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Dublin: 2°C Monday 29 November 2021

My Dad was a priest so I asked could I call him Daddy? I was told 'just Father like everyone else'

‘It was unknown and known and all at the same time.’

File Photo
File Photo
Image: Shutterstock/vadim kozlovsky

I REMEMBER HIM as a child. I remember him saying Mass, people calling into the house, he collected me and brought me places. I remember him as a Dad, but I don’t ever remember calling him Dad. That is because I wasn’t supposed to know, but I did.

There were no words to say, “Is my father the priest, is the priest my dad?” Those words did not exist in my vocabulary in the 1980s in Ireland. How can you ask that question? It sticks in your throat. I only ever asked once, “Can I call him daddy?”

The reply was gentle, but confusing “[…] just father like everyone else.”

He died when I was young, perhaps about 15 or 16. All I can say of the man is that I loved him dearly. I loved him like a son would his dad, except again, there were no words. He was a close relation or a family friend, it was unknown and known all at the same time.

His funeral was a sea of priests and bishops who unwittingly stole my grief. He was a loss to a parish, not a loss to me? Discretion was my grief, I cried tears of confused silence, I stood frozen and numb midway up the aisle as his coffin passed and as they lowered him to the ground. I froze emotionally. I would not open up for what seemed like another lifetime.

I could never call him ‘daddy’

Growing up with my Dad was amazing but the sadness was simultaneous in that I could never call him ‘daddy’ even though I felt it. I was not allowed by custom to announce my inner feelings.

My own mother had been taught this custom when she approached a number of priests in the confessional whilst pregnant. She had nowhere to turn. They berated her and shamed her and she said to me later, “You turned like a stone within me when they shouted and roared at me, ‘leave that man alone’”, referring to my father.

Luckily my father disliked such people and ignored such advice – and was a father to me as much as he could be. However he witnessed the Eamon Casey fiasco and saw Eamon having to leave. “They’ll bury me” I was later told he commented, “And what of my son?” He feared that he would be driven from me. He would not live to see this situation open up, children being cared for and mothers being respected.

Between us, there existed an unsaid relationship that was so perfect, words could scarcely do it justice, but it was the unsaid nature that confused and corrupted me after his untimely and sudden death. I felt love, yet there were no words, I had memories, yet no explanation as to why I had these memories. Why did he care so much? It would be years later before I found out.

‘I know that he loved me dearly’

Conversely, it was not the Catholic Church who tried to silence me, but friends and some of those closest to me. I turned for help but was offered a one way ticket to Australia. Silence, pride and shame suddenly entered my life with a furore as it did with my mother.

She told me one evening while I was in my early 20s. It was like a burden heaved and lifted off my chest. I felt complete. My characteristics, my traits, my ‘ways of being’ all made sense, as I have very much taken after my father. Now I could connect, now I could realise, now I could know who it is I really was, my suspicions validated over a vaulted wall of clericalism and secrecy and inebriation.

My Dad was dead, but now at least I had a Dad, and I know that he loved me dearly. If only I could have known all of this as a child. Life doesn’t go that way and sometimes for a very good reason.

‘No longer seen a human being, but an issue’

I turned to the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who not only accepted me, my longing for openness, but made available, many practical ways of helping and as I saw the onset of Coping I saw a gap, a gate, a way forward in truth, my own truth that I had realised as a child.

I have availed of counselling paid for by the Catholic Church and it has brought healing. I will never forget my late, beloved father, my priest, my Dad, but life goes on. My mother and I enjoy a great relationship and life has been kind.

However I ask you this one question, as you travel the Luas, train, as you sip your tea or hold your loved one’s hand, what would you do to escape the burden of a secret? Imagine something so huge laying on top of you since the moment you existed? Imagine personifying, being an embodiment of something so controversial that, they no longer see a human being, but an issue, that is what happens to all children of Catholic Priests.

I encourage the Church to open up, internationally.  To follow the example of the Irish Catholic Church, who now are beginning to care for these people professionally as well as pastorally.  What is more important, a secret or a human being?

Coping – Children of Priests International is a voluntary organisation been set up to try and assist children and help them come to terms with their circumstances.

Read: An Irish group has made the Catholic Church acknowledge Filipino children fathered by priests>

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