The Boston Globe, which made headlines, won a Pulitzer and starred in a movie about its investigations into a vast scandal of sexually abusive priests, has come up with a postscript. Of the priests who didn’t go after underage children but who slept with consenting adult women, what happens to the resulting child?
The Globe has come out with a two-parter this month that answers that question. And it’s a depressing answer. Fifteen years have passed since its reporters first broke the sexual abuse stories and this time, there's videos to accompany the stories; videos of teary priests' children who can't get through a taping without breaking down.
The answer as to what happens to these kids is dismal. Most are heartbroken for life. Their only consolation is that, in knowing who their dad really is, all sorts of pieces in their lives that never made sense before suddenly do.
The first part begins with Jim Graham, a 48-year-old man who is realizing some things about his past do not add up. Then:
By any reasonable measure, there are thousands of others who have strong evidence that they are the sons and daughters of Catholic priests, though most are unaware that they have so much company in their pain. In Ireland, Mexico, Poland, Paraguay, and other countries, in American cities big and small -- indeed, virtually anywhere the church has a presence -- the children of priests form an invisible legion of secrecy and neglect, a Spotlight Team review has found.
Their exact number can’t be known, but with more than 400,000 priests worldwide, many of them inconstant in their promise of celibacy, the potential for unplanned children is vast. And this also comes through loud and plain: The sons and daughters of priests often grow up without the love and support of their fathers, and are often pressured or shamed into keeping the existence of the relationship a secret. They are the unfortunate victims of a church that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex, but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.
The article then introduces several characters, some of whom have known the identity of their fathers since they were young. Others didn’t find out until they were adults.
Church regulations provide nothing in the way of direction to priests on what they should do if they father children, relying on the priests’ generosity -- or, simply, their conscience -- to determine how much support to provide. And though priests have doubtless been fathering children throughout the long history of the celibacy requirement, canon law is silent on the subject of a bishop’s responsibility when one of his priests fathers a child.
What follows next sounds like the stuff of novels:
Some priests in cases reviewed by the Globe took their responsibility seriously. They were devoted fathers, albeit in private. Some promised the women who mothered their children that they would leave the priesthood, though few ever did; and still others consoled the women with assurances that it was only a matter of time before the church dropped the celibacy requirement, which pope after pope, including Francis, has declined to do.
Rarely did the mother get any help with her child, the story said, and in some cases, the mothers went to court to sue for child support.
In some countries, priestly fathers were disturbingly common:
Priests fathering children has been a fact of church life for so long that the Irish, to name just one example, have put a name to it. The Irish surname McEntaggart, for instance, comes from the Gaelic for “son of a priest,” while the surname McAnespi is commonly thought to mean “son of a bishop.”
A second part begins with a story of a son of a priest who took his paternity case directly to Pope Francis. It then swings into the history of priestly fathers and even Renaissance popes who were known to have offspring. The disgust about this on the part of the laity was one of the factors that led to the Protestant Reformation.
This article repeats more anecdotes about the Catholic Church’s silence and refusal to act on the matter, with one exception: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and other Irish church officials, who readily admit there is a problem.
The Globe has asked for people reading these articles to contact them if they too are offspring of priests, so there will probably be a part three somewhere down the line.
Meanwhile, Francis never did get back to the man who approached him and Rome has said nothing on the matter. Perhaps change will start with one archdiocese and slowly grow from there.
At the bottom of the second article were some comments, many from people wondering why the Globe keeps going after the Catholic Church. As someone who has done some reporting on sexually erring Catholic priests, believe me when I say the Globe is actually showing restraint. Once you begin reporting on this stuff, even more comes out and there isn't the room to print all the sad and horrible stories there are out there.
Do read it all and just know that the tip of the proverbial iceberg is here. Dive a little deeper and you'll see the immensity of what else is out there.