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reality tv Fair City writers ‘have the chance to help children of priests’ around the world

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Phelim Drew as Fr Liam in Fair City. Photo: Beta Bajgart.

Phelim Drew as Fr Liam in Fair City. Photo: Beta Bajgart.

Phelim Drew as Fr Liam in Fair City. Photo: Beta Bajgart.

The founder of a support group for children of Catholic priests has said he hopes Fair City’s current storyline about a priest and his child seizes the opportunity to show that a priest may remain in ministry and openly acknowledge their son or daughter.

The RTÉ soap features a new character, Fr Liam, played by Phelim Drew and addresses a storyline where he and Ger conceived a child, Hayley, before he joined the priesthood.

Vincent Doyle, who set up the organisation Coping International to help the children of priests in Ireland and around the world, said the Irish Catholic Church has led the way in implementing church practices on the issue.

The son of a catholic priest, Vincent Doyle said the Irish bishops wrote in 2018, “It is not possible to rule out, at the beginning, any possible response to these situations which involves a simple default position of insisting that a man leave the priesthood or that he automatically be permitted to continue in active ministry.”

He said that this seemed to be “the antidote to Fr Liam’s quandary with Ger. It is a new emerging practice” and that structures designed by the church and Coping International were there to help anyone in this situation.

He said it is “vital that this new reality, slowly emerging, be conveyed for all those who tune into RTÉ, to see that a priest can remain in the ministry and openly acknowledge his child.

“I hope RTÉ helps get this message across,” he appealed.

Vincent Doyle discovered as an adult that Fr John J Doyle, a Catholic priest who he thought was his godfather, was in fact his father.

He said he hopes the popular soap does not depict Fr Liam abandoning his child to “secrecy and darkness” in a bid for “ratings” and favouring “sensationalism and misinformation”.

A spokesperson for RTÉ said that the Fair City team are “very sympathetic to the reality of people’s lives”.

“However, Fair City is a drama, and the storylines are character-driven. They are not a pitch for ratings and sensationalism, nor are they a documentary.”

“We can’t comment on our future story, but we hope to do justice to Fr Liam, Ger, and Hayley in the fallout from the recent revelations.

“It is worth clarifying that Liam Plunkett was not a priest when Hayley was conceived, he became a priest later in life and has only just discovered that he has a child, after 30 plus years.”

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According to Vincent Doyle, the secret children of priests is still a live issue in the church and is likely remain so for some time with more children and grandchildren coming forward.

He also stressed that not all of the children of priests in Ireland are adults.

“There are adolescent children of priests within the State; priests are terrified of opening their mouths and equally mothers are scared of telling the truth,” he said.

“It is not only the priests alive and working today that are fathers, but priests now dead. You have to consider the intergenerational effect of silence on the grandchildren.”

He believes that if Fair City portrays the issue sensitively, it may allow hidden families of the ordained to emerge from secrecy and shame.

Vincent Doyle described the timing of Fair City’s story as “amazing” because the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concerns to the Irish State in 2016 about the issue of children fathered by priests and asked the State to respond to those concerns by October 27, 2021.

Recommendations included for the Irish State “ensure measures to assist children fathered by Catholic priests in upholding their right to know and be cared for by their father”.

However, to date, according to Vincent Doyle, the State has yet to acknowledge the issue.

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