U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, speaks during a seminar on safeguarding children at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome March 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
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BOSTON (CNS) -- If a Catholic priest violates his vow of celibacy and fathers a child, he has "a moral obligation to step aside from ministry and provide for the care and needs of the mother and the child," said Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley.
"In such a moment, their welfare is the highest priority," he said in a statement issued after the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe produced a two-part series Aug. 16 and 17 titled "Father, my father." Part 1 was headlined "Children of Catholic priests live with secrets and sorrow" and Part 2, "A priest's son takes his case directly to the pope."
"The gift of life must be protected and cared for in any and all circumstances," Cardinal O'Malley said in an Aug. 16 statement. "Every child is a precious gift from God, deserving the respect accorded to all people. At their ordination, Catholic priests make a promise of celibacy, a commitment to the church and the people they serve."
Cardinal O'Malley said that in 2016 the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he heads, had received "correspondence regarding the children of priests. After careful consideration of this important issue, it was judged to be beyond the commission's mandate."
"With recognition of the importance of these matters that have profoundly impacted the lives of the children, their mothers and the community at large, the commission determined to refer this issue to the Holy See for further review," the cardinal said.
The two-part Spotlight report claimed "priests fathering illegitimate children" is a worldwide and "systemic problem" in the Catholic Church.
Reporter Michael Rezendes wrote that "thousands of people across the world," including in the United States in "cities big and small" -- have "strong evidence that they are the sons and daughters of Catholic priests." "The children say they're often neglected or shamed into silence," according to the reporter.
One man featured in the Globe report is an Irishman named Vincent Doyle, who according to the paper was 28 when he learned his godfather, a Catholic priest, was actually his biological father. But the priest had died and Doyle had little information, the newspaper said.
According to the Globe, he approached the Irish bishops about his situation, which ultimately led to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin giving some funds to help Doyle found Coping: Children of Priests International. Doyle also had a copy of a letter about his situation that he gave to Pope Francis during a general audience.
The website says Coping is "a voluntary mental health organization that promotes the well-being of children of Catholic priests and religious as well as their parents worldwide. We work alongside the church encouraging openness toward people affected by this issue."
The Globe reported that Archbishop Martin feels bishops can and should make priest "honor their financial and emotional obligations to their children."
"Fundamentally, a child has a right to know their father and the father has fundamental obligations toward his son or daughter," the archbishop told the newspaper.
In his statement, Cardinal O'Malley said the commission he heads "functions as an advisory body to the Holy Father, proposing norms and practices for protecting minors from sexual abuse."
"In particular, the commission seeks to assist dioceses and religious orders throughout the world as they implement education and training programs for the prevention of sexual abuse," he said. "It is not within the charge of the commission to become involved with individual cases."