Foreign Correspondent: Sept 24

This week on Foreign Correspondent Lisa Millar is in Ireland and Rome to report on the issue of children fathered by Catholic priests.

It’s been an open secret for years. Catholic priests fathering children in breach of their vows. After suffering in silence and shame for years, those children are speaking out, demanding answers and recognition from Rome.

Like other scandals it has faced, the Church has swept the issue of children of priests under the carpet.

“The church operates on a system where if it can ignore you and hope you go away, then it will do that”, says one former advisor to the church.

The children of priests have long suffered in silence and shame, their mothers pressured to keep quiet and keep the secret.

We follow the story of one Australian woman who discovered in middle age who her father was, and who’s determined to find out more.

“I remember thinking I can’t tell anybody. I now have to carry a secret”, she says. “Over a period of time, I realised…I can’t keep the secret and I need to step forward.”

Reporter Lisa Millar heads to Ireland to speak to the man who’s bringing this issue out from the shadows into the light.

From a village south of Dublin, Vincent Doyle, whose father was a priest, is bringing these children together for the first time, helping them find a voice and a pathway to answers.

When Vincent Doyle launched a website for the children of priests, the response revealed the global nature of the problem. His website got hits from 175 countries and he estimates there are ‘ten thousand children of priests, that’s conservative’.

A woman who is researching the experiences of children of priests found startling similarities between their problems and the problems suffered by victims of clerical abuse.

While the Irish clergy have responded to pressure and come up with a plan to deal with it, Rome has been slower to react.

“It’s evidence priests are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing”, says one long-time Vatican watcher. “…any time the Church leadership is confronted with that, the knee jerk reaction is to recoil and not be fully transparent.”

In Rome, Lisa Millar goes to the centre of Catholic power to find answers. They now acknowledge the problem, but secrecy rules.

“I want the Pope to say the words ‘children of priests.” That’s what I want and that will just be the beginning”, says Vincent Doyle.

“I think it will be the next big story that is going to shake, and quite rightly shake, the church”, says the former advisor.

8pm Tuesday 24th September on ABC.

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