Making Children Invisible Again.

The UNCRC, The Irish Government & Children of Irish Priests.
All Government has a responsibility to respond to those who are classed as marginalised and/or vulnerable in society. In Ireland, such people include children of priests, as per the United Nations Children’s Rights Committee. However, the State has decided to ‘ascertain the scope’ of children of Irish priests. In doing so, they set in place criteria that will inevitably lead to a figure of ‘zero children of Irish priests’ risking undermining the entire issue and driving a marginalised group further underground. Coping outline’s this 2016 to date, dialogue between Coping, the Irish Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child.

33. The Committee is concerned about (b) the Lack of measures to ensure that children fathered by Catholic priests are able to access information on the identity of their fathers; 34. The Committee recommends that the State party (b) Ensure measures to assist children fathered by Catholic priests in upholding their right to know and be cared for by their fathers, as appropriate, and ensure that they receive the necessary psychological treatment.

126. The Irish state recognises the right of all children to private and family life. There is no impediment in Irish law or policy to prevent Catholic priests who father children caring for their children. However, the state has no power to compel any person to care for a child. 127. In 2017, the Irish Episcopal Conference approved the Principles of Responsibility Regarding Priests who Father Children While in Ministry, stating that if a priest fathers a child, the well-being of his child should be his first consideration. The document states that priests in this situation need to discharge their responsibilities and give due consideration to the best interests of the child, civil and canon law, and the views of the mother. 128. Access to psychological support is through the HSE primary care services and community mental health teams. There is limited free-at-point-of-service psychological support available in Ireland, including a national Childhood Abuse or Neglect service for adults.

15. The Committee recommends that the State party: (d) Strengthen measures to eliminate discrimination against […] children of Catholic priests,[…], and […] where appropriate, ensure their access to adequate accommodation, health care, education and a decent standard of living, and ensure regular and systematic monitoring and impact assessments of the measures taken. 

“In order to ascertain the scope of the number of children that may be impacted by this issue, my Department has written to each male Catholic religious congregation in Ireland to ask that they advise if they [are] aware of any current member who has declared himself the father of a dependent child/children. Replies are still coming in from the congregations, and the next steps will be informed by the responses received. To date, 17 responses have been received and no cases of children or young people currently under 18 have been identified.” Department of Children, 29/03/2023.

The Department of Children issued an email to all religious orders (only male, not female) and precluded dioceses’ from the scope; Coping managed to get the text (not the original print of the email) and what it said, hyperlinked here. The email sent states:

“I would appreciate if you could let me know if xxx is aware of any priest who has declared himself the father of a dependent child/children in line with the Irish Episcopal Conference’s ‘Principles of responsibility regarding priests who father children while in ministry’. This query relates only to a child under the age of 18 and to priests who are currently in a ministry in  Ireland. It does not include priests who have left the priesthood, been laicized or defrocked.” – Department of Children to Religious Order, 2023.

  • The email was sent to the provincial, who is the least likely to know of such children. 
  • It only seeks “dependent child/children”, thus under 18, “declared”. In addition, the priest must be still in ministry. 
  • So, an active, religious order priest in Ireland, who has “declared” himself to be a dad, to a child under 18, in 2023. 
  • How many retired priests in Ireland do you think fathered children in their mid to late fifties and declared it and continued in ministry in Ireland?
  • These extraordinary conditions preclude, diocesan priests’ children (which includes me), 
  • children over 18 (do we assume their suffering disappears at their eighteenth birthday and discrimination along with it), 
  • children whose dads are alive (i.e., “currently in ministry in Ireland”), it precludes in all likelihood, children of Irish priests conceived abroad, since their dad (if he is alive and they are under 18), if he is not in Ireland, he too is excluded.  

In addition to above, the Irish Government advised in an email, “[Governmental] engagement with the Episcopal Conference had indicated that the issue wasn’t one currently impacting large numbers of children.” However, the Irish Episcopal Conference (IEC) also confirmed in June 2023, “the [Irish Episcopal Conference] does not have any accurate statistics on the numbers of those fathered by priests who are currently living in Ireland or elsewhere.”

The Government has not provided a reliable source to cite where they ascertained the quantitative data indicating a low number of children affected. Moreover, the Irish Bishops clearly communicated to Coping, concerning this matter, “the IEC Principles apply to all priests who have fathered children, regardless of the present age of the children concerned.” The Governmental stipulations outlined above confirm clearly they only address children of priests under eighteen. Click here for the emails to Coping from the Department of Children & the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference.

Why is the actions of the State so problematic?
In short, it will inevitably result in a quantitative analysis of priests’ children amounting to zero. Thus, the state will make us disappear from sight completely. It is hard enough of a fight to have the rights of these children recognised when/if a Government is, in all likelihood, trying to make us disappear from existence. I have asked Sinn Fein TD, Claire Kerrane, to condemn this manipulative quantitative analysis in the Dail, to have it on the Dail record. The Vatican, in response to this issue, in addition, in 2022 stated to me as follows:

[We] “commend you for your ongoing efforts in this regard, which is clearly echoed and supported by Senator Rónán Mullen, as evidenced from his letter of 16 February past.” – Holy See, 2022. 

The Vatican confirmed that they wish for the Irish State to implement the UNCRC recommendations. The Irish State is making every effort possible to undermine this phenomenon making children of priests less visible to the consciousness of society, therby continuing the silence on the issue, a silence that denatures development and leads of anxiety, depression amid a multitude of psychological problems as suffered by the secret chiildren of priests. All Coping ever asked was for the Government to condemn marginalisation of children of priests but it seems that was to much to ask.

In June 2023, the Irish Government, following conclusion of their quantitative analysis, concluded “the responses [from religious orders] received to date suggest that this matter does not currently impact children and young people in Ireland today to an extent that would warrant a differentiated or specific State response.” Click here for the entire State response to Coping.