As most people know, priests in the Catholic Church are required to be celibate and single. Almost the only exception are those priests who formerly were ordained within the Worldwide Anglican Communion and who later received permission to become priests in the Catholic Church.
Indeed, Sarah Thomas, the woman who is the subject of this fascinating BBC story and whose father is a priest says she knows of 100 or so children of priests and suspects there are thousands of them around the world. As the story reports:
"Through her mentoring work with Coping International and her PhD research, Sarah now knows about 100 people who have been fathered by priests, from countries all over the world, but believes there are thousands more out there. She says it's striking that there are so many common features to their experiences.
"'Secrecy always comes up -- lots of people talk about being encouraged to lie to keep their fathers a secret,' Sarah says. 'Lack of identity is common too, and the confidentiality agreements -- whether official or verbal -- are quite common too, and the payments.'"
Sarah's father was a priest in training, not yet ordained, when he impregnated the woman who would become her mother. But he quickly chose the church over life as a married non-priest even while other priests in training left that vocation, got married and became traditional fathers as opposed to someone called "Father" by a whole congregation.
So in some sense the question in such cases is whether the individual male or the church itself should be blamed for the heartache that people like Sarah have experienced because they've essentially been rejected by their fathers.
There's no easy answer to that question, but my suspicion is that if the church returns to its ancient practice of having married priests, the kind of pain Sarah has endured would happen much less frequently.
The other question, of course, is what role the church's leadership should play when a priest fathers a child. Sarah believes it's hypocritical for her father to be preaching about the value of families and of familial love when his own life has rejected such values.
Surely the church leadership should have something redemptive to say about that obvious truth.
(Last summer The Boston Globe did this reporting on priests who also are fathers of children.)
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A LITTLE HYPOCRISY ANYONE?
Religion scholar Mark Silk argues here that Republicans have adopted a "theology of debt" that views lots of poor people as sinners. Notice, however, that such judgmentalism doesn't apply to the federal government any more when Republican are in charge. Hmmmm.