Priests becoming fathers: Inside the Vatican's secret rules

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. Pope Francis celebrated a final Mass to conclude his extraordinary summit of Catholic leaders summoned to Rome for a tutorial on preventing clergy sexual abuse and protecting children from predator priests. The Mass was celebrated Sunday in the Sala Regia, one of the grand, frescoed reception rooms of the Apostolic Palace. (Giuseppe Lami/Pool Photo via AP)

The head organiser of the Vatican's sex abuse summit has met with an Irish activist who is seeking to draw attention to another issue the Vatican has long sought to keep quiet: the plight of children of priests.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, for years the Vatican's sex crimes investigator, met Tuesday with Vincent Doyle, the child of a priest. Through his advocacy and self-help group Coping International, Doyle has sought to compel Catholic leaders to acknowledge the issue of priests' children and the psychological and emotional impact the church's enforced secrecy has on them and their mothers.

In a statement, Scicluna said the issue needed to be addressed and the children of priests acknowledged.

"Each case should be tackled and handled on its own merits," said the statement Scicluna gave Doyle, who shared it Wednesday with The Associated Press. "The interest of the child should be paramount."

Notably, the statement did not say the priest should leave the priesthood to take care of his child as a layman — the common default response by church superiors.

This week the Vatican acknowledged publicly to The New York Times that it has internal guidelines on how to handle such cases.

32 PHOTOS
Inside the Vatican
See Gallery
Inside the Vatican
Pope Francis speaks during the last day of the four-day meeting on the global sexual abuse crisis, at the Vatican, February 24, 2019. Picture taken February 24, 2019. Vatican media/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 24: Pope Francis, attends the closing Mass of 'The Protection Of Minors In The Church' 4 days meeting at the Regia Hall on February 24, 2019 in Vatican City, Vatican. “The time has come, then, to work together to eradicate the evil” of child abuse, Pope Francis said, in a speech delivered at the close of the final Mass for the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Getty Images)
Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists who are in Rome and the Vatican for this weeks papal summit, stand for a protest on St. Peter's Square by St. Peter's basilica on February 24, 2019, after a 4-day Papal summit on tackling the wave of child sex abuse scandals assailing the Catholic Church. - The placard reads 'March to 0, zero tolerance + zero cover up = truth and justice'. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP) (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 24: Priests, attend the closing Mass of 'The Protection Of Minors In The Church' 4 days meeting at the Regia Hall on February 24, 2019 in Vatican City, Vatican. “The time has come, then, to work together to eradicate the evil” of child abuse, Pope Francis said, in a speech delivered at the close of the final Mass for the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves from the window of the Apostolic palace as he arrives for the weekly Angelus prayer on February 24, 2019 at the Vatican. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP) (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
St Peter's Basilica and St. Angelo Bridge taken at sunrise
Vatican Staircase taken in 2015
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - FEBRUARY 24: Pope Francis, attends the closing Mass of 'The Protection Of Minors In The Church' 4 days meeting at the Regia Hall on February 24, 2019 in Vatican City, Vatican. “The time has come, then, to work together to eradicate the evil” of child abuse, Pope Francis said, in a speech delivered at the close of the final Mass for the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. (Photo by Vatican Pool - Corbis/Getty Images)
Angel with the cross, on Sant Angelo bridge, sculptor Ercole Ferrata, year 1535
Saint Peter's basilica at dusk. Vatican city, Rome
Aerial view of Saint Peters Square in Vatican, Rome, Itali
Panorama of Rome with a view of Basilica from St. Peter in the Vatican. Italy
Photo Taken In Italy, Roma
evening view at St. Peter's cathedral in Rome, Italy
Luce in S.Pietro1
St. Peter's Basilica
Italy, Lazio, Rome, Angel on Ponte SantAngelo
clothing ready for Holy Mass hanging in the sacristy of the priest
30 of April 2013. Rome, Vatican. Gate of St. Peter's Basilica which is guarded by Swiss Guards. The guard stands in the centre of the gate.
Vatican sunbeam
San Pietro church, Vatican City
Extremely Rare, Beautifully Illustrated Antique Victorian Engraved Illustration of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, Italy Victorian Engraving, from Liberators of Italy, A Book about General Garibaldi’s fight for the liberation of Italy. Published in 1865. Copyright has expired on this artwork. Digitally restored.
Nuns and Priests in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Rome
View through the keyhole. Aventine hill. Rome, Italy
Rome skyline at the city center with panoramic view of famous landmark of Ancient Rome architecture, Italian culture and monuments. Historical Rome is the famous travel destination of Italy.
Popes residence on St. Peter's Square, horizontal.
Bottom-up
Hallway of Library at The Vatican Museum Vatican City Rome Italy
A Pontifical Swiss Guard with pike guarding the Portone di Bronzo at the Vatican Apostolic Palace entrance. Vatican City
Rome, Italy - June 05, 2011: Swiss guards at their posts outside the entrances to the Vatican in Rome.
Brass band in Swiss Guards uniforms marching during annual street parade for Feast of Corpus Christi. 15/06/17.
St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Rome, Italy
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti confirmed that the guidelines' fundamental principle is looking out for the best interests of the child. As such, he said, the guidelines "ordinarily ask for the priest to present his request to be dispensed from the obligations of the clerical state, and as a lay person, assume his responsibilities as a father, dedicating himself exclusively to his child."

Doyle is pressing for that default position to change, arguing that it often is not in the best interests of the child for his father to be fired.

Doyle also notes that these children are born under a wide range of circumstances, with some the result of sexual abuse by priests against girls and women.

Eliminate the stigma children of priests

In an interview Wednesday, Doyle said he met this week with the president of the U.S. bishops' conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and walked into the Congregation for Clergy and secured a meeting with the department undersecretary, Monsignor Andrea Ripa.

Doyle said all agreed on the need for case-by-case approach to the issue of priest's children. The Irish Catholic Church hierarchy has taken the lead on addressing the issue with a child-focused set of guidelines published in 2017.

"This is important, as it eliminate the default expectations that he (the priest) has to leave," Doyle said. He said he was heartened by all his meetings and that the Catholic officials were compassionate and understood the pain he conveyed to them.

Doyle has been campaigning to help eliminate the stigma children of priests often face, and educate the church about the problems they can suffer as a result of the secrecy imposed on them and the absentee fathers they may never know. Those problems, which can include depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, were the subject of a 2017 series in The Boston Globe.

There are no figures about the number of children fathered by Catholic priests. But there are about 450,000 Catholic priests in the world and the Catholic Church forbids artificial contraception and abortion. While eastern rite Catholic priests can be married before ordination, Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy.

Scicluna is one of four key organisers of Pope Francis' clergy sex abuse summit, which opens Thursday but is not expected to address the issue of priests' children.

Read Full Story

FROM OUR PARTNERS