Must a Priest Who Fathers a Child Leave Ministry?

Coping International addressed a question to the Irish Episcopal Conference.  The question was as follows:

If a priest fathers a child, is remaining in the priesthood one of the responses that may be considered as a response to this situation?

    The Irish Catholic Bishops responded:

It is not possible to rule out, at the beginning, any possible responses to these situations, which involves a simple default position of insisting that a man “leave the priesthood” or that he automatically be permitted to continue in active ministry. – Irish Catholic Bishops, 2018.

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In July 2018, this sentiment was echoed by the Catholic Episcopal Conference of England and Wales.

Statement-for-Coping-International.

In October 2018, the Scottish Bishops released a statement regarding this matter:

The Bishops of Scotland wish to reiterate that, with regard to children of the ordained and religious, every bishop would want to discern the best ways in which it is possible for the father of a child, who is a priest, to fulfil his responsibilities. Every bishop is willing to meet anyone in their diocese in a similar situation to discern an appropriate and just way forward.

With regard to a priest who has become a father, the Bishops recognise that it is not possible to rule out, at the beginning, any possible responses to these situations, which involve a simple default position of insisting that a man “leave the priesthood” or that he automatically be permitted to continue in active ministry. Each case should be judged on its merits

No specific Church law directly addresses the particular case of a cleric (bound to the obligation of celibacy) who fathers a child.
– Rev. Robert Kaslyn, S.J., J.C.D.

Rev. Robert Kaslyn, S.J., J.C.D. has been a member of the faculty of the School of Canon Law, the Catholic University of America since 2001. His canonical emphasis in teaching and writing focuses on the sacrament of orders and ecclesiology and has also taught a variety of courses on various aspects of canon law.

Though Canon Law says nothing specific about children of Catholic Priests, Canon 384 states in part:

Can. 384 With special solicitude, a diocesan bishop is to attend to presbyters and listen to them as assistants and counselors. He is to protect their rights and take care that they correctly fulfill the obligations proper to their state and that the means and institutions which they need to foster spiritual and intellectual life are available to them.

Coping asked Canon Lawyer Rev. Robert Kaslyn, S.J., J.C.D., the following question:

If a priest breaks his vow of celibacy and neglects a child, in such an instance would Canon 384 mean the bishop has a canonical onus to respond, or does he share responsibility to put the situation right?

Rev. Kaslyn responded:

Pre-1960, a bishop would have an obligation to make sure his priests fulfilled their obligations and responsibilities, including the celibate life. If a priest fathered a child, in general, the bishop and the Holy See would be obliged to make sure that the priest fulfilled his obligations to his wife and child and again in general such responsibility is not compatible with the clerical state. If the priest did leave the priesthood and wanted to return to the exercise of the priesthood, he would need to find a bishop willing to accept him but the bishop could not / can not simply reinstate him; his request must go to the Holy See who would want to know the circumstances of why he left the priesthood and, among other things, if he has fulfilled his responsibilities to the woman and child.

Rev. Kaslyn continued regarding post 1983, Canon legislation:

Since 1983, canon 384 would require that the bishop respond pastorally both to the priest who violated celibacy and to the woman involved. The priest has violated an essential obligation of his priestly life. (There was no direct connection between this canon in the 1983 code and a canon in the 1917 code). What the bishop does exactly depends on circumstances of time and place: does the woman want him involved at all in the raising of the child? To what extent was there a relationship between the two people rather than a one night visit? The answers would assist the bishop in determining how to act; he would want to make sure that the woman and child were taken of; the woman, to the extent that she wanted the man’s present, must have her concerns addressed; definitely to ensure support and definitely fulfilling any obligations of fatherhood.

Rev. Robert Kaslyn, S.J., J.C.D. has been a member of the faculty of the School of Canon Law, the Catholic University of America since 2001. His canonical emphasis in teaching and writing focuses on the sacrament of orders and ecclesiology and has also taught a variety of courses on various aspects of canon law.

Coping International (01/18): In your authority as Patriarch of the Maronites, may I ask you to briefly describe the differences (if any) between a Latin Rite Priest and a Maronite Priest on terms of his daily activity and priestly life? What does he do (or not as the case may be) that a Latin Rite Priest does (or not as the case may be) which allows a Maronite Priest to be married and the Latin Rite to not marry?

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai (01/18): As you said in your letter some of our priests are married and some are celibate. Both married and celibate priests do the same pastoral work. The Latin Rite priests who are celibate do the same work as our celibate priests, and as our celibate and married priests have the same pastoral tasks, then the logical conclusion is that both Latin priests who are celibate do the same pastoral work as the Maronite married priests. The difference is that the married priest carries the double responsibility of a parish and a family and has to divide his time between the two of them.

DNA: Finding & Connecting.