Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Vincent Doyle as a boy pictured with his father, the late Fr John J Doyle.

Discovering that he was the son of a priest at the age of 28 has brought Lisacul resident Vincent Doyle on a decade long global journey aimed at supporting thousands of people just like himself.

Before the life-changing discovery about his biological father, Fr. John J Doyle, Vincent had just known the priest as his godfather. He was 12 years old when Fr Doyle died in 1995.

Vincent’s campaign at a high level to seek recognition for those who are the children of both priests and the ordained has been recently recognised with an ecclesiastical knighthood by the Confraternity of the Knights of St. Peter & St. Paul – an order that dates back to the 1500s.

A charitable organisation with deep roots within the Catholic Church and a large global footprint, the confraternity’s main aim is to help the poor, the sick and the needy. Its knighthood recognises the work of people involved in the mission of the Church, lay or otherwise, and as a leaders in the Christian community.

Along with being conferred as a Knight Commander of Grace of Confraternity of the Knights of St. Peter & St. Paul, Vincent received the title ‘Chevalier’ which accompanies what he describes as a prestigious, ancient honour. He is hoping to use his knighthood for what he says is “any good that he can foster” especially for marginalised children.

Vincent, a Longford native, also hopes that this recognition will help his ongoing work in seeking proper recognition for those who are the children of priests and the religious – many of whom are affected psychologically and suffer discrimination. That recognition he is seeking also involves promoting a more open public discourse on the issue.

“Why this knighthood is important for me is that if the Catholic Church agree it is ok to confer a knighthood on me, maybe then people everywhere could start the conversation with neighbours, friends and openly acknowledge that there are children of Catholic priests,” he said.

“Why is this important for the people of Roscommon? Because you are passing us every day of the week and if you don’t contribute to the conversation, you are contributing to the secrecy.

“I’ve led this cause for the most marginalised children in the Roman Catholic Church. For me the knighthood is a bit of good news. This is the first time my work has been recognised formally. It’s lovely to get it because I have certainly annoyed a lot of people across the world. I’ve been told that my nickname in the Vatican in Rome is ‘un gran bel mal di testa’, which is basically Italian for ‘a great big headache’”, he explained.

His campaigning work and support charity received the blessing of Pope Francis in 2014 when the Pontiff wrote to him that Christmas, but his experiences with the Vatican has been largely challenging and also with the Irish State.

To date, he has unsuccessfully petitioned the Irish State and successive Governments and Ministers to make a public statement denouncing discrimination against children based on paternity. “The United Nations in 2016 told the Irish State to provide measures to eliminate discrimination against children of priests in the Irish State. The Irish Government did everything that they could to shut my charity down.

“In line with the 2016 UN request, I wanted the Government to issue a brief statement saying it’s wrong to discriminate against children based on paternity, reflecting the Tusla guidelines on emotional abuse that you cannot psychologically, emotionally neglect a child. There’s a backwardness still within the political system that has not caught up with modern safeguarding standards.” Despite the challenges and having doors closed in his face, he wanted to make it clear that he has had nothing but strong support from the Catholic Church in Ireland when it comes to highlighting the cause of people like himself. He also notes that his work has received endorsements and support from people in public life such as President Michael D. Higgins and local Sinn Fein TD, Claire Kerrane.

“The Church in Ireland are amazing. They have been incredible but I expected the same response everywhere and I didn’t get it. The Vatican confirmed to me that it considers Irish Bishops as world leaders when it comes to safeguarding priests’ children.” His registered charity, Coping International, is an important element of his campaigning work, and his work with the charity is completely voluntary.

“The main objective of Coping International is to provide mental health assistance to secret children of Catholic priests. We also provide advocacy. I put up the charity first online in 2014 and left it there and told nobody to try and ascertain how many people were actually looking for help and how many people would come to the site. By the time we went public in 2017, Google Analytics told me that 13,500 people from all round the world had come looking for help. There are estimated to be about 15,000 sons of priests worldwide.” Speaking about support measures which needed to be recognised at a State level, he believes the rights of these children “to a psychological, emotional and pragmatic sense of well-being from the beginning” must be acknowledged.

His public campaign, which has included writing a book and featuring in many TV programmes around the world, has not come without a cost. “I have received late night phone calls calling me profane names. I have been harassed, I’ve been threatened over the years, I can’t say by whom legally, but I will tell you this: it was never by a man wearing a collar and there was an Irish accent behind it.” Despite these pressures, however, he is determined to continue his campaigning. “When the abuse you suffer and the neglect you experience is characterised by silence and is rooted in 1,700 years of Church tradition, it’s a big thing to go up against. You need all the help you can get, you need all the people you can get to say ‘no this is wrong’ because otherwise you are fostering a culture of tolerance.

“Silence licenses further silence on this issue and it’s the silence that kills. I’m asking people to be kind and in fairness, most people are but there is still an element of expected discretion – which is a nice way of saying ‘shut up’.” Vincent moved to Lisacul six years ago from Galway and works as a psychotherapist. He lives there with his wife and young son and said: “Lisacul has been really nice and welcoming.”

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