A question about the policy of priests being parents


Good day to all of you.

I’ve got some questions that I need to have answered for a subplot on a book I’m writting. I want that particular point to be accurate, so please answer honestly, if you know what the real Catholic policy towards these points is, not your moral opinion (which is welcome, but don’t present it as canon!)

Let’s say a man has a steady relationship with a woman, but they aren’t married. He is very loving towards her, but she’s a bit of a loose cannon, and she leaves him without warning one day. He’s unable to find her again, and he doesn’t know she was pregnant with his child.

So, a short time latter, the man has his calling and decides to become a priest. As neither he, nor the order know he’s a parent, he’s allowed to do so.

Then, some years later, when he’s already ordered, the woman is about to die and she confesses to the priest that her daugther is also his.

Now, I know priests are allowed to adopt (with the necessasry permissions, and such), because I’ve already researched a bit about that. But in this particular case, can he be granted custody of his own biological daugther and still retain his priesthood?

That’s my main question. bu, in any case, let’s say I want to complicate things further: the woman had been living with an abusive man, who fathered a second child. Being that the priest was allowed to keep his biological daughter (which is the first thing I need to know to proceed), do you think he could be able to also adopt that younger child, now that the mother is dead and the father is in prison?

As I said, I simply want to know if it can be done, but as you can see, the case itself raises a lot of moral questions, so the debate can probably help my raise a lot of issues. And please be respectful about everyone’s opinions :slight_smile:

PS. English isn’t my language, so I’m sorry if my writting is a bit confuse.


Being in prison does not mean one’s children can be adopted to others.


I’m obviously not elaborating on that plot point here, because it’s not related to my question, but the emprisoned man loses the custody of that second child on trial. As I said, what I’m interested is in what the priest can be allowed to do.



There are men who were married, widowed, and subsequently became priests. I think. Some of them must have had children.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was married with children before she became a nun.



Yes, indeed I know of men who had children, and then became priests, but my understanding is that they must wait for their children to become of legal age before taking their vows.

Which is why I’m wondering about a case like this one. Because he was already ordered before he found he had a child, who is still a minor.

I’ve been trying to find about a case like this one (chances are one might exist), but I haven’t been successful.


Being fostered is not the same thing as being adopted.


Are you Catholic? Do you understand the permanent character of ordination to the priesthood versus the faculties to engage in ministry? Do you understand the difference between diocesan priests (secular priests) and priests in an order (religious)?

You keep referring to him entering an order. That would imply a religious. In such a case, what happens would be up to the superior of his order. If he were a secular (diocesan) priest, that would be up to his bishop.

We can’t really answer you, because whether or not he would retain faculties, be dismissed from his order, be given some other duties such as hospital chaplain, etc, would be entirely up to his bishop or superior in his order.

In a case where the priest is the biological father and becomes responsible for the care of a minor in such a case you describe (death of mother) then of course he would go to his bishop or superior and they would discuss the best course to take forward. And that could be any number of things.

So, bottom line, we can’t answer you.



Can you please ignore that point? As I’ve said, the imprisoned man is not relevant to the question, nor do I know the exact legal terms in English, because as I claimed in my first post, that’s not my language.

I’ve already got a legal consultant who is asisting me in that area, but what I haven’t been able to find is guidance in the Catholic side of things, which is exclusively what I’m looking for here.

So, in short: can a priest take care of his biological daughter once he finds she has one? And can he then adopt (or become a foster parent, or legal guardian, or however you call it in your country) to his daughter’s half-sibling?

Thanks for the help :slight_smile:

I was raised as a Catholic in my first few years, but I haven’t been a Catholic since my early childhood (I hope that doesn’t make me any less welcome here! I still think highly of the Church’s work and as you can see, I’m interested in them).

Yes, I understand the difference between diocesan priests and those from a religious order. The thing is that, as it’s only a subplot, I’m very open to it, and I can modify it according to the more plausible situation, which is why I’ve been refering to him as being from an order, but sometimes I would prefer to make him a secular priest. It’s simply not being decided. He’s a very minor character (so he’s open to many changes), but he’s important for the background of a main character.

Anyway, according to you, it isn’t important if he’s secular or from an order, as in any case the decision would reside in his superior/bishop, and there’s no set rules that you could inform me of.

Thanks for your help. Maybe I should simply interview a few bishops and ask them how would they opperate in such a situation? That was my original intention, but I wanted to consult the wisdom of the internet readers first :wink:


Priests don’t make vows unless they are also religious priests. Priests make promises, not vows.



As I said in the previous post, it’s not decided if he’s a religious priest yet. Maybe he is or maybe he isn’t, so we can use vows or promises in this conversation.


I’ve been a practicing Catholic all my life, and I’m not sure I know the difference.


To my understanding, there are religious orders (Franciscans, Augustinians, Jesuits, etc.) and its members take vows to them. Secular priests don’t belong to any such order.

Thinking about it, all priests I’ve known are from a religious order, so I guess I’d prefer to take them as an inspiration over diocesan ones.


A religious priest makes vows in a religious order (such as the Jesuits, Franciscans, etc) before he is ordained: poverty, chastity, and obedience. He is under the authority of the head of his order.

A diocesan priest is ordained under the Bishop of his Diocese, and remains under the authority of him and his successors. He does not make vows, but is celibate and obedient to the Bishop.

Also, while religious priests can be moved around the world, Diocesan priests normally remain within their Diocese until retirement.



I’m just speculating here, and I have no knowledge of any such cases, but I’d imagine the scenario you present would be much less likely to occur with a priest who belongs to a religious order, but possible with a diocesan priest. It is possible for a priest in a religious order to be released from his vows and become a diocesan priest, so perhaps that is a possible path in your story.


Being released from the order and becoming diocesan is an interesting point I hadn’t thought about. Thanks!


But being released from the religious order to become a diocesan Priest, doesn’t change whether he could adopt a child or take responsibility for his own.

I did hear a story once and I could be getting some of the details wrong… A Priest’s only sister and husband died, he’s the only relative that can care for the children. Not sure how old they were, I believe there were two… he was given the permission to care for his sister’s children and still be the Rector of his Parish…


why dont you just write to any of the orders or a diocese and find out from them then there isn’t any speculation, basically coming straight form the horses mouth so to speak:)


The plot of your story sounds like it could be a great read, however as a theologian, I would make a point of stating in the introduction that the story is fiction and although you have interviewed various individuals to ensure your portrayal of the Catholic church is accurate this is a work of fiction. It will save you a lot of headaches later on.

Furthermore, I would make an appointment with a couple of priests and ask them these questions. I would also speak with a few Catholic scholars to ensure your information is correct. This is important to do because not all Catholic priests are aware of all of the protocol therefore by having various sources you are covering the basis. This forum is terrific for basic answers but in this case you need educated and authoritative people who can guide you and provide the most up to date information as possible.

Policies change over time and it would be interesting to see what is possible.

As you write, I would refer to them every now and then to ensure your information is accurate but you also need to let the characters write their story as well. I am a short story writer and sometimes you need to let the story play out and let it happen. You can always correct and modify certain areas later on. Generally books undergo several drafts before they are published.

Hope this helps,



It might. The lifestyle of a priest in a religious order is significantly different from that of a diocesean priest. Priests in religious orders are more likely to live in community and to follow a rule that would not be compatible with raising children. Depending upon the order, they might also take vows of poverty, and keeping that vow would preclude raising children. Diocesan priests have a greater variety of assignments available to them, they will stay in the same geographic area, and they may own personal property, which is kind of necessary when raising children.

[quote=]I did hear a story once and I could be getting some of the details wrong… A Priest’s only sister and husband died, he’s the only relative that can care for the children. Not sure how old they were, I believe there were two… he was given the permission to care for his sister’s children and still be the Rector of his Parish…

I once knew a priest who had raised his sister’s four children, but they were grown before he was ordained.


Yes, that’s what I indend to do. As I said, I want to probe the internet first in case the answer was an easy one. I see it’s not! :slight_smile:

You’re very kind! Yes, indeed those disclaimers are useful, because even when you know the reality, you still prefer to take creative licenses some times and tweak it a bit.

Yes, I think your every day priest might not know this either. Scholars shall be my priority.

Yes, that’s what I meant by creative licenses. Still, as he’s a minor character, I think I can adjust his story to be more factual without afecting the overall story.

And yes, he in fact didn’t even exist in the first draft! (not as a priest, anyway)

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