Monk calls for better protections for church whistleblowers after being ostracised from Co Meath monastery
Sarah Mac Donald Irish Independent
September 15 2021
A monk who raised concerns over financial governance and inappropriate behaviour at a Co Meath monastery has called for new protections for whistleblowers in the Catholic Church.
Fr Benedict Andersen, who was formerly second in command at Silverstream Priory near Stamullen, Co Meath, told the Irish Independent that he now finds himself out of ministry, with no income and living in America.
“It might be a good time for some new protections for those who become whistleblowers in the church,” he said.
Fr Andersen is calling for an “impartial investigation” of his claims. “What has happened at Silverstream Priory is a textbook example of how a religious community should not be governed,” he said.
Silverstream monastery was founded in 2012 by charismatic US-born Benedictine monk Fr Mark Daniel Kirby, who was prior until 2020.
The Co Meath community promotes the Latin liturgy and a conservative form of Catholicism.
In May 2020, Bishop Tom Deenihan of Meath ordered a canonical visitation or investigation of Silverstream monastery.
A five-page report which followed the visitation, seen by the Irish Independent, enumerated concerns about its financial management as well as the structure and governance of the monastery’s community life.
The church investigation came about following complaints made to the Bishop of Meath and the Papal Nuncio in April 2020 by Fr Andersen.
He says they were “the culmination of years of deep concern”.
He also alleges “a culture of habitual boundary-crossing in almost every area of community life: spiritual, emotional, physical, and material/ financial”.
Fr Andersen’s complaints range from lack of financial oversight to inappropriate behaviour to “egregious breaches of confidentiality” in relation to medical and spiritual matters.
According to Fr Andersen, monks at the monastery were not usually allowed go to the doctor and be examined without another member of the community with them.
In their report, the visitation team recognised that serious breaches of medical data protection and spiritual confidentiality (what they termed the “internal forum”) were occurring.
The visitation team was led by the Abbot of Glenstal, Brendan Coffey, who was assisted by the Abbot of Mount Melleray, Richard Purcell, and Monsignor Gearoid Dullea of the Diocese of Cork and Ross.
For many years since its foundation, Silverstream Priory was lauded as an example of a flourishing conservative community which had attracted many vocations.
Silverstream was in the headlines in 2017 when the former Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith, presided at a ceremony which formally recognised it as a monastic institute of consecrated life, making it the first new monastery established in the diocese of Meath since Reformation times.
The community grew from two monks to 15, attracting vocations, such as an Australian former surfer and others from the US and Denmark.
As the community grew, an ambitious plan for the reconstruction of the monastery’s buildings got under way. But in order to carry these out, a lot of money had to be raised.
The visitation report noted that during the years 2016-2019, the community invested over €2.5m in purchasing the property and renovating it, even though the monastery’s income in 2019 dropped by 50pc of what it was in each of the three previous years. At the same time, expenses were increasing by 20pc each year.
One of Fr Andersen’s major concerns was the monastery’s failure to keep records, plan its budget, or record specific donations.
The Visitation Report warned the community that the civil legal structure of Silverstream Priory needed attention to make it compliant with civil law, the Revenue Commissioners, the Charity Governance Code and Data Protection legislation.
“We have concerns in these areas,” the report stated.
Other concerns focused on the monastery’s failure to present annual accounts to Silverstream’s chapter for approval.
Furthermore, Fr Andersen felt that Fr Kirby’s revelation to him that he had filled dozens of prayer journals with prayers and reflections about him, along with his hugs, his caressing of Fr Andersen’s head, as well as graphic disclosures of sexual abuse, overstepped boundaries.
Fr Andersen first spoke to Bishop Deenihan of Meath about his concerns in February 2020, as he was at that point thinking of leaving Silverstream. He then wrote to the bishop on April 30, outlining his concerns and expressing the view that Fr Kirby could not remain as the community’s superior.
On May 20, Bishop Deenihan announced a visitation. Due to the pandemic, the process was delayed, and the visitation team arrived at the monastery on June 9, 2020, and spent three days interviewing the monks.
On 25 June, Silverstream received a copy of the visitors’ five-page report, which praised the monastery as a “place of prayer, a place that is a centre of peace and retreat”, which was clearly at odds with the allegations made by Fr Andersen.
Asked to respond to Fr Andersen’s allegations, a spokesman for Bishop Deenihan explained that Silverstream was established as a Diocesan Institute of Consecrated Life in 2017 by the former Bishop of Meath, Bishop Michael Smith.
Martin Long of the Catholic Communications office told the Irish Independent : “As Silverstream had not long been established as a Diocesan Institute of Consecrated Life, it was timely that it underwent a visitation which is now concluded. This is a normal part of church life, and the purpose of its report is to assist the good governance of the monastery and is not for publication.”
He also highlighted that there had been “personalised and serious charges published online concerning the monastic community and its members and, in justice, the diocese cannot respond as there are ongoing investigations by canonical and civil authorities”.
A spokesperson for the Garda confirmed to the Irish Independent that there is an investigation relating to a monastery in Stamullen, Co Meath. The Irish Independent also requested a response from Silverstream community and was told: “This matter is still subject to a Garda investigation, and we will not make any further comment until this is complete.”
Since he aired his concerns about Silverstream, Fr Andersen claims he has been ostracised by the community, accused of indirectly violating the confessional seal, left without a ministry, and a home.
He says however that he does not know who accused him of the canonical crime of breaking the seal of confession and reporting him to the Vatican.
“My canonical advocate in Rome has, thus far, been unable to learn anything about these charges. We have not even been able to learn if there is an associated ‘protocol number’, which would be proof that there is a complaint against me in the files of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” he said.
He added: “Of course, I will defend myself vigorously: no such violation has ever occurred. It has been suggested to me by my advocate that it is a way of undermining my credibility in the civil forum.”
His advocate has also failed to get any response from Bishop Deenihan about the complaint.
Father Benedict has been treated atrociously by his monastery and Tom Deenihan the Roman Catholic incumbent of Meath.
He was subjected to serious sexual harassment by the prior – that nut job Kirby.
Tom Deenihan has been most unkind and unChristian to him.
Benedict is a kind, sincere and very prayerful monk.
What is it about the RCC – the more of a bastard you the better you are treated.
I’m sure the Good Lord will bring Benedict to a place that deserves him and respects him.
REPLY FROM DENIS AN COILEACH NULTY.
Peter, the man with the info on the Gay / Satanic group and the child abuse will follow that up on Monday.