Vatican’s Secret Rules for Catholic Priests Who Have Children

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“Natural law comes before his right as a priest,” he writes, adding that a priest’s first responsibility would be to his child, and that “he must leave his priestly ministry and take care of his child.”

Canon lawyers say that there is nothing in church law that forces priests to leave the priesthood for fathering children. “There is zero, zero, zero,” on the matter, said Laura Sgro, a canon lawyer in Rome. “As it is not a canonical crime, there are no grounds for dismissal.”

Mr. Doyle, along with some other children of priests and some former priests themselves, say they do not believe that dismissal from the priesthood is always in the child’s best interests, and that sometimes it potentially deprives a family of a livelihood.

“I don’t believe unemployment is a response to paternity,” Mr. Doyle said.

Some children of priests, however, wish their fathers were forced out of the ministry.

Rev. Pietro Tosi was 54 when he raped Erik Zattoni’s mother, who was 14, Mr. Zattoni said. Her family tried to force the priest to recognize their son, but he refused. The family was evicted from their parish-owned home in a tiny town outside Ferrara, Italy, where they often bumped into each other.

“He never said anything,” said Mr. Zattoni, now 37.

In 2010, Mr. Zattoni sued Father Tosi, demanding to be recognized. A court-ordered DNA test demonstrated that he was in fact the priest’s son. The Vatican eventually instructed Father Tosi’s bishop to admonish him and remind him of his responsibilities as a father, but did not demand his removal from the priesthood.

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