The Children of Priests – Coping International

The life experience and work of Vincent Doyle that led to the setting up of Coping International has been receiving very well deserved media coverage in recent days.
To quote from copinginternational.com
“The research for Coping International began in 2011, coming to fruition in 2014 with the publication of this website. Further developments and research are ongoing.
As the son of a Roman Catholic Priest and a qualified and practising Psychotherapist, Mr. Vincent Doyle, has dedicated years to researching the mental health related effects of imposed secrecy and stigma upon children of Roman Catholic Priests, worldwide, and their parents and families.”
“Coping is a voluntary mental health organisation 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 aims and work of copinginternational.com has received endorsement from many sources.

“Please be assured of His Holiness’ appreciation for the Concerns and charitable sentiments that motivate your initiatives together with a remembrance in his prayers.”

The Holy See have commented on the issue of children of priests, “concerning the children of priests, a father must fulfil his obligations […] and assume the natural responsibilities that came with fathering children.”

Letter to Coping International on behalf of Pope Francis, 2014. / Holy See Address to United Nations, 2014.


I pray that COPING will be able to find ways which will bring the children of priests and their natural parents together for the benefit of both.

-Archbishop Diarmud Martin


“Know of my thoughts and prayers for your vital efforts.  The essential attachment of a child to their parents is fundamental and necessary for a child’s healthy development as a human being. It allows them to sense that the world is safe and secure. Any effort to bring about healing the trauma from this lack of attachment is to be commended.”

Fr. Gerard McGlone S.J.  Internationally known Expert in Trauma and Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, Author and Psychotherapist.  Vatican City State


“The executive of CORI undertake to encourage individual congregations to respond positively to any approaches made by COPING.”

CORI | Conference Of Religious Of Ireland

Following representations from Vincent Doyle to the Irish Bishops’ Conference they agreed a short but important set of principles in May 2017.
The document ‘Principles of Responsibility Regarding Priests who father Children while in Ministry’ was forwarded to Vincent Doyle and is published on www.copinginternational.com.
The principles outlined are;

  • The two parents have a fundamental right to make their own decisions regarding their care of their new-born child.
  • In justice and love the needs of the child should be given the first consideration. In the case of a child fathered by a Catholic priest, it follows that a priest, as any new father, should face up to his responsibilities – legal, moral and financial. At a minimum, no priest should walk away from his responsibilities.
  • Each situation requires careful consideration, but certain principles present themselves on which the decision of the priest should be made:
    The best interests of the child;
    dialogue with, and respect for, the mother of the child;
    dialogue with Church superiors.
    taking into account civil and canon law.
  • It is vital in discerning a way forward that the mother, as the primary care-giver, and as a moral agent in her own right, be fully involved in the decision.
  • In arriving at a determination regarding these cases, it is important that a mother and child should not be left isolated or excluded.

To date these principles are largely unknown apart from the recent media coverage. These principles need to be widely shared and promulgated by the Bishops’ Conference with priests and people.
An open letter from Archbishop Diarmud Martin to Coping International is a good starting point by any person affected by this issue.

Open letter from Diarmaid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin

In my capacity as Archbishop of Dublin I have come to know the work of Coping International, an organisation dedicated to the needs of children of Catholic Priests, their mothers as well as their fathers.

This letter is a greeting to you if you are the child of a priest, or if you are a woman who has had a child with a priest or indeed if you are a priest who has fathered a child and for whatever reason live in silence. I want you to know that there is a place for you in the church; there exists pastoral support to assist your concerns.

The needs of children of priests and their family are manifold. Where adult centred needs are placed ahead of those of a child, the basic rights of a child are easily violated. Silencing and stigmatizing in childhood has long term psychological effects into adulthood. The Irish Catholic Bishops have condemned the imposition of secrecy agreements in such situations. (Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference., 2015)

Pope Francis has noted in the Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia:

“How can we issue solemn declarations on human rights and the rights of children, if we then punish children for the errors of adults? If a child comes into this world in unwanted circumstances, the parents and other members of the family must do everything possible to accept that child as a gift from God and assume the responsibility of accepting him or her with openness and affection.” (Francis, Pope, 2016, p. 167)

Coping International is there to help, free of charge, any child of a priest who wishes to come forward. Women who are mothers of the children of priests should not be ostracized or made feel shame of any kind. They are mothers and human beings before all else and this ought to be respected regardless of circumstance. If a child comes into the world in unwanted circumstances, we must all make sure that child feels the love, warmth and tender care of the Church as a mother, reflecting the tender loving care of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

I am told that Coping International is working on guidelines on how to respond to these human challenges from a pastoral point of view.

In 2014 the Holy See sent a message to the founder of Coping International asking him to “be assured of His Holiness’ appreciation for the Concerns and charitable sentiments that motivate your initiatives together with a remembrance in his prayers.” (Pope Francis, 2014)

+Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin

I hope that  highlighting  the work of Vincent Doyle and Coping International on our ACP website will be a source of encouragement to many people.
Mattie Long

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  1. “This letter is a greeting to you if you are the child of a priest, or if you are a woman who has had a child with a priest or indeed if you are a priest who has fathered a child and for whatever reason live in silence. I want you to know that there is a place for you in the church; there exists pastoral support to assist your concerns.”
    The compassion of this statement from Archbishop Martin speaks volumes. I hope it is a sign of moving forward on range of issues in the church.
    God bless this good work.

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    It’s good that action is being taken in this matter. Thanks, Vincent.
    I have a concern about the fourth principle enumerated in the document from the Conference of Bishops:
    “It is vital in discerning a way forward that the mother, as the primary care-giver, and as a moral agent in her own right, be fully involved in the decision.”
    Without in any way taking from the irreplaceable role of the mother, the use of the phrase “the mother, as the primary care-giver” could be better expressed. It could lead to undesired consequences:
    1: “As the primary care-giver” would imply that all others are secondary.
    2: This may be interpreted as type-casting the mother into a domestic role. A letter in the Irish Times on 24 August points this out.
    3: It may also serve to distance the father from his responsibility, and absolve him of full responsibility.
    4: It may also serve to deprive him of his full role as father of the child.
    The initiative is a very good start.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    For once the church offers a human response to human problems. The mystifications and abuses generated by the failing system of celibacy have to be faced with forthright honesty and empathetic compassion for all concerned, and this must happen immediately, in the here and now. Ecclesiastical issues of canon law and structural or spiritual reform will be better handled if the human issues are first addressed.

  4. Lynne Newington says:

    Vincent Doyle a lovely quietly spoken soul is to be admired for his role in establishing the site.
    The following comments by those mentioned scrub up well pressured by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and it’s to their everlasting discredit they had to be prompted to take these children now adults into account.
    The Franciscan Order I’m familiar with failed dismally for years on this issue until Stephen Bliss was elected minister provincial. During his timeline a friar who was discouraged from bonding with his child was at last given the right to the said convention supporting him in the request for a rescript of vows [Canon 1139] through valid process but stymied by his successor. The putative father eventually died of a brain tumor never rescinding the wish on his deathbed, the request then denied.
    Stephen Bliss OFM a true son of St. Francis.

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