VATICAN CITY — Bishops in Ireland have created detailed guidelines to address an issue the Roman Catholic Church has tried to keep under wraps for centuries: the plight of children born to Catholic priests and the women who bear them.

The policy, approved in May and made public recently, says that the well-being of the child is paramount. It says the mother must be respected and involved in decision-making, and that the priest “should face up to his responsibilities – personal, legal, moral and financial.”

The guidelines are believed to represent the first comprehensive public policy by a national bishops’ conference on the issue, which has long been shrouded in secrecy given the perceived scandal of priests having sex. While eastern rite Catholic priests can be married before ordination, Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy.

The policy is, in many ways, the fruit of a campaign by an Irish psychotherapist, Vincent Doyle, who discovered late in life that his father was a priest.

With the strong backing of the archbishop of Dublin, Doyle launched Coping International, an online self-help resource for the children of priests and their mothers. The aim, he said, was to help eliminate the stigma he and others like him have faced, and educate them and the church about the emotional and psychological problems that can be associated with the secrecy often imposed on them.

Those problems, which can include depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, were the subject of an exhaustive series last week in The Boston Globe.

There are no figures about the number of children fathered by Catholic priests. But there are some 450,000 Catholic priests in the world and the Catholic Church forbids artificial contraception and abortion.

Even without publicity, the Coping International website has been accessed by 13,500 different people in 175 countries since its December 2014 launch, Doyle said.

Doyle insists the exact number of priests’ children isn’t the major issue.

“The issue is the mental health of children who are suffering,” he said in a telephone interview this week.