Coping International was established in Ireland but claims it has members and connections in countries around the world, including Australia, Mexico, the US, and Nigeria.
Its website — copinginternational.com — was launched on December 16 with little fanfare, but Patricia Casey, a senior consultant psychiatrist at the Mater Hospital who has been acting as an adviser on the project, said it had already received just under 3,000 visits.
Prof Casey described the voluntary organisation — which is independent of the Catholic Church but which has received Church support — as a “signpost” for people who are either the former partners or the children of priests.
She said Pope Francis was “aware” of Coping International and added there were “no accurate figures” as to the number of children and former partners of priests in Ireland and around the world. She said in Ireland, there was “a guesstimate of a few dozen, and that “might be an exaggeration”.
“I absolutely support it,” Prof Casey said of the organisation. “I do believe that children should have contact with their fathers in any situation possible and that fathers should take responsibility for their children.”
She said she had dealt with two clients who were the children of priests, and said one common issue was a sense of betrayal.
According to the website: “Coping International seeks to get free and professional help for all children of Catholic priests and their mothers. Coping acts on behalf of children whose fathers remained priests and/or passed away as priests. Some priests may leave the priesthood to take care of their child.”
It said the group was working with the Church to secure free counselling for children of Catholic priests and was liaising with the Church in other countries in the hope of raising the issue and “reaching a consensus that help is needed”.
The Ireland-based founder of the organisation did not wish to comment, but Prof Casey said Coping International would not provide counselling directly but was instead a touchstone for people seeking help.
She said that, in Ireland, clients would be referred to or asked to make contact with their local bishop, with the aim of securing counselling from Towards Healing, a Church-funded counselling and support service for survivors of institutional, clerical, and religious abuse.
In a statement, Coping International said: “The point of Coping is to raise awareness so that in the privacy of their own time, an individual may contact Towards Healing and seek out counselling if that is their desire. Coping has no agenda of celibacy either way as the presence of a child is statement enough.”