Wednesday, December 11, 2013

University chaplains may be axed

Chaplaincy services at one of the county’s largest universities may be axed amid swingeing cuts.

University College Cork (UCC) chaplaincy services now face being wiped out if a newly proposed ‘hosting’ model is approved by university authorities. 

The move is being seen by some as a sign that the campus is becoming an increasingly hostile place for people of faith.

Bishops from the Cashel province are to seek an urgent meeting with the UCC President Dr Michael Murphy and representatives of Protestant, Jewish and Muslim students are also said to be up in arms at the proposal.

Recommendations 

Recommendations of a recent internal review, conducted by Dr Ian Pickup, UCC Head of Student Experience, and seen by this newspaper, outline a proposed strategy to downgrade the university’s chaplaincy department to a part time service which would see an end to full-time chaplains based on campus.

Under the proposed recommendations, in what one university source labelled as “spiritual apartheid”, the current structure of chaplaincy on campus would be dismantled with provision for only limited access to part time chaplains on-call for vulnerable students.

The UCC Chaplaincy Review 2013 was completed following the resignation of two chaplains during the summer of 2013 and was supposed to assist the decision-making process regarding the replacement of staff.

The standing agreement between the university and its chaplaincy department makes provision for three full time Catholic chaplains. 

However, despite attempts by the Diocese of Cork and Ross to nominate appropriate replacements, the positions have remained vacant pending publication of the review.

The review now proposes that UCC employ only one Catholic chaplain, under the direction of a ‘Chaplaincy & Welfare Officer’ who is to replace the current Head Chaplain. 

The report also suggests UCC host the services of chaplains and leaders from other denominations and faiths “where possible, affordable and available”.

The move has been described as “worrying” by a university source who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

“The university is imposing a hosting model which is spiritual apartheid. Eventually all chaplains will be hosted which means there will be no full time chaplains in the university at all.

“This is a clear attempt by UCC to remove faith of all kinds from university structures. UCC is becoming an increasingly aggressive and hostile place to be for people of faith,” the source said.

Grave concern 

The bishops of the Cashel ecclesiastical province have sent a letter to UCC President Michael Murphy expressing their grave concern at the proposals and seeking an urgent meeting.

UCC is one of the country’s largest third-level institutions with more than 16,000 students at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Media queries to UCC concerning the issue went unanswered.

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