By Karina Florez |Staff Writer
Days before Pope Francis held a summit in the Vatican in late February to discuss clerical sex abuse, the New York Times reported that the Vatican has secret guidelines for Roman Catholic priests who father children.
Catholic clergymen are required to make celibacy vows before they enter the priesthood.
The document has not been revealed to the public, only the fact that it exists.
“I can confirm that these guidelines exist,” said Alessandro Gisotti, the Vatican spokesman, to the New York Times, “It is an internal document.”
Gisotti also said that the document’s main objective is the “protection of the child.” The document requests that the father leave the priesthood to “assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child.”
Monsignor Andrea Ripa, the undersecretary in the Congregation for the Clergy, told the Times that the request for the father to leave the priesthood was a formality, “It is impossible to impose [the dismissal of the priest].”
However, failure to ask the priest to leave the priesthood is a valid reason for the church to step in, “If you don’t ask, you will be dismissed.”
Vincent Doyle, a psychotherapist from Ireland, who was interviewed by the Times, was told by his mother when he was 28 years old that his father was a Catholic priest. He believed this man to be his godfather for many years, spent most weekends with him and affectionately called him JJ– he died when Doyle was 12 years old.
The document was revealed to Doyle by Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic – the Vatican’s envoy to the United Nations in Geneva. When Doyle asked him if he could have a copy of the document, the archbishop said no; the document was a secret.
“You’re actually called ‘children of the ordained,’” Doyle recalled the archbishop telling him, “I was shocked they had a term for it.”
Some children who are fathered by Catholic priests are the result of romantic affairs – others are the result of abuse or sexual assault. Oftentimes the true parentage of these children does not become public, but there are times when they become high-profile cases.
Erik Zattoni’s mother was 14 years old when she was raped by Reverend Pietro Tosi. He was 54. Her family tried to force the priest to acknowledge their son, but he refused. “He never said anything,” Zattoni told the Times.
In 2010, a court-ordered DNA test showed that Zattoni was indeed Father Tosi’s son. The Vatican eventually stepped in to remind Father Tosi’s bishop of his responsibilities as a father, however they did not request that he be removed from the priesthood.
Father Tosi died in 2014 while still a priest. Zattoni is now 37 years old. “The justice I got came through a court sentence based on DNA,” he said.
Doyle created a website called Coping International to provide support and resources worldwide for children fathered by Catholic priests. The website has 50,000 users in 175 countries.
The exact estimate for how many children of Catholic priests there are is unknown.
Despite these revelations, Doyle is still a practicing Catholic. He told the Boston Globe regarding his efforts with Coping International, “I’m doing this because I love Catholicism. I just don’t like the fact that my faith is being used to keep the children of priests a secret.”