BOSTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - Fifteen years after its bombshell report on clerical sex abuse, the Boston Globe is again throwing light on a dark corner of the Church — this time exposing the plight of children fathered by unchaste priests.
In a two-part series published Wednesday and Thursday, the paper released findings from an investigation led by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Rezendes, who in 2002 first unmasked the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.
Rezendes' new report reveals that across the world, thousands of people are uncovering "strong evidence that they are the sons and daughters of Catholic priests." The prevalence of the phenomenon is such that in 2014, Vincent Doyle, the son of an Irish priest, established Coping International, an organization devoted to providing support to offspring of Catholic priests and religious.
Children of priests, Rezendes writes, "form an invisible legion of secrecy and neglect." Describing them as "a global phenomenon, but a strikingly little-studied subject," he notes that "Their exact number can't be known, but with more than 400,000 priests worldwide, many of them inconstant in their promise of celibacy, the potential for unplanned children is vast."
As with clerical sex abuse, too often these cases have been swept under the rug for fear of scandal. Owing to this, Rezendes writes, "The sons and daughters of priests often grow up without the love and support of their fathers and are often pressured or shamed into keeping the existence of the relationship a secret."
This problem is compounded by the fact that in many instances, priests provide no support for their children.
"Often, priests failed to take full financial or legal responsibility for their children," Rezendes observes, "and neither the [C]hurch nor the women who bore their children took any legal action."
In eight of 10 cases reviewed by the Globe, mothers allowed priests to determine how much they would support their children financially and "found scant help there." Six priests provided no financial support whatsoever. In other cases, priests who helped their children did so "on the condition that their identities remain secret."
The report documents the damage done to the faith of these children: "Many find their faith in the [C]hurch itself broken, as they recognize that an institution held out as a beacon of moral truth has countenanced or looked past priests who father children but shun a father's responsibilities of support, attention and love."
These revelations are emerging as a new source of scandal for the Church — a scandal with deeper ramifications.
"Scandal," warns Fr. Bill Casey of the Fathers of Mercy, "destroys the faith of weak souls. Scandal destroys the public image of the Church in general and of priests in particular. Scandal makes the work of evangelization difficult and very often, impossible. Scandal ultimately causes the loss of souls."