An Irish son of a priest is calling on Pope Francis to let religious who father children remain in the ministry.

Driving the news

Vincent Doyle was 28 years old before he discovered the priest he thought was his godfather, who had died years before, was actually his dad.

“[It] was the antidote to the worst day of my life, that I had lost him – because I got him back”, Doyle told the Australian ABC.

The memories of the “huge kindness” of the man who was “a father in everything but the word” sent Doyle on a journey to help the other ‘hidden children’ of the Catholic Church.

It was a journey that sent him to the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who gave him funding to set up a website to help other priests’ offspring.

“I thought, ‘well, let’s put up a website where people can start downloading information, like an information pack for free. Maybe it will help people'”, Doyle told the ABC.

“I thought I could just move on with my life and that would be it”.

But now, the website Coping International – which offers free counselling to the children of priests, and their parents – has received over 80,000 visitors from 175 countries, with no end to the traffic in sight.


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The big picture

Doyle, who runs his website from his home in rural Ireland, said people arrive at Coping International after Googling search terms such as “my father’s a Catholic priest”, “alimony for priests’ kids” or “help I’m pregnant and the father is a Catholic priest”.

Based on the number of hits he’s received, Doyle estimates there could be as many as 10,000 children of priests around the world.

“Priests are breaking their celibacy vow in every country in the world. As long as you have priests, you will have children of Catholic priests”, the Irishman said.

That’s why he said he’s pushing hard to end the rejection, secrecy, hurt and shame.

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Go deeper

Doyle knows he was lucky to have a had a warm, loving relationship with his priest father.

Other children of religious aren’t so fortunate.

“It’s very lonely being a priest’s child, it’s very isolating and it’s very disempowering”, Sarah Thomas told the ABC.

“I think it nearly killed me … I internalised the hurt to the point where I’d stopped looking after myself”.

“I think priests’ children as a group want to be acknowledged. They want to be on the map. They exist. They’re not collateral damage”, the British-born woman added.

“When I found out who my father was, the stigma became bigger again and I remember thinking, I can’t tell anybody. I now have to carry the secret”, lamented for her part Australian Linda Lawless.

“To be able to communicate with other children of priests is very important, especially in the journey of recovery of the trauma that each one of us all goes through”.

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What’s next

Doyle has taken his fight for priests’ children all the way to Rome.

The Vatican has so far refused to make public the “internal technical notes” it acknowledges it has on the subject for the use of Church officials and priests’ children only.

Doyle said the default position shouldn’t be that priests who father offspring must leave the ministry.

“No person, man or woman, should be forced from their job for becoming a parent … ‘Congratulations, you’re a father. You’re fired!’ This is what’s driving the secrecy”, the Irishman deplored.

“These men, our fathers, my father. All these men are terrified”.

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