VATICAN CITY — The head organizer of the Vatican’s sex abuse summit has met with an Irish activist who is seeking to draw attention to another issue the Vatican has long sought to keep quiet: the plight of children of priests.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, for years the Vatican’s sex crimes investigator, met Tuesday with Vincent Doyle, the child of a priest. Through his advocacy and self-help group Coping International, Doyle has sought to compel Catholic leaders to acknowledge the issue of priests’ children and the psychological and emotional impact the Church’s enforced secrecy has on them and their mothers.
In a statement, Scicluna said the issue needed to be addressed and the children of priests acknowledged.
“Each case should be tackled and handled on its own merits,” said the statement Scicluna gave Doyle, who shared it Wednesday with The Associated Press. “The interest of the child should be paramount.”
Notably, the statement did not say the priest should leave the priesthood to take care of his child as a layman — the common default response by church superiors.
This week the Vatican acknowledged publicly to The New York Times that it has internal guidelines on how to handle such cases.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti confirmed that the guidelines’ fundamental principle is looking out for the best interests of the child. As such, he said, the guidelines “ordinarily ask for the priest to present his request to be dispensed from the obligations of the clerical state, and as a lay person, assume his responsibilities as a father, dedicating himself exclusively to his child.”
Doyle is pressing for that default position to change, arguing that it often is not in the best interests of the child for his father to be fired.
Doyle also notes that these children are born under a wide range of circumstances, with some the result of sexual abuse by priests against girls and women.
In an interview Wednesday, Doyle said he met this week with the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and walked into the Congregation for Clergy and secured a meeting with the department undersecretary, Monsignor Andrea Ripa.
Doyle said all agreed on the need for case-by-case approach to the issue of priest’s children. The Irish Catholic Church hierarchy has taken the lead on addressing the issue with a child-focused set of guidelines published in 2017.
“This is important, as it eliminate the default expectations that he (the priest) has to leave,” Doyle said. He said he was heartened by all his meetings and that the Catholic officials were compassionate and understood the pain he conveyed to them.
Doyle has been campaigning to help eliminate the stigma children of priests often face, and educate the Church about the problems they can suffer as a result of the secrecy imposed on them and the absentee fathers they may never know. Those problems, which can include depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, were the subject of a 2017 series in The Boston Globe.
There are no figures about the number of children fathered by Catholic priests. But there are about 450,000 Catholic priests in the world and the Catholic Church forbids artificial contraception and abortion. While eastern rite Catholic priests can be married before ordination, Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy.
Scicluna is one of four key organizers of Pope Francis’s clergy sex abuse summit, which opens Thursday but is not expected to address the issue of priests’ children.