Vatican Corner 06-09-2019

For nearly 900 years the Church has forbidden priests to marry or have sex, but it has never spelled out rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child. Canon law, the church’s legal system, is silent on the issue of priests becoming fathers. The number of Clergy offspring is unknown in the United States or in the world, but the Coping International’s website, founded by Vincent Doyle, who created a support group for children of priests, has 50,000 users worldwide and it is growing. It has been pointed out that a number of prominent churchmen have fathered children, including: Eamonn Casey, the charismatic bishop of Galway, Ireland; Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ; Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, who conceived a child while a Catholic bishop; and Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala, the father of two teenagers living with their mother in another state. Going back centuries, at least four Renaissance popes fathered children. What is known today is that hundreds, possibly thousands of offspring have lived in secret, hiding their fathers’ past from the world and even from family members. Still other children of clergy have grown up not knowing who their real father was, often mistaking him for an uncle, godfather or some other friend or relative known from their childhood. Often later in life they discover who their real father is and often undergo spiritual disillusionment. Some experience psychological trauma from having to carry a lie for life. Depression, suicidal thoughts, excessive drinking and ritual cutting habits have all been a part of the residue of being the child of a priest. Also the children have experienced financial insecurity after priests promised to support their child, but did not. In 2017, Ireland’s Catholic Church published ground –breaking guidelines for priests, declaring that if “a priest fathers a child, the well-being of his child should be his first consideration,” and he should “face up to his responsibilities: personal, legal, moral and financial.” It was the first time the Catholic Church had publicly admitted that there even are children of priests. But they are guidelines, not requirements. In February, 2019, the Vatican confirmed the existence of an internal document from the Congregation of Clergy outlining criteria on the protection of children of priests. It is a template document to aid bishops dealing with such cases. The existence of the document has been known since 2017, but it has never been published. Cardinal Beniamino Stella, perfect of the Congregation for the Clergy, talking about the document said that in many cases involving priestly paternity, priests either request dispensation or are dismissed from the clerical state because of the parental responsibility and obligation owed to the child. Exceptions to the loss of the clerical state are rare. “Each case is examined on its merits … the child’s well-being and care of the child must be the center of attention for the Church, so that the child does not lack, not only the necessities of life, but especially the educative role and the affection of a father.” In February, 2019 the Catholic Church in America stated that they are looking at adopting similar guidelines. French bishops will meet with children of priests in June 2019 to hear their testimonies of hidden suffering. Anne-Marie Jarzac, the daughter of a priest and nun, who leads the French association for children of priests, with more than 50 members said in preparation for the testimonies: “for the first time, we felt that the Church opened its doors to us, that there was no more denial, but a listening and an awareness of what we have lived.”