In recent years, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli and the Archdicoese of Melbourne have been working with Linda Kelly-Lawless, whose strong belief is that her father was a Catholic priest (now deceased). Below is a statement from Archbishop Comensoli which reiterates his support for her desire to find answers about her parentage in what is an understandably difficult and complex journey.
02 August 2023
For some time now I have been working with Ms Linda Lawless (now known as Linda Kelly-Lawless) in her desire to find answers about her parentage. For Linda, whose strong belief is that her father was a Catholic priest (now deceased), it has been a complex and traumatic journey. This is understandable for anyone who has grown up with a piece of their family heritage missing, or who has felt the deep loss of not knowing one or both parents.
For Linda herself, however, her search to discover the hidden aspects of her family identity has pointed her towards this possibility, which she has felt has been shrouded in secrecy, both from her family and from the Catholic Church.
Helping Linda to find out what can be ascertained has been important, and also challenging given neither the priest nor Linda’s mother are alive to answer her questions. The Archdiocese of Melbourne has supported Linda in this quest and has scoured records and reviewed supporting materials that have been uncovered. Making a determination of Linda’s parentage, however, is not something I, as Archbishop, have authority over—that lies with State authorities. Throughout, we have tried to support Linda as appropriate, and have offered financial support for legal applications under the Births Deaths and Marriage Registration Act 1996. There has been no real success with Linda’s journey here, as I understand it, which I know deeply troubles her. In dealing with this we have provided Linda with counselling sessions and offered pastoral meetings.
Understandably, Linda is seeking absolute acknowledgement from the Church as to her father's identity. Linda has undertaken DNA testing, but without direct relatives and no singular person identified in the results, there has only been returned a ‘high probability’.
There is only one real way to determine a definitive answer. In early 2022, and again earlier this year, I confirmed with Linda that I do not have the authority to request an exhumation of Fr Joseph Kelly (if it is to be sought, it would need to come from Linda herself). I have stated that I would be prepared to support such an application from Linda should she so choose.
Regardless of the above, I have shared with Linda in writing that I believe that Fr Kelly is her biological father.
In saying this, I must be very clear that I cannot state categorically that Fr Kelly is her biological father - there is simply not the level of information to do so at this point in time.
There is no denying the historical fact that priests have fathered children. Sadly, this was something that was not talked about or acknowledged honestly and justly within the Church in the past. Thankfully, this is dissipating, and the Church now steps forward in finding ways to acknowledge children who have priests as their father, and to ensure these men take up their responsibilities towards their children.
We remain mindful too that there will be those of generations past who have carried the burden of secrecy and who have missed out on the respect, commitment and care that comes with recognition. I want to acknowledge that loss today.
I note that whilst such cases are rare, if a matter is brought forward it is dealt with individually, scrupulously and above all with sensitivity and care. For our own Archdiocese, I very much support finding the truth in any matters that are raised, and that if there are actions to be taken, then they will be taken.
The Archdiocese has been approached by several media channels to provide comment over the past few years in Linda’s story, which we have done. Sadly, our perspective has not been given airtime. Hence, I provide this statement publicly so people may see that the journey has indeed been a shared one.
Linda’s story is not just about her paternal heritage, but it sits within the deeper complexities of human experience of family identity. Linda’s mother did not wish to discuss Linda’s parentage with her own daughter. That in itself is a hard reality to face. Not having answers, or people to seek answers from, compounds the ‘unknown.’ The answers we seek may not always come to light. That does not mean that our lives are any less valued in God’s eyes—each person has a purpose and is greatly loved.
Most Rev Peter A Comensoli
Archbishop of Melbourne
Christian Bergmann29 November 2023
Proclaim: Office for Mission Renewal29 November 2023