On Monday, news broke that for the first time, the Vatican acknowledged secret rules for priests who break their vows of celibacy and father children.
The Vatican refused to reveal what these guidelines are (have to keep those secrets secret, after all), because they are only for use within the church. So said Alessandro Gisotti, acting interim director of the Vatican's press office.
The New York Times published a story Monday that detailed the experiences of Vincent Doyle, a psychotherapist in Ireland. Doyle learned when he was 28 that a Catholic priest he grew up believing was his godfather was actually his biological father.
Doyle has since created a global support group for the illegitimate children of priests. He confronted leaders in the church to get this issue recognized, but was told that it was a very rare problem.
Then, an archbishop showed him a document that revealed the Vatican's guidelines on dealing with priests who father children.
Doyle, shocked by the revelation, asked if he could have a copy of the document, but the archbishop who showed it to him refused, saying that it was a secret document.
“I can confirm that these guidelines exist,” Alessandro Gisotti wrote to The New York Times. “It is an internal document.”
Gisotti also said that the document shown to Doyle codified a decade’s worth of procedures, and that it was put out by the Vatican in 2017. The document's “fundamental principle,” according to Gisotti, is the “protection of the child.” (Oh, sure, right, the Vatican does such a good job of protecting children.)
The document, Gisotti added, “requests” that a priest remove himself from the clergy so that he may “assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child.”
Children of priests can be born of consensual affairs with nuns or women not in the church, but sometimes these children are the result of rape committed by the priest.
No one really knows how many children have been born to priests, but Doyle told the NYT that his support group's website, Coping International, has 50,000 users in 175 countries.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to face greater and greater scrutiny as more and more stories around the world break about its repeated patterns of clerical sexual abuse, and the protection of the abusers within the church.
While we may not know exactly how many children have been born to priests, or what the details are of this secret document, the fact that it exists indicates that it is probably far from a rare problem.