Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The Vatican has acknowledged it has secret internal guidelines to handle cases involving priests who father children outside of their celibacy vows.
"I can confirm that these guidelines exist," spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told the Times, who added the contents would not be publicized because it's an internal matter.
The acknowledgement is the first from the Vatican on the issue.
The tradition of priest celibacy was codified in the 12th century, but has not been followed in some cases.
The Irish Catholic Church published the guidelines two years ago as an internal document, which outlined steps affected priests should take.
Gisotti said the "fundamental principal" is for the "protection of the child," and the guidelines request fathers leave the priesthood to "assume his responsibilities as a parent." Another Vatican official, Monsignor Andrea Ripa, said the request was a mere formality.
The guidelines do not explicitly require clerics to leave the priesthood, but say Catholic priests who father children should "face up to responsibilities -- personal, legal, moral and financial."