04 May 2022, The Tablet

How Australia is setting a new standard when it comes to children fathered by Catholic priests

How Australia is setting a new standard when it comes to children fathered by Catholic priests

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops’ conference.
CNS photo/Dan Peled, AAP Image via Reuters

“Lines of communication have opened between Coping International, and the bishops’ conference and that dialogue will continue.” The words of Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops in 2019. This communication has now borne fruit, and the Catholic bishops are to be commended for this valiant effort.

The Australian Catholic bishops’ conference plenary meeting, which happened last November 8-12, 2021, noted as follows, concerning children of priests,

“The bishops continued their deliberations on responding to the issue of priests who father children. They considered the draft document, “pastoral guidelines and principles regarding priests who have fathered children”, which was prepared in light of advice received from the Congregation for the Clergy, as well as the “principles of responsibility regarding priests who father children while in ministry” of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The bishops agreed to study the draft pastoral guidelines and provide feedback to assist the further development of the draft.”[1]

The general secretary of the episcopal conference in communication with Coping also noted: “The bishops’ conference has established a bishops’ commission for professional standards and safeguarding, which has responsibility for preparing guidelines. This commission has undertaken a process of consultation and has now prepared draft guidelines. A process of seeking comment on the draft guidelines has recently commenced. It will have a number of stages and I would expect it to take some months, with the guidelines being progressively refined through the process.”[2]

The guidelines referenced by the Australian bishops, in addition to the Irish bishops’ guidelines, are the Vatican guidelines for children of priests and religious; originally composed in 2009 under the guidance of Pope Benedict XVI. The once internal, secret guidelines were revised in 2019 under the papacy of Pope Francis with the public assistance from Cardinal Stella, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Clergy and made public on Coping International’s website with permission from the congregation.

The Vatican guidelines are themselves a template document, this was confirmed to me in 2019 during the Vatican sex abuse summit by the Holy See. The Holy See confirmed the existence of other sets of guidelines in places such as Costa Rica amid other jurisdictions aimed at the care of children of priests. The guidelines are a useful tool to guide the church in fostering a new approach toward children of priests, who have been relegated to the shadows of safeguarding for so long. This recent development itself comes following years of engagement between Coping and the Australian Catholic bishops.

In 2018, the general secretariat of the Catholic bishops confirmed, “[the conference information from Coping] to the three Australian agencies that might have some engagement with children fathered by Catholic priests: Catholic Professional Standards Limited (an independent safeguarding and auditing entity), the Implementation Advisory group (dealing with the recommendations of the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse), and the incoming entity that will succeed the National Committee for Professional Standards as of 1 January 2019.”

Since the inception of www.copinginternational.com, there have been in excess of 150,000 hits on the site from Australia alone. Hits certainly do not represent unique users or visitors; however, it certainly indicates a large amount of traffic pointing toward a hidden pastoral need, the bishops are now addressing.

Australia’s connection to the phenomenon of children of priests is not limited to this new development. Head of the working group that responds to the issue of children of priests, as part of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is Neville Owen, who is from Australia. Owen has also remained in diligent contact with Coping over the years.

This is certainly a welcome development from Australia and will be monitored and assisted by Coping, when and if required, in the coming months.

What do you think?


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