ROME – It’s only February, meaning it’s still early in 2019, and therefore arguably a bit premature to be floating candidates for best soundbite of the year. Still, I’m going to go out on a limb and declare Vincent Doyle an early favorite.
Doyle is a psychotherapist in Ireland who learned eight years ago that a Catholic priest he’d been told was his godfather is, in fact, his biological father. Moved by the discovery, Doyle has gone on to become a campaigner for the rights of children of priests, and recently prompted a New York Times article confirming that the Vatican has confidential guidelines for such cases.
On Thursday evening, Doyle told Crux that he finds debates over the merits of celibacy for priests a red herring when dealing with children they’ve already had.
Here’s his money quote: “To talk to a priest’s child about celibacy is like giving a lecture on contraception in a maternity ward … it’s a bit after the fact, don’t you think?”
Even if there are ten more months this year, I’m really not sure you’re going to do much better than that.
Doyle is in Rome this week pressing his case, taking advantage of the media spotlight created not only by the Feb. 18 Times piece but also the summit on clerical sexual abuse convened by Pope Francis taking place this week.
Speaking to Doyle, one could conclude either that he’s a man who stands on principle rather than expedience, or that he’s a guy who simply can’t quit while he’s ahead. In any event, he’s not satisfied with having forced the Vatican to admit it has policies, because he’s convinced those policies have been misrepresented.
Alessandro Gisotti, an Italian layman who’s acting as the Vatican spokesman, told the Times that according to the guidelines, a priest who fathers a child is supposed to leave the priesthood. Those guidelines, Gisotti said, “request” that the father leave the priesthood to “assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child.”
Doyle insists that’s just flat-out not true.
“Let me say on the record that contrary to what was affirmed by Gisotti, there is nothing in that document that states a priest has to leave,” he told Crux. “I would never applaud that, it’s not there. It has no canonical foundation, it has no common-sense foundation or ethical foundation. It’s just simply not there.”
This week, he said, he’s had multiple confirmations that there is no such policy.
“I asked Cardinal Daniel DiNardo [president of the U.S. bishops’ conference] if this is done on a case-by-case basis. He said, ‘Of course it’s case-by-case.’ That’s been backed up by the Vatican’s Congregation for Consecrated Life, and by the Congregation for Clergy,” he said.
He’s demanding a correction from Vatican officials, so far without a response.
Doyle also thinks it’s silly for the Vatican to have policies but not release them to the public. He said he actually swung by the Congregation for Clergy this week to request a copy.
“They didn’t give it to me, unsurprisingly,” he said. “I asked what the point is of having a policy that’s internal … unless you have a creche at the bottom of the [Congregation for] Clergy, it’s not much good to you, is it?”
In terms of the substance of the issue, Doyle argues that a priest who fathers a child shouldn’t have to choose between his vocation and his responsibility as a parent, a dichotomy he sees as inconsistent with the Church’s pro-life and pro-family positions.
“Respectfully, Cardinal [Sean] O’Malley said last year that if a priest fathers a child he has a moral obligation [to the child], and everyone published it as if that’s news. It’s not, that’s as old as tea. What I’d like to ask Cardinal O’Malley or his brother bishops is how does a priest care for his child unless he’s got a check coming in?”
“A priest doesn’t have to be married to be a good father,” Doyle said. “There’s no contradiction between priesthood and paternity.”
Doyle also insists that his campaign isn’t against the discipline of priestly celibacy.
“He can still be a celibate priest and be a good parent, so this is not about celibacy, this is about common sense,” he said.
Doyle isn’t terribly concerned about how his argument might play in terms of Church politics or anything else.
“I’m not here for diplomacy, I’m not here for PC, I’m not here for morality,” he said.
“We’re asking for brass tacks. We’re asking for the pope to say if you have a child, you don’t have to leave – maybe he should, but it’s up to himself. It should be child-centered, common-sense practical solutions, not, ‘Here darling, here’s your lovely plate of morality,’ because you cannot eat morality,” Doyle said. “The child needs practicalities.”
He said he’s finding receptivity to his message, even if the Vatican so far hasn’t corrected what he insists is a misstatement about the idea that a priest who fathers a child should leave.
“They’ve been very, very receptive,” he said. “The Vatican has confirmed to me that it’s case-by-case, definitely. You can’t just say, ‘Congratulations, you’re a father, see you!’ That argument as of this week is gone, officially gone.”
Granted, Doyle’s issue doesn’t touch directly on the sexual abuse of a child, the ostensible subject of this week’s summit. Nonetheless, the fact that doors have opened to him one after the other is confirmation of an internal transformation in the Vatican, driven in large part by the abuse scandals – a recognition, however belated and still partial, that ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.
For anyone with a long memory, that in itself can’t help but feel like real change.