Around 50,000 children have been fathered by Catholic priests around the world – despite their vow of celibacy – it has been revealed.
Vincent Doyle, whose father was a Catholic priest, founded a campaign group called 'Coping International' to bring together the children of priests, which he says has members in 175 countries.
According to the the New York Times, Doyle says there are so many children of priests that the Vatican has a list of rules for priests who father illegitimate offspring.
Doyle says he saw a document detailing the dogmas when he travelled to Rome as part of his campaigning.
A Vatican spokesperson confirmed this week that the rules exist – but insisted they were in place for the 'protection of the child'.
'I can confirm that these guidelines exist,' Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told the New York Times. 'It is an internal document.'
Gisotti added that the fundamental principle of the internal guidelines was the 'protection of the child.'
He claims that under the secret rules, a priest who fathered children was requested to leave the priesthood and 'assume his responsibilities as a parent by devoting himself exclusively to the child.'
But Monsignor Andrea Ripa, under-secretary in the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican, told the paper the guidelines were more of a formality than an order.