Cistercian monasteries are under threat because of falling numbers. None of the Abbots or monks want to see their own monastery closed down. It's in every Abbot's interests, therefore, to do whatever they can to gently assist the closure of somebody else's monastery. In the nicest possible monastic way, of course.
The problem is the Cistercian system of Abbots being given day-to-day responsibility for their own monastery as well as supervising authority over other monasteries. As soon as any of the monasteries, which they are supervising, hit problems, there is no incentive for them to help re-build and re-structure them. Instead, the opposite. It's in their interests to try and close them down. And, of course, if one of the monasteries they are supervising is weak but not in trouble, it's again in their interests to make it weaker. Thus Mount Melleray. It is weak. Dump one of the members and make it weaker, says Machiavelli. The weaker they are, the stronger and safer we are.

Cistercian Oblates. At work. Strengthening a monastery.

Three months ago, one tectonic plate moved. The supervising Abbot announced on his own authority, without any discussion, No Oblates. To many outsiders, an Oblate is the monastic equivalent of an O’Reilly, an O’Connor or even an O’My Goodness. Not so. An Oblate is a non-commissioned monk. A layman living a monk’s life in a monastery. Some monasteries have them. Some don’t. By putting a completely, arbitrary ban on them, the supervising Abbot immediately limited the possible number of people, who could join. He stopped Mount Melleray from building up its numbers.
Two months ago, another tectonic plate moved. The supervising Abbot dumped one monk from Mount Melleray because he wouldn’t go and get vaccinated against Covid. He could have stayed in the Guesthouse. He could have moved into any one of the empty houses in the grounds of the monastery. But, No. Whatever the community said or did not say, the supervising Abbot kicked him out.
Two gone in two months. And a cap on any further recruits. The supervising Abbot must have been laughing all the way back to his own now much stronger and, therefore, much more secure monastery. Which, surprise, surprise now has more monks than Mount Melleray.
Last month, a third tectonic plate moved. The community, apart from one monk, said I had done nothing wrong. I fitted in well. I counted as a member of the community. Especially on Monday mornings when I counted the Sunday collections. But that’s not all. I swept floors. I did the washing up. I emptied the rubbish. I even got the Prodigal Son job and looked after their two enormous pigs, which are the size of Shetland ponies. I only wish now I’d been more prodigal and deserved the honour. The one dissenting monk said he gave a chocolate orange to a Korean student in Rome during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1996. Which, incidentally, came down on November 9 1989. No. I didn’t understand what he was talking about either. But what does that matter when you are talking about someone’s future? But, even in spite of that, the supervising Abbot still dumped me. I was sacked. Fired. Made redundant. Stabbed in the back. Whatever.

Dom Eamonn. Did he really fly 5,000 kilometres to have his bunions sorted in Dungarvan?

A couple of weeks ago, a fourth tectonic plate moved. The Abbot-General of all Cistercian monasteries worldwide turned up at Mount Melleray for a quick, three-day visit. Ask him why he came to Mount Melleray. He will tell you he came because he wanted to go and see his chiropodist in Dungarven. Now Marie Curran might be the best chiropodist in the world but it beggars belief that a man, who has dedicated himself to a life of silence, solitude and poverty, who is living off the charity and kindness of others, would spend over £1,000, an unimagineable fortune to most monks in the world, to fly over 5,000 kilometres there and back to Dublin, to be driven there and back 500 kilometres to Mount Melleray, to spend three days there just to spend 20 minutes with Marie Curran to get his bunions sorted. I mean, there must be at least one chiropodist in the whole of Italy that he could have gone to. The Cistercian bunions, surely, can’t be that holy they can only be handled by an Irish chiropodist. In Dungarvan of all places. Unless, of course, there was another reason for his visit. Which he wanted to keep secret.

Was this the monastic bunion that forced Dom Eamonn to travel over 5,00 kilometres to seek a cure in Dungarvan?😇

Then this week, a fifth tectonic plate moved. There was a secret all-afternoon meeting. Called by Dom Michael. For monks only. Even silent monks are not saying what was discussed.
But eat your twisted heart out Machiavelli. Mount Melleray can still be saved.

  • They can bring back the men who have been arbitrarily dumped in the past. With no discussion. No appeal. One, on the orders of the Abbot, even had his bags packed for him and dumped outside in the car park. If, of course, they want to come back after such brutal and humiliating treatment.
  • They can bring in monks from other monasteries. From monasteries they helped to establish both at home and overseas. From monasteries with monks looking for overseas experience. From monasteries with monks who – Why not? - want to either learn or improve their English.
  • They can bring in men who are either just thinking or thinking seriously about becoming monks. For weekends. For two/three week getting-to-know-what-it’s-like sessions. For whatever is required.
    There is even a Euro 20 million plan on the table to build alongside Mount Melleray the world’s first international religious and cultural centre for monastic music, which would involve not only restoring all the old, original monastic buildings but also building a brand new 200-seat concert hall. Not only would it dramatically boost the number of visitors to the monastery, which is severely under-financed, it would also bring over 150 new jobs to an area suffering economic hardship, high unemployment and desperately few job opportunities. For some reason, the previous Abbot, who was normally eager to interfere in everything in any way he could, decided to totally ignore it. Probably, no doubt, because as it happens, he was busy pursuing other interests.
Mount Melleray. Will it now be demolished ?

I’ve been visiting and staying at Mount Melleray for over 25-years. I love the place. I’ve spent some of the happiest days of my life there. I sold everything I owned to go there. I even lost a fortune unscrambling book contracts in various countries to go there because the Abbot lectured me – Oh. The irony - on the purity of monastic life and told me to do so. Which I did because, as I get further and further up the queue outside the cemetery gates, I wanted to spend the rest of my life there, and still do, desperately preparing, as St John Cassian, the great 5th Century monk and theologian, says, “with rigorous self-disciplined determination for that first direct encounter with God.”
There are plenty of people like me. Who love Mount Melleray. Who don’t want to see it destroyed. Who want to see it preserved for both this and future generations. Who, most certainly, do not want to see it turned into, God save us, a Canadian university campus. Who would do anything to stop those tectonic plates from moving any further.
Please, don’t let them destroy Mount Melleray.
Oops. Nearly forgot. Did I mention that the supervising Abbot, the Father Immediate, is Canadian?

Will the Canadian flag fly over Mount Melleray ?
Peter Biddlecombe

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