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Priests who father children must 'face up to responsibilities' say new Church guidelines

In his interview Fr Flannery discusses the Association of Catholic Priests, the Second Vatican Council, falling numbers in the Church - particularly the "lost generation" of young people - and the shortage of priests. There is much food for thought
Gareth McKeown

THE CATHOLIC Church in Ireland has issued guidelines for priests who have fathered children.

The guidance, which was signed off by Irish bishops in May but has yet to be published on any Catholic diocesan website, says the priest "should face up to his responsibilities - legal, moral and financial".

"At a minimum, no priest should walk away from his responsibilities. His relevant church authority (bishop or religious superior) should also direct such a priest in addressing his responsibility."

The document further say that "the needs of the child should be given the first consideration" and that in finding a way forward the mother, "as the primary care giver, and as moral agent in her own right, be fully involved in the decision".

Details, which appeared in the Irish Times, add that in arriving at a determination regarding these cases, it is "important that a mother and child should not left isolated or excluded".

The Catholic Communications Office was yesterday unable to say how many Irish priests the new guidelines will apply to, but the late Co Tyrone priest, Fr Arty McAnerney, is one example of a clergyman who fathered a child while in ministry.

In November 1998, while standing on the altar at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, Co Tyrone, the parish priest admitted he had a daughter following a relationship with a woman when he worked as a curate in Drogheda in the 1980s.

Last year his daughter Déarbhla Clarke spoke publicly for the the first time about their relationship following her father's death in November, in an exclusive interview with the Irish News.

"He had what a lot of priests wouldn't be able to have, he had his God that he loved and respected and did all his work but then he also had the love of a child and a lot of priests cannot say that," she said.

In the same interview Ms Clarke described the Church's celibacy rules as "extremely archaic" and "extremely cruel".

The new guidelines, entitled: 'Principles of Responsibility Regarding Priests who Father Children in Ministry' were prepared following discussions with Galway-based psychotherapist Vincent Coyle, the son of Co Longford priest Fr JJ Doyle, who died in 1995.

They have yet to be published online on the Irish Catholic Bishop's website or on any Catholic Diocesan website in Ireland.

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