The Vatican has released its internal guidelines for the children of priests after a meeting with a prominent campaigner on the issue.
The guidelines, an extract of which is accessible online, have previously been secret ones, a status that changed last year when the Congregation for the Clergy stated that they were happy to send them to any Bishop’s conference that requested them.
This latest development is the result of a meeting between Mgr Andrea Ripa, Undersecretary for the Congregation, and Vincent Doyle, of the organisation “Coping International”, which campaigns for the children of priests, on 20 Jan this year.
Coping International and the Congregation for the Clergy cooperated over the release of the guidelines.
Vincent Doyle told The Tablet he is “delighted” with the release, which represent an important step towards transparency on the part of the Vatican, and adds weight to the prioritisation of the natural rights of the child to know his or her parents.
Previously, Cardinal Hummes, who was prefect of the congregation between 2006 and 2010, had emphasised that the obligation to equal treatment on the part of the children of the ordained had to outweigh any other interests.
Hummes stated that this was also the opinion of Pope Benedict XVI during his time in office.
Mgr Ripa also indicated, in discussions with Mr Doyle, that it would be possible for a priest to remain in ministry, having fathered a child.
Although the decision would be subject to two other considerations – the suitability of the priest for ministry, and the good of the child – this represents a significant change in the attitude of the Vatican regarding such situations.
In light of Mgr Ripa’s comments that it would not be “impossible” for priests to continue in their ministry after fathering a child, Mr Doyle pointed to the recent suggestion of the ordination of "viri probati" as priests as one avenue to "remedy" what Paul VI termed the "lamentable defection" of priestly ministry: procreative breaches in celibacy. This would remove the clash of vocations that has previously led to children being raised without knowledge of their father, or in secret.
The guidelines state: "In the situation where a priest who has “children who are already grown up, 20- 30 years old […], in these situations, the Dicastery does not oblige the Bishop to invite the priests to request the dispensation” from priesthood owing to paternity. “The Dicastery counsels a more flexible discernment within the rigorous practise and guidelines of the Congregation.”