The Catholic Church has a secret document that lays out instructions for priests who father children in spite of their vows of celibacy, CBS News is reporting. The document specifically states that such a priest must first consider the needs of the child over his devotion to the Church.
For 900 years, the Church has required its priests to be celibate, and for 900 years, some priests have disobeyed that vow and fathered children – a practice which continues to this day. Many of those children have grown up in shame and secrecy.
One such child is Sarah Thomas. Now an adult woman, Thomas says that growing up, she was considered a shameful secret. She says that the Church told her mother to keep her parentage a secret. And when she finally met her father, a priest living in England, at age 14, she found that the Church was only willing to go so far in allowing him to be a parent to her.
“It soon became apparent that he couldn’t or wouldn’t or wasn’t allowed to be any sort of father to me in any meaningful sense.”
That’s not how it’s supposed to be, according to an internal Catholic Church document. Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti confirmed the existence of the document and, without getting into specifics, confirmed that it directs priests who father children to take care of their children, paternally and financially.
“The fundamental principle behind these lines is the protection of the child. For this reason, the document ordinarily requires that the priest present a request for dispensation from the duties of the clerical state and, as a layman, assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively [to their child].”
It is unclear, as of this writing, if the document also requires the priest to marry or otherwise provide for the child’s mother.
Vincent Doyle is also the child of a Catholic priest. He’s created a support group — Coping International — for other children of Catholic priests. Collectively, Doyle and Coping International are calling on Pope Francis to release the document to the public.
“I now call on The Congregation for Clergy (Vatican office) to release them without delay.”
Meanwhile, Catholic leaders in Ireland have already issued their own guidelines, which they’ve released publicly, for priests and their children. The Irish document mirrors the Vatican one, stating that the child should henceforth be the priest’s first responsibility – financially, morally, and personally. CBS News reports that Church leaders in the United States are “looking at a similar model.”