In December 2014, Coping International, a new support system for children of the clergy and their mothers, went online quietly. Within two weeks the website, which offers support, counseling and an international network, had close to 2,800 hits.

Their top country for hits was Irelad where the organization has been welcomed by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

The aim of Coping International is to show those reaching out that they are not alone, theirs is not an exclusive situation.

The coordinator of Coping, who asked not to be named, reached out to IrishCentral, to publicize the new and ever-growing online resource which now has users from “Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, India, Philippines, Russian Federation, the United States as well as Great Britain and Ireland.”

In fact, the coordinator told IrishCentral, in an interview carried out by email, that a large portion of those accessing the site are in the USA.

“Interestingly the United States every month has been second only to Ireland as regards number of hits on the site. Between December 16th and 31st there was over 700 hits on the site in the USA alone,” the Coordinator said, pointing out that during this time there was no media coverage on the group.

He added, “Why were people looking? To date there has been almost 2,400 hits on the Coping site in the USA alone.”

There are an estimated 1,000 children of priests living in Ireland and Britain alone. 

The Coordinator said, “With the onslaught of sexual abuse scandals which took on an international dimension, one of the reasons Coping was established was because nobody seemed to be asking the obvious questions; since Catholic Priests are sexually active, in a criminal sense or [otherwise], it is reasonable to question, have children resulted from such encounters?”

Currently, Coping’s aim is to live up to its name and help those who reach out to cope. Whether this is by being part of the international online forum or to avail of free counseling at Towards Healing, a service for people who have suffered abuse in Catholic institutions. Their site, www.copinginternational.com, acts as a portal.

Since 2013, Coping International has been building itself up to this launch, ensuring that they had something to offer the community, and liaising with the Catholic hierarchy and state to ascertain what was possible.

They were also greatly spurred on by the United Nations Children’s Rights Commission’s (UNCRC) concluding observations on the second periodic report of the Holy See, launched in February 2014.

The UNCRC stated “the Committee is concerned about the situation of children fathered by Catholic priests, who, in many cases, are not aware of the identity of their fathers. The Committee is also concerned that the mothers may obtain a plan for regular payment from the Church until the child is financially independent only if they sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose any information about the child’s father or the plan.”

Following this statement, Coping issued a letter along with suggestions to the Irish Catholic Bishops in June 2014. The fact that international recognition was coming forth suggested that action was needed. It was found that the Catholic Church had no grounds on which to deny authentication of the biological children.

The Coordinator also made mention of “On Heaven and Earth,” a book by Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, which encouraged the creation of this group. In the book Francis wrote, “If a priest comes to me and tells me that he has gotten a woman pregnant […] I remind him that the natural law comes before his right as a priest […] just as that child has a right to his mother, he has the right to the face of his father.”

Coping has been supported from its infancy by Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The Coordinator said “without him the project might never have gotten off the ground.”

“Children of priests everywhere owe him a great deal for his courage in facing this with great dignity [and] provisions of seed funding to get off the ground. He was very open since day one.”

The Coordinator also made reference to a letter of support he received from the United States Catholic Bishop Michael Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh [CCLV Chairman], who wrote “I appreciate [the] efforts to support the dignity of children born of priests […] and to ensure their proper pastoral care.”

The group praised the Church’s willingness to working alongside the group. However, they maintain that “to date no help ever came forth from the Irish government.”

He continued, “Overall the response from the church was overwhelmingly positive and open. There was acceptance of the reasonable assumption that given the quantity as well as grievous nature of sexual scandals that it was a fair assumption that children may have resulted from such encounters and such children required great care as well as their mothers.”

The Coordinator told IrishCentral the group had requested that the Irish government submit a letter to the Irish Catholic Bishops acknowledging the goals of mental health provisions of the children of priests so as to encourage the Irish Church to put in place the Coping Project (which the Church later did).

Sadly, the Coordinator said, “Coping experienced a complete lack of support, evasiveness and obfuscation and confusion on behalf of the Irish Government toward Coping’s simple request. The Irish Government chose to neither help nor to ever meet representatives from Coping. Why the Government treated us so badly, when all we wanted was a word of encouragement to do the right thing, is beyond our comprehension.”

Other support from within the Catholic Church has been encouraging for the group.

The Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference released a statement which reads:

“The Irish Catholic Bishops recognize the significance and importance of adequate care being provided for children born to priests […] and are anxious to ensure that appropriate support is being offered to all children. In particular they appreciate the sensitivity required in any pastoral outreach to children of priests. The bishops are actively collaborating with Towards Healing so that Towards Healing will be in a position to provide appropriate counseling/ support to children of Catholic clergy.”

The Congress of Religious of Ireland, responsible for religious congregations and those involved in missionary work, pledged to “undertake to encourage individual congregations to respond positively to any approaches made by Coping.”

Backed by this support and their group's international network they wish to move forward and address the major issues being brought to them by their growing numbers of confidential members.

The common thread among those making contact with Coping seems to be a desire for “recognition officially by the Catholic Church, to be authenticated and recognized for who they are, not for their ability to keep quiet, or remain secretive.”

The Coordinator said, “Psychology ought to be a starting point in every situation, care for the individual’s mental health needs.”

He continued, “Some seek help to come out from beneath confidentiality agreements, some looking for legal help, some for psychological help, some mediation with their estranged father but all requiring validation of who they are without requirement of secrecy or expectation of discretion.

“Courage from the church, courage echoing that already displayed by the Irish Church, is what is required. Given that this year the Vatican is holding the second part of a Synod on the family there has never been a better time to respond to this growing concern.”

Coping wants to set a precedent and gather a portfolio of collated data, considerations by Church and State on the topic, and expert medical witnesses on the situation facing children of Catholic Priests and their mothers.

The Coordinator explained that the term “Genealogical Bewilderment” is one which is being used among the group’s members.

He explained: “The 2005 Irish Commission on Assisted Reproduction mentioned this syndrome; “separation from genetic parents in the context of adoption has been shown to cause, for some adoptees, identity confusion and other psychological disturbances. This problem has been termed ‘genealogical bewilderment.’”

“So, that separation from one’s genetic relations, point of origin is an important point of consideration for the Catholic Church, not only in Ireland, but internationally.”

He added: 'We hope to liaise with other international episcopal conferences and religious organizations ever conscious of the recommendations of the Vatican at last year’s Synod on the family which called for “Pastoral activity, to be geared towards reconciliation[,] [to] take place in specialized ‘listening centers’ established in dioceses.” This effort initiated in Ireland, met by the Irish Church needs to be international, Coping will do all it can to achieve this.'

For more information visit www.copinginternational.com.

 

Father Colm O’Doherty is the only remaining cleric in the parish following the recent diocesan changes.iStock