The Chicago Archdiocese revealed Thursday that current priests have fathered children in the past and were financially supported by the diocese.
Four unnamed priests living today have fathered children, NBC 5 has learned, "and the last case was nearly 20 years ago," a Chicago Archdiocese spokeswoman said.
Following New York Times reporting this week about secret Vatican rules in place for priests who father children, NBC 5 asked Chicago's archdiocese if any of its priests have fathered children, how many and how the children are taken care of.
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The archdiocese would not say if these priests are currently assigned to Chicago parishes but noted all of the children are now adults. The first priority, according to the archdiocese, is that the priest meets his responsibilities to the child.
Financial support of differing lengths was provided to the priests' children, the Chicago Archdiocese spokeswoman said, and generally lasted through college.
"Provisions were made in each case for the care of the child, and in general, the priest made arrangements to reimburse the archdiocese for amounts paid for such care," the spokeswoman said.
The archdiocese said it will not release more information to protect the privacy of all involved.
Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who investigated priest sex abuse in the state, said bishops told her that consensual adult relationships had been reported.
"When I did speak to the bishops from the state of Illinois, virtually all of them said to me, look, you're going to get reports from people about relationships that priests are having that are with adult women that are consensual," Madigan said.
Unanswered questions include: How many children have been fathered by Chicago priests, how much money did they receive, and how did the priests afford to support them. Also, what care and consideration did the mothers receive from the archdiocese.
The Vatican said priests are asked to leave once it is revealed they have fathered a child, and the Archdiocese confirmed that if they return, the priests must recommit their vows. The New York Times reported that canon lawyers said: "there is nothing in church law that forces priests to leave the priesthood for fathering children."
"There was a time that priests were allowed to marry and so it is a policy change that they should consider making at this point," Madigan said.
Though it remains unclear how many children of priests there might be, a support group website called "Coping International. Children of Catholic Priests" has 50,000 users in 175 countries.
The news comes as Pope Francis opened the first-ever worldwide summit on priest sex abuse with the world’s bishops.