Vatican has secret rules for priests who father kids
Archbishop confirms the guidelines exist
ROME — Vincent Doyle, a psychotherapist in Ireland, was 28 when he learned from his mother that the Roman Catholic priest he had always known as his godfather was in truth his biological father.
The discovery led him to create a global support group to help other children of priests, like him, suffering from the internalized shame that comes with being born from church scandal. When he pressed bishops to acknowledge these children, some church leaders told him that he was the product of the rarest of transgressions.
But one archbishop finally showed him what he was looking for: a document of Vatican guidelines for how to deal with priests who father children, proof that he was hardly alone.
“Oh my God. This is the answer,” Doyle recalled having said as he held the document. He asked if he could have a copy, but the archbishop said no — it was secret.
‘The next scandal’
This past week, the Vatican confirmed, apparently for the first time, that its department overseeing the world’s priests has general guidelines for what to do when clerics break celibacy vows and father children.
“I can confirm that these guidelines exist,” the Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti wrote in response to a query. “It is an internal document.”
The issue is becoming harder to ignore.
“It’s the next scandal,” Doyle said. “There are kids everywhere.”
As the Vatican prepares for an unprecedented meeting with the world’s bishops this week on the devastating child sexual abuse crisis, many people who feel they have been wronged by the church’s culture of secrecy and aversion to scandal will descend on Rome to press their cause.
There will be the victims of clerical child abuse. There will be nuns sexually assaulted by priests. And there will be children of priests, including Doyle, who is scheduled to meet privately in Rome with several prominent prelates.
Tradition of celibacy
For the church, stories like Doyle’s draw uncomfortable attention to the violation of celibacy by priests.
The children are sometimes the result of affairs involving priests and laywomen or nuns — others of abuse or rape. There are some, exceedingly rare, high-profile cases, but the overwhelming majority remain out of the public eye.
The long-standing tradition of celibacy among Roman Catholic clergy was broadly codified in the 12th century, but not necessarily adhered to, even in the highest places. Rodrigo Borgia, while a priest, had four children with his mistress before he became Pope Alexander VI, an excess that helped spur Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation.
There are no estimates of how many such children exist. But Doyle said that the website for his support group, Coping International, has 50,000 users in 175 countries.
Gisotti, the Vatican spokesman, said that the internal 2017 document synthesized a decade’s worth of procedures, and that its “fundamental principle” was the “protection of the child.” He said the guideline “requests” that the father leave the priesthood to “assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child.”
But another Vatican official said that the “request” was a mere formality. Monsignor Andrea Ripa, the undersecretary in the Congregation for the Clergy, which oversees more than 400,000 priests, said in a brief interview that “it is impossible to impose” the dismissal of the priest, and that it “can only be asked” for by the priest.
He added: “If you don’t ask, you will be dismissed.”
The Irish bishops have their own guidelines, and made them public in 2017. Doyle, who once studied for the priesthood and has sought to cooperate with church leaders, played a role in developing them, said Martin Long, a spokesman for the Irish Bishops’ Conference.
The children of priests are increasingly turning to DNA tests to prove that their parents are either priests or nuns.
“It’s a breakthrough, and anybody can do it,” said Linda Lawless, 56, an amateur genealogist in Australia, and herself the daughter of a priest, who has helped members of Coping International.
Also Monday, the Associated Press reported that the Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Calif., has released the names of 45 priests, deacons and religious brothers who officials say are “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors.
The San Francisco Chronicle said Monday that Oakland’s list goes back to 1962 — when the diocese was founded. None of the men are currently in the ministry. Of the 45 people named, 20 were priests.
Stephan Wilcox, chancellor of the Oakland diocese, said he has turned over the list of names and information to the Alameda County district attorney to determine if prosecutions are warranted.