The Catholic church is facing a growing scandal over children secretly fathered by priests.

One organisation which is supporting Scots whose fathers are clerics says people are left scared and traumatised by their secretive upbringings, and feel as though the church is trying to pretend they don’t exist.

Some have even had to sign confidentiality agreements to hide their paternal identities, according to Coping International, which advocates for children of priests.

Children have also been sent to Scotland from Ireland and England as a way of keeping them hidden from parish communities which may find out about their parentage.

The impact on those involved is severe and detrimental, according to campaigners, who describe their treatment and lack of acknowledgement as “clerical abuse”.

The Catholic church in Scotland has admitted it has no idea how many Scottish priests, or those working in Scotland, have fathered children.

A spokesman has also compared the situation to office workers having extramarital affairs, and said the church as an employer wouldn’t necessarily have to get involved.

It comes after secret Vatican guidelines emerged this week for priests who father children, but the church has refused to release the documents or explain what advice they contained.

Vincent Doyle, founder of support organisation Coping International, has blasted Scottish bishops for failing to get to grips with the scale of the issue, and said more needs to be done to support women and priests if they find they are expecting a baby.

Irish psychotherapist Doyle set up Coping International after he found out a priest he believed was his godfather was actually his biological dad. He said he is currently supporting several Scots between 18 and 55 whose fathers are priests, who, he said, have been left scarred by their covert parentage and are afraid to speak out.

However, he stressed that the actual number of children, men and women across the globe whose fathers are Scottish priests, or who live in Scotland, is likely to be much higher.

Sonflowers, a support group for women who have had relationships with priests, previously reported that it had been inundated with calls from Scottish women claiming they were having relationships with priests and in some cases were pregnant by them.

The organisation’s founder said in 2003 she had hoped to set up a specifically Scottish group to deal with the influx of calls but faced opposition to even advertising her service in churches or bulletins across the country.

Doyle said: “We are supporting eight Scottish people. Eight may seem like a small number to many, but for those eight people their lives have been hugely affected.

“They have been hidden, they have had confidentiality agreements too. They are scared.

“We have one Scottish woman we are working with who was fathered by an Irish priest. They moved to Scotland and hid her there and she has hidden ever since. She doesn’t know what to do or how to bring it up.

“These people are terrified. One guy I know has psychosis, he’s on the verge of schizophrenia.

“We have a lot of kids also from Ireland and England sent to Scotland, who were adopted but now through things like and DNA matching sites they are finding out their roots and what actually happened.

“There are around 740 priests in Scotland at the minute, but how many men have been ordained in Scotland or how many Scottish men have been missionary priests over the last 100 years? That is where the real question is.

“When you take that into consideration, if only 1% of those priests fathered children, you’re talking about a surprising number.

“On a global level, we know about 10,000 children in this position and that is only the ones we know about, it’s a hugely conservative estimate.”

A Catholic church spokesman told The Herald on Sunday there was no evidence of “significant numbers” of children fathered by priests in Scotland, and compared priests having relationships to an office worker having an extramarital affair with a colleague.

He said in both scenarios, vows would have been broken but it would not necessarily be the responsibility of the employer to get involved.

When pressed, he admitted the church had no idea of the numbers and he had only heard of one such case before, but insisted that Scottish bishops would support priests if they came to them to ask for help.

The spokesman said: “In the case of a priest who has fathered a child, it is not possible to rule out any possible responses to these situations.

“A decision to remain or leave the priesthood would be made on its merits in each case.

“There are no central records of such cases and while the church would not necessarily be aware of them, there is no suggestion of significant numbers in this country.”

He also said there had been several priests who had left the priesthood to pursue relationships, and in his view there was no stigma around the issue.

He said: “If a priest was to say to his bishop that he had fathered a child and, whether he wanted help to leave the priesthood and set up as a father or to remain in the priesthood but be able to support the child, the church would do whatever they could to support either of those options.

“Every year a number [of priests] leave to get married. One left from Glasgow last year, for example. In the past that would have been seen as much more scandalous and a stigma. The view now is that the church is grateful for the service that you have given.”

Doyle has criticised the remarks and called for the church in Scotland to take the lead in finding and supporting people fathered by priests, and to understand why many priests do not disclose they have children.

He said: “I absolutely condemn the use of that world ‘significant’ in any regard. This is clerical abuse. If there are only five or 10 children in Scotland, so what? Quantity never should come in to pastoral care.

“In order for this issue to be addressed we have to do away with moralistic audacious statements and look at this practically and also empower the woman. If you empower the mother and say ‘you are far from alone, you don’t need to be afraid’, it would help, instead of the woman being told they are the only person in Scotland who is in this situation, and they must keep quiet in order for the priest to be able to support them and not lose their job.

“I would go back to the Catholic bishops in Scotland and ask them what constitutes a significant number. We are working with eight people – is that insignificant? I don’t know the full number of children of priests in Scotland, but neither do the bishops.

“The Catholic church should be willing to bend over backwards for one child so this whole thing of ‘significance’ is hugely disrespectful, harmful and what they are trying to do is make this inauthentic.

“There are children of priests the same as there are children of plumbers, fishermen, hairdressers ... they are out there.

“And it is never going to stop. Unless they stop ordaining heterosexual males it will happen. They can’t quantify it and they can’t address it.

“The church have tried to dismiss child sexual abuse initially by saying its unquantifiable, it’s the same thing.

If you have been affected by this story please contact Hannah Rodger at