Guidelines for priests who father children

Children fathered by priests must be have their needs “given the first consideration”, say guidelines issued by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in May.

No-one knows how many children have priests or religious as parents. Some suggest there could be thousands.

The “Principles of Responsibility Regarding Priests who Father Children While in Ministry” was written in consultation with Vincent Doyle, an Irish psychotherapist whose father was a diocesan priest.

Doyle helped found Coping International, a voluntary mental health organisation that promotes the well-being of children of Catholic Priests and Religious as well as their parents.

According to The Irish Times, the guidelines Doyle helped develop attempt “to articulate a position based on natural justice and subsequent rights regarding the children of priests.” They include five general principles.

  • The parents have a fundamental right to make their own decisions regarding the care of their new-born child.
  • The needs of the child should be given the first consideration. In the case of a child fathered by a Catholic priest, it follows that a priest, as any new father, should face up to his responsibilities – legal, moral and financial. At a minimum, no priest should walk away from his responsibilities.
  • Each situation requires careful consideration, but certain principles present themselves on which the decision of the priest should be made: The best interests of the child; dialogue with, and respect for, the mother of the child; dialogue with Church superiors.
  • The importance that the mother, as the primary care-giver, and as a moral agent in her own right, be fully involved in the decision.
  • In arriving at a determination regarding these cases, it is important that a mother and child should not be left isolated or excluded.

Coping International representatives have met with various church organisations, including Vatican officials, to publicise the issue.




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