Vat­i­can has se­cret rules for priests who father kids

Arch­bishop con­firms the guide­lines ex­ist

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD - By Ja­son Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo

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.

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