Religion: Catholic Church set to close Bearsden seminary and sell Scots College in Rome

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia pictured in Rome with Pope Francis.

By Bill Heaney

The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland has recommended the closure of the national seminary at Scotus College in Bearsden, near Glasgow.

It is currently training only nine ­seminarians, some of whom may drop out before the end of their six-year course. The seminary has room for at least five times that number.

The move comes seven years after church leaders in Scotland saved the college from closure amid reports that running costs for it and two other seminaries, in Rome and Spain, stood at £1.56million a year.

They instead chose to end training at the Royal Scots College in Salamanca, western Spain.

Scots entering the priesthood, who used be trained at St Peter’s in Cardross, Dunbartonshire, will now be sent to the Pontifical Scots ­College in Rome, effectively ending 300 years of tradition.

The three resident priests who teach at the college – backed up by about 20 other teaching staff – will return to their dioceses.

Father Willie McFadden, rector of the college, said: “There are just not enough candidates for the priesthood, nor enough teachers.

“I do not think economics came into the decision – it is about a shortage of people.”

Scotus College, named after 13th-century theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus, who is its patron saint, can trace its ancestry back to 1714 with the establishment of a secluded seminary on a small island in Loch Morar in the Highlands.

It became the national seminary after Gillis College in Edinburgh closed in 1992. Scotland’s junior seminary, St Mary’s, in Blairs, Aberdeenshire, was closed down in 1986. But numbers at Scotus have continued to fall in ten years from around 90 students to just nine.

Vatican City, Royal Scots College, Salamanca, St Peter’s College, Cardross, which was abandoned for many years until recently.

The Pontifical Scots College, which is currently training nine people for the priesthood, was established by Pope Clement VIII in 1600, when it was assigned the revenue of the old Scots hospice.

The Scottish Bishops undertook a detailed review of seminary provision in recent months. A significant consideration in the review has been the affordability of upgrading the existing Pontifical Scots College in Rome to the standards required.

The Bishops have accepted that the costs of this work are beyond the resources of the Scottish hierarchy.

Considering the building’s distance from the centre of Rome, they have concluded that the sale of the building on the Via Cassia and relocation to a more central location is the best option for the formation needs of the community and for future provision. 

Alternative suitable and affordable premises are being considered as a matter of priority.

Subject to permission from the Holy See, it is expected that the existing building will be put on the market early in 2021. This will only be the fourth occasion in its history that the community of the Pontifical Scots College has relocated, since it was founded on 5 December 1600.

Peter Kearney, the church’s spokesman in Scotland, said the Bearsden closure was “regretted”.

He added: “The Bishops’ Conference is grateful to all those who have contributed to Scotus College over the years, including lay employees, whose statutory rights will be upheld.

“Should the number of seminarians increase in future, the bishops would be delighted to reassess the situation.”

Top picture: Scottish priests process at St Patrick’s, Dumbarton – their dwindling numbers have caused bishops to reassess their position in regard to training colleges.

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