14 Feb 2018

'It's very clear': Bishop acknowledges priest's daughter

10:06 am on 14 February 2018

The Bishop of Auckland has accepted that a local woman is the daughter of a Catholic priest after being presented with fresh evidence.

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Bishop Patrick Dunn said it was the first time he knew of in New Zealand that the secret child of a supposedly celibate priest has been acknowledged in this way.

He told the woman yesterday he would acknowledge this for her in writing.

It came a day after he told RNZ he was not sure of her claim because there was conflicting DNA evidence from some of the woman's half-siblings, showing perhaps she was the daughter of the priest's sister.

"Now I do accept that she is the daughter, and not the niece, of a priest," he said, after Kathleen* presented him with further genealogical evidence yesterday.

"After my conversation with Kathleen today it's very clear and I have no hesitation."

The DNA test result she had already given him some time ago, and which RNZ has on file, was already a virtual slam-dunk - "Probability = 99.999909613916%" it reads, that the priest was her father.

He was very high-profile in the Auckland diocese and died some time ago.

"Then that's it, I didn't want anything other than that," Kathleen said.

"[It's] one of the happiest days of my life today."

The acknowledgment puts an end to a half-century-plus of secrecy - both her mother and father died with it still secret - and a two-year struggle to have her heritage recognised.

"It's actually huge because it shows now that you can in confidence go to the Catholic Church ... and then work together. It's a real celebration for the Church as well."

Bishop Dunn expected the extended family would probably be "distressed", as they had been shocked that a priest they respected and loved could have had a child, but he hoped they would now accept the facts.

"It's confronting to think that your mother had a relationship and has an illegitimate child," Kathleen said. "I hope now they can work with the Bishop and reconcile themselves to the situation."

Bishop Dunn said he would not object to the priest's identity being made public, but added this was up to Kathleen. She rejected the idea, saying that would hurt other people.

Neither knew if the priest had told anyone else about being a father, though Bishop Dunn admitted that could have occurred in confession.

"The priest hearing the confession is not at liberty to divulge what is confided to him but in that situation, might well have recommended to him to ... talk to someone else outside the confessional."

His message to all priests was that if they fathered a child, they should leave the priesthood and look after their family.

But he rejected a suggestion that the Church needed to introduce checks and balances to prevent a church leader like himself from being obstructive about evidence from the child of a priest, in an effort to protect that priest or their memory.

New Zealand's Bishops have agreed to talk about the issue of the children of priests at their next national meeting in a few weeks.

Kathleen said she believed the Church was now likely to bring in some proper processes.

* Kathleen is not her real name. RNZ has agreed not to identify her, her wider family or her father, the priest.

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