8 Mar 2018

NZ bishops pass up Irish guidelines on children of priests

5:38 am on 8 March 2018

New Zealand's Catholic bishops have decided against adopting new international principles aimed at making priests who father children face up to their responsibilities, and will instead take their own approach.

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Last month an Auckland woman won acknowledgement from the church that she was the daughter of a supposedly celibate priest. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

New Zealand's bishops have also stopped short of saying the needs of the child must come first.

A fledgling support network for children of priests, Ireland-based Coping International, had urged bishops in this country to urgently adopt the principles developed by Irish bishops last year.

The Irish principles are very explicit, stating the needs of the child must come first.

They also state that a priest "should face up to his responsibilities - personal, legal, moral and financial", and that church authorities should make sure he did so.

US clergy are now adopting the Irish principles.

The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference discussed the Irish guidelines at a meeting, just after an Auckland woman finally won acknowledgement from the church that she was the daughter of a supposedly celibate priest.

The acknowledgement came a day after the woman spoke to RNZ about her half-century struggle with the secrecy around who her father was.

Bishops spokesperson Amanda Gregan told RNZ it would be "inaccurate" to report the conference had refused to adopt the Irish principles.

However, in a statement she said the bishops had "read with interest the Irish Bishops' guidelines concerning children of priests".

"They will continue to follow their own pastoral practices in regard to any encounter that may arise," she said.

These practices would be "informed" by the Irish principles and others, and New Zealand law, she said.

The New Zealand bishops' statement says "the rights and sensitivities of the child and the mother should be respected"; and that "being the father of a child carries with it particular responsibilities".

Coping International's founder Vincent Doyle said it was good New Zealand bishops were trying to come to terms with the concept, but they lacked the experience to handle it.

"This issue brings with it particular nuances and psychologies uncommon to other scenarios that [the bishops] may have encountered, such as genealogical bewilderment syndrome ... or other anxieties that priests children may experience," he said.

New Zealand's Cardinal John Dew turned down an interview request.

The Vatican recently asked its Commission for Safeguarding Minors to work on its own set of guidelines.

Ms Gregan said the New Zealand bishops were unaware that was happening and it was not discussed at their recent meeting.

The example of Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn, who worked for a long time with the woman he at last acknowledged last month, was an example of how the Church could respond, she said.

"Each case is different and, as such, should be treated sensitively and with respect."

It remains unknown how many New Zealand children of priests there may be, though the church has said it believed the number was "small".

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference statement

"The bishops firmly believe that the rights and sensitivities of the child and the mother should be respected and that being the father of a child carries with it particular responsibilities.

"As already explained to RNZ, this is a pastoral situation where the bishops believe a listening ear and heart are vital.

"The bishops are also conscious New Zealand has carefully crafted civic guidelines and polices concern a child's right to know his or her natural parents. They are guided also by this praxis.

"The bishops read with interest the Irish bishops' guidelines concerning children of priests. They will continue to follow their own pastoral practices in regard to any encounter that may arise."