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The Catholic Church has required celibacy from its priests for centuries, yet those vows were broken so frequently that the Vatican established a secret set of guidelines for dealing with clerics who fathered children.
This latest revelation, first reported by The New York Times, comes amid a new wave of developments tied to the burgeoning sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church for close to two decades.
On Monday, the Diocese of Oakland, California, released a list of 45 clergymen and religious brothers it said have had “credible accusations’’ of child sexual abuse made against them, going as far back as the 1960s. Several other dioceses have taken similar steps in recent months.
On Saturday, Pope Francis defrocked former Washington archbishop Theodore McCarrick after he was found guilty of a series of sexual crimes, making him the first American cardinal to be expelled from the priesthood.
Two weeks ago, Francis acknowledged the long-known but rarely addressed problem of nuns being sexually assaulted by priests.
Now, just ahead of Thursday’s unprecedented meeting of more than 100 bishops summoned to the Vatican to address the sexual misconduct crisis, the Catholic Church faces yet another sexually related controversy.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti acknowledged to the Times and other news outlets the existence of the guidelines, although he would not reveal specifically what they are.
Gisotti said the instructions seek to protect the child and require – others contend they only encourage – the priest to request a leave from his clerical duties and “as a layman, assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively’’ to the child.
Vincent Doyle, an Irish psychotherapist who learned in his late 20s his father was a priest, told the Times that church leaders initially misled him to believe his was a rare instance.
Though there’s no exact count of how many children have been fathered by clergymen, he eventually learned that wasn’t true when an archbishop showed him the Vatican instructions for cases like his.
“It’s the next scandal,’’ Doyle said. “There are kids everywhere.’’
Doyle formed a global support group, Coping International, that provides counseling and resources to “children of the ordained,’’ as the church calls them. He said the organization’s website has 50,000 users in 175 countries.
Doyle told CBS News he wants to see them codified so the offspring of clergymen don’t have to live in the shadows. The Irish Catholic Church did as much two years ago, establishing a set of rules that prioritize the child’s well-being and mandate that the priest own up to his parental duties in every way.
“The first problem with children of priests is they're not recognized," Doyle said. “When you're hidden … you are characterized by secrecy.’’
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vatican secret out: There are rules for priests who father children