Sarah Thomas grew up without knowing her father. She was told by her mother that he was a university lecturer but Sarah later finally found out that he was a Roman Catholic priest working in London.
In 1990, when Sarah was 12, her mother finally told her the truth.
Her father wasn't a lecturer - he was a Roman Catholic priest, living and 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.
Sarah's father was horrified when he found out about the pregnancy. 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,” BBC reports. According to Children of Priests International, the situation whereby the children of Catholic Priests are not allowed to express their identity and treated as “guilty secrets” can cause significant difficulties for those involved.
At age 14, Sarah finally fulfilled her desire to meet her father but the meeting didn’t go well. "I went in there thinking we were going to be best friends, but he was very aloof and cold," she remembers. Sarah faced life with a lot of disappointment and misunderstanding after meeting her father, until a terrible accident in which she barely survived helped her reconcile with the fact that a relationship with her father could not be better. She thought for long time she was the only child of the priest until she discovered an organization “Coping International” that is helping the children of Catholic priests. "It was like being hit by a thunderbolt, I literally thought I was the only priest child in the world," she says.
According to their website Coping is a voluntary, self-help, mental health organization that promotes the well-being of children of Catholic Priests and Religious (male & female) as well as their parents worldwide. It acts as an aid and resource for children of clergy, freely available, which is continually updated. Coping International aims to educate and promote awareness of the phenomenon of children of priests worldwide. ‘Priests’ assumes priests, Bishops and Cardinals, and does not exclude religious sisters.
That’s when Sarah realized that there are a lot of such children around the world. She's now doing a PhD on the subject at the Open University. "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."
Until Catholic Church and the priests involved accept the responsibility for their works, the question of this multitude of children who grow up without a father will not be solved.
Photo Credits: Catholic Church of England and Wales Photostream