Sarah Thomas is one of perhaps thousands of people who were fathered — and then promptly abandoned — by Catholic priests. Now, she’s speaking out.
She was initially told that her father was a university lecturer, but she found out in 1990 that he was really a Roman Catholic priest working in London.
“I just said, ‘That’s fantastic! I’m sure he’d like to meet me,'” Sarah says.
Her mother wasn’t so sure.
It turns out her mother was right, and she had good reason to believe that’d be the case. He was apparently horrified when he found out about the pregnancy years earlier.
He ended the relationship that day and never spoke to Sarah’s mother again on his own — only in the presence of another representative of the church.
A senior priest suggested to Sarah’s mother that she go away to stay by the sea until the baby arrived and then give it up for adoption, but Sarah’s mother refused.
“So this priest decided that my father could carry on and become a priest,” Sarah says, “as long as my mother and the child — me — were in cahoots with their plan of secrecy.”
The priest did send modest payments to the mother, but only in exchange for secrecy, and not for the benefit of the child. Still, Thomas wanted to meet her dad, and after years of nothing she got what she wanted. Unfortunately, it was nothing like she expected.
Her father had brought a Catholic counsellor with him and Sarah, who was by now 14, was accompanied by the husband of one of her school teachers, an arrangement that completely failed to put her at ease…
“I went in there thinking we were going to be best friends, but he was very aloof and cold,” she remembers.
The last thing Sarah’s father said to her that day was that he wouldn’t be able to see her again for four years.
“Before we’d met I’d thought, ‘Well, of course, he’ll love me,'” she says. “So when he did meet me and the outcome was that we still weren’t going to have any kind of relationship, that really hurt.”
Thomas, who is now non-religious, went through a lot as a result of the rejection. She faced a life full of misunderstanding, until a near-death experienced helped her get over seeking a relationship with her dad.
But Thomas isn’t the only one in this terrible situation. She says there are thousands of children like her whose fathers are priests. Many of the kids don’t get proper care, and it’s in part because of the church’s rules requiring celibacy. There’s even an entire organization, Coping International, that looks after those kids’ well-being.
“I’m doing this to highlight that there are thousands of children of priests around the world and no-one knows about them,” she says. “They are powerless and they’re at the mercy of this institution and that’s just not right.”
Through her mentoring work with Coping International and her PhD research Sarah now knows about 100 people who have been fathered by priests, from countries all over the world, but believes there are thousands more out there. She says it’s striking that there are so many common features to their experiences.
I’m glad there are groups to help children like this, but the problem won’t fully go away until it’s addressed by the Catholic Church. The organization needs to make abstinence optional and make more of an effort to bring on good priests and to oust immoral ones. How does it benefit the Church to have these (literal and figurative) fathers abandoning their children?
(Image via Shutterstock)