One of the ingredients of the stigma attached to children of priests is a deliberate non- acknowledgement - knowing about something and still refusing to acknowledge it. This is one concept addressed in Longford man Vincent Doyle’s new book, Our Fathers: A Phenomenon of Children of Catholic Priests and Religious.
In what the Vatican itself has said is the first book of its kind, Vincent Doyle examines a phenomenon that is as secretive as it is historic: the secret children of priests and religious globally.
The issue is presented under the microscope of sociology, psychology and theology. The book questions how many people are believed to be in existence, why thousands of children of priests have remained silent for centuries and how these children are affected psychologically as well as the solution to this age-old phenomenon.
A Longford town native, Vincent is himself the son of the late Fr JJ Doyle, who served in Ardagh and Edgeworthstown throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He passed away in 1995 and Vincent was very close to him as a child.
Vincent’s book presents an accessible two-fold solution, suggesting non-mandatory expulsion from priestly life having become a parent, and allowing clergy to marry.
“The church, up to recently, has always said that a priest who fathers a child has to leave the priesthood. But I never believed it was fair to ask any person to leave a job because they’re a parent,” Vincent told the Longford Leader.
“So I challenged the Vatican and they said it’s not impossible for a priest to stay in the priesthood and acknowledge the child.”
The book doesn’t condemn celibacy, Vincent explained. Instead, it promotes the concept of viri probati as a way to allow priests to marry.
“They (the Vatican) were hoping to give it the green light earlier this year and it’s still on the table. So there is a possibility that men who have worked with the church can go on and become married clergy. And it would be better for a child to be born in that context,” he said.
“I always found it distasteful that people come out with shock stories and ride on the coattails of sensationalism. I think that’s trashy. So I wanted to let them read the book first at the Vatican.”
The feedback from the Vatican was overwhelmingly positive, with the book hailed as ‘the first of its kind in history’, with a ‘balanced approach’ to the questions posed, and ‘equitable treatment’ to different points of view.
Further comment from the Vatican stated that anyone who reads the book ‘will immediately observe the willing and sincere collaboration between us for the benefit of all concerned, especially the children’.
“On a personal level, I’m elated. But what’s more important than that is that professionally, they’ve given it a subtle nod of approval,” said Vincent.
“My elatedness is no help to others. So for me the bigger picture is that they have, to a degree, given it a nod of approval, suggesting that what I’m writing hasn’t been condemned. It’s a bit of hope.”
A lot of research went into this book, Vincent added. There were no other books that he could read on the subject, and there was nowhere else to go, so Our Fathers was written “from the ground up”, as Vincent explained.
“I used a lot of research from Coping International,” he said, referring to a website, which provides mental health resources, research and direct support worldwide to the children of Roman Catholic priests.
“I was also assisted by the Holy See when needed. They were actually really helpful whenever I had a question. I’m not here to promote the church but they were really helpful.
“I’m hoping it’ll do well and help people. If you’re the child of a priest or a mother who had a child with a priest, or a priest who had a child, there’s a part for everyone in this book. There are priests in the midlands who have children and they’re scared. And it’s not fair that they’re scared,” said Vincent.
“But mostly, the children who read this book will know what to do. The priests will know what to do. The mothers will know what to do. The bishops already know what to do. The book puts everyone on the same playing field.
“Nobody is condemned in the book. It’s accessible to anybody of a mature reading age - not just for children of priests. If you’re related to a child of a priest, read this, because their pain is really, really unique.”
During the writing of this book, Vincent was asked by a priest in the Vatican, 'why are you picking on children of priests?’
“I said if a doctor had a child with a nurse, the Department of Health wouldn’t make a fuss. But our fathers’ bosses get worried that we exist. And we didn’t even do anything,” said Vincent.
“Priests’ children have made it to newspapers simply because they’re children of priests. So if you read this article and you believe that priests’ children should keep quiet, then this book is for you. I’ve received stigma in the past and this book is not about condemning anybody. It’s about challenging conventional default beliefs.
“One of the ingredients in that stigma is the deliberate non-acknowledgement. Knowing something and still not acknowledging it. If you stop talking to me because you’ve found out my father is a priest, that is deliberate non-acknowledgement.
“If someone can walk away from this book and not acknowledge a child of a priest, or stigmatise them, I would have real concern for that person,” he continued.
“There’s a reason I haven’t made this about me. I can’t feel like I belong until we all belong - until we’re welcomed by the virtue of our collective nature.”
But, Vincent stressed, any stigma that he himself has suffered has never come from the clergy, but from others who see it as something that isn’t normal.
“But you’re not defined by your father’s profession. You don’t hear people say children of farmers or children of dentists, but you do hear children of priests. The linguistic terminology around us needs to change,” he said.
“I don’t want everyone to agree with me, but I want people to open up a conversation about it. I want people to say to others ‘I read a book about children of priests’. Say it loudly on the phone while you’re standing in Centra. But talk about it. Because there’s more chance of stopping the tide than there is of stopping the existence of children of priests.
“I want to make it normal. Because it is normal. There shouldn’t be an organisation for children of priests. There shouldn’t be a book.
“I’d like to think of this as a balanced book. There’s no pointing of fingers. I always say hatred and stigma come out of ignorance. And I use that word as politely as possible. But there is no finger pointing. There is no blame. I’m not condemning the church. I’m fixing it. And I’m delighted to be the first to do it.”
Our Fathers: A Phenomenon of Children of Catholic Priests and Religious was released on December 1.
Published and distributed by Feed-A-Read, the book can be purchased for €20 via www.feedaread.com.