11 April 2023, The Tablet

Criticism over Irish government moves to 'help' children of priests

Criticism over Irish government moves to 'help' children of priests

Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman (file pic)
PA Images / Alamy

The Irish government’s handling of a request from the UN to “strengthen measures to eliminate discrimination against [...] children of Catholic priests” has been strongly criticised by the founder of Coping International, a support group for such children.

The United Nations Committee for the Rights of Children made the recommendation in February in its most recent report on Ireland.

Responding to a question in the Dáil from Sinn Féin politician, Claire Kerrane, the Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman said officials in his department had previously raised the issue with the Irish Episcopal Conference.

The minister revealed that in order to understand the scope of the number of children that may be impacted by this issue, each male religious congregation in Ireland was asked to advise his department if they were aware of any current member who has declared himself the father of a dependent child or children.

Of 17 responses from male religious congregations so far, no cases of children currently under 18 had been identified, he said.

However, Vincent Doyle of Coping International condemned what he described as a “questionable quantitative State investigation” for excluding the children of diocesan priests.

He told The Tablet that the approach adopted by the minister and his department “gravely” undermined the “accuracy and reliability” of the research by “eliminating” from the investigation “approximately 50 per cent of children possibly affected”.

“If the State really wanted to understand the scale of this issue, restrictive conditions such as only children under 18, an Irish priest father alive who admits paternity, only men who are members of a religious order… would never have been imposed and diocesan priests’ children – like me – would not have been precluded.”

He questioned why deceased priests were precluded from the scoping exercise and why a public call was not made for any children affected to come forward rather than relying on the leadership of religious orders to provide figures. Mr Doyle, a psychotherapist, believes the leadership of religious congregations are unlikely to know the real numbers of children affected.

The Tablet asked Minister O’Gorman’s department why the onus was placed on religious orders to provide the information as the congregations may not know if members have fathered children.

A spokesperson told The Tablet, “The current effort is aimed at understanding the scale of the issue to assess whether a differentiated State response is required.” They added, “Our information to date suggests very low numbers of children currently affected.”   

The spokesperson also said the dioceses in Ireland were not included because “the written engagement with religious orders was supplementary to engagement with the Irish Episcopal Conference”.

As to the restriction of the research to only male religious congregations and the exclusion of female religious, the Department of Children said, “The issue raised with us relates to Catholic priests and, given that our information to date suggests very low numbers of children currently affected, we have no reason to expand consideration of the issue to female orders.”

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