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Vatican Reveals Code for Priests Who Father Children

Zahra Banday, BA English

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses rape and child abuse.

It has recently come to light that the Vatican has a secret internal code for dealing with priests who break celibacy vows and father children. Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti talked with The New York Times saying, “I can confirm that these guidelines exist” and that “it is an internal document”. Gisotti furthered that the “fundamental principle” of these guidelines is the “protection of the child”. The guidelines “request” that the “father leave the priesthood to assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child”. However, the issue does not always follow this course of action.

the problem is too wide to ignore anymore

Cases vary and in some circumstances the priest acknowledging the child could mean his priesthood being stripped, which could cause financial hardship for the family he has to support. In other more sinister cases, there have been calls for priests to be excommunicated from the church for raping their victims and not recognising the subsequent child from their crime. The New York Times reports the case of Erik Zattoni whose mother was raped at age 14 by Rev. Pietro Tosi, who was 54 at the time. He refused to recognise Erik and “the family were evicted from their parish-owned home in a tiny town outside Ferrara, Italy”. In 2010 Zattoni sued Father Tosi and took a DNA test to be recognised as his son. When this was finally proven the Vatican only reminded Tosi of his “responsibilities as a father but did not demand his removal from priesthood”. In 2014 Father Tosi died “still a priest”. The issues here regard the discrepancy between the church’s guidelines calling for the child’s well being to come first and their failure to acknowledge different situations in which said well being could suffer. In a New York Times article, Vincent Doyle, a man who later in life found out his real biological father was actually his Roman Catholic priest, says of the situation, “It’s the next scandal”. Mr Doyle states that his website “‘Coping International’ has 50,000 users in 175 countries”. These statistics present an extremely widespread and real issue that the Church is only partially willing to acknowledge. As Doyle states, “There are kids everywhere”, and the problem is too wide to ignore anymore. This is part of an all-consuming narrative, within the Catholic Church, of secrecy and the aversion to scandals in relation to any crimes priests have committed. A question that several organisations have posed is should the Catholic Church make celibacy vows optional like many other churches? But perhaps the question is not about celibacy but how the guidelines should be changed to protect the mothers and children when situations occur.

In the wake of all these scandals, the Pope assembled an “unprecedented summit” at the Vatican to discuss the abuse within the Church. The landmark meeting was held in February and was attended by 180 bishops and cardinals over four days. The victims of abuse at the hands of the priests as well as the children of priests were in attendance to plead their cases. The results that were produced at the end of this meeting have been wildly criticised by many activists and publications. As reported by The Guardian, a list of 21 reflection points was produced by the Pope, the first proposal being a “practical handbook” to be given to dioceses indicating how they must proceed when abuse is reported. A spokesperson for ‘Ending Clergy Abuse’, Peter Isley, states: “There is all this vagueness – listing structures and criteria. But what counts is that zero-tolerance should be written into church law. If a priest has been determined [to have committed child abuse], they should be removed from the ministry. And if bishops have covered things up, they must be removed too”. This is one of many calls to increase transparency and hold the Catholic Church to account.

Photo Credits: Creative Commons

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