Call for explanation from Bishop over defrocking of former seminary head Fr Michael O’Connor

Irish Independent [Dublin, Ireland]

January 28, 2024

By Sarah Mac Donald

A veteran campaigner has called on Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan to give an “immediate” and “detailed explanation” for his defrocking of the former president of St John’s Seminary in Waterford & Lismore.

Tony Gribben of the Dromore Group said the sacking of a priest is a serious matter and the people of Waterford & Lismore deserve an explanation for the move. Bishop Cullinan’s failure to explain the sacking “generates suspicion and intrigue”.

In a statement this weekend, Bishop Cullinan said he commissioned an inquiry into Fr Michael O’Connor, a priest of the Diocese of Waterford & Lismore, in accordance with church procedures.

Fr O’Connor was president of St John’s College in Waterford city for nine years between 1985-1994. The seminary closed in 1999 due to dwindling vocations.

The Irish Independent understands that Fr O’Connor has been out of ministry for nearly 25 years when the process was undertaken.

While no priest in the diocese was willing to speak publicly about the case, it is understood that Fr O’Connor is now over 80 and has been living in a church property.

According to Dr Cullinan, the process he initiated involved referring Fr O’Connor’s case to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican.

“The result of this inquiry is that Michael O’Connor has been dismissed from the clerical state, and therefore he is no longer a priest,” Dr Cullinan said. “This decision is solely based on the outcome of this church inquiry,” the bishop added.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Tony Gribben, who suffered abuse at the hands of the late Fr Malachy Finnegan when he was a pupil at St Colman’s College in Newry, noted the the involvement of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Rome-based campaigner said the failure by Bishop Cullinan to provide any detail about nature of the church inquiry “will only generate suspicion and speculation”.

The Irish Independent contacted the Catholic Communications Office with questions about the reasons for Fr O’Connor’s defrocking, but was referred back to Bishop Cullinan’s original statement.