“It’s about time the Catholic Church made a distinction between an apostolic life and celibacy”. The ex-priest Michel de Trucis, now the father of two young adults, is convinced that the time has come to break the silence around the children of priests. The French bishops agree with him. The French Episcopal Conference has decided to “open its archives and help children of priests know more about their fathers”, says Anne-Marie Mariani, founder of the association Enfants du Silence (“Children of silence”).
On June 13, Mariani met with Jérôme Beau, archbishop of Bourges and president of the Commission of the French bishops for Commission for Ordained Ministers and Lay Ecclesial Ministers.
“This was a very encouraging meeting,” says Mariani of the meeting she had with Beau and two other members of Enfants du Silence, and reveals that she has another scheduled meeting with the prelate in October.
“What matters is first to listen to these children of silence who express their suffering and to understand what is at stake,” said Beau after this first meeting.
A very great suffering
The suffering of the children of priests – who sometimes feel illegitimate and rejected – can be very great, according to the psychologist Marie-Françoise Bonicel.
“These children often feel the same way as illegitimate children, who have at least one parent married to someone else than their other parent. But the feeling that they should not have been born is harder to bear, because their existence is the result of a transgression not only of a human law, but of a sacred commitment, that some people see as God’s law”, said Bonicel.
“Children of Satan”
“I have always lived in total insecurity,” reveals Léa, 45, who prefers to remain anonymous because otherwise “it would be the end of my academic career”. Léa’s father was a Jesuit, working in Paris, but when he fell in love with her mother he decided to leave the Jesuits to marry her and have children.
“Some relatives called us children of Satan,” laments Léa of her childhood.
Her father eventually got a teaching job in Brittany, where some of his neighbors learned that he had been a priest.
“We were insulted; our yard was wrecked”, says Léa. “To this day, I wonder why my parents did not leave to go to the anonymity of a big city.”
“”We never talked about his past. My mother told us not to ask questions, since it was painful to him,” reveals Léa.
“Your father should never have had children,” she says her mother told her once. No wonder Léa has always fought against depression.
Hopes for the future
But the experiences of the children of priests are not always as hard as those of Léa. Basile and Raphaëlle de Truchis, sons of ex-priest Michel de Truchis, say that in their childhood they were free to ask their parents all the questions they wanted and that it was never difficult.
“We went to church, catechism, our parents have always been involved in parish activities”, says Raphaëlle.
Hard or not their experiences while growing up, the important thing is the descendants of priests be recognised for what they are: the children of their fathers.
Anne-Marie Mariani laments that the children of priests “often find out the truth only upon their [father’s] death.”
Now, with the decision of the French bishops to help those who seek their fathers among the clergy, “[w]e are now hopeful that these situations won’t happen again,” says the founder of Enfants du Silence.