Marriage unites the couple as a principle for handing on human life, and they should procreate responsibly. Since a human person’s life is complex, children grow and develop over many years. Thus, the responsibilities of parents are similarly complex and prolonged, though it may be said, in general terms, that they should raise their children to be good persons, good citizens, and good Christians. It is important to treat children fairly, and to exercise parental authority within its limits. Parents have special responsibilities for their children’s religious formation and should see to it that Christian principles shape all other aspects of their upbringing.
Parenthood is an essential part of the vocation of marriage. The practice of responsible parenthood means acting in accord with all the relevant moral norms. To implement these, couples should both abstain from and engage in marital intercourse when appropriate. Even couples who cannot or should not have children can fulfill their marital communion by acting in a fatherly and motherly way toward people who need love and help.
a) The vocation of marriage includes parenthood. As has been explained (in A.1.j, above), marital communion is a basic human good. A man and a woman share in this good by initiating the conjugal covenant and fulfilling it by becoming one flesh, a bodily union which makes them in effect a single human organism for the function of reproduction. Thus, the initiation of new life is not a good extrinsic to marriage; it is the intrinsic perfection of the marital communion itself. So, John Paul II teaches:
In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal “knowledge” which makes them “one flesh” (cf. Gn 2.24), does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.218
This explanation illuminates Scripture’s account of how man and woman were created for each other and in God’s image and likeness (see Gn 1.27–28). One aspect of their God-likeness is their sharing in his creative work, their cooperation with him in completing the human race, which is the culmination of his whole creative project: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1.28).219 The fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus makes clear the ultimate significance of the married couple’s work of procreation: each of their children is called to be a member of God’s kingdom and to share in his happiness forever.
Since the good of children is intrinsic to the good of marriage, the vocation of marriage includes the vocation to parenthood. Thus, Vatican II teaches that the particular mission of spouses is to transmit human life and raise children (see GS 50; cf. GS 47, 48, 49, 51); Paul VI teaches that the transmission of human life is a most serious office of spouses, in which they offer a free and conscious service to God; and John Paul II explicitly teaches: “With the vocation to love, in fact, there is inseparably connected the vocation to the gift of life [emphasis added].”220
b) Procreative responsibility calls for conscientious judgment. Except for those who know they are sterile, the vocation to the gift of life included in the vocation to marriage has direct practical implications. Every fertile Christian married couple should have children unless some extraordinary responsibility forbids their doing so. Yet in this matter, as in any other, vocations differ; different couples have different responsibilities with regard to how many children to have and when to have them. But each has definite moral responsibilities in this area, for, as Paul VI teaches, spouses
are not free to do as they like in the service of transmitting life, on the supposition that it is lawful for them to decide independently of other considerations what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator.221
In times past, some faithful Catholics thought (and a few still do), that a couple can be sure of acting in accord with God’s will by entirely rejecting family planning and trusting in providence. Certainly married couples should trust in providence. But providence has given the Christian couple reason enlightened by faith and the power to act in accord with it. Neglecting these gifts would not be pious submission to God’s will, but presumptuous irreverence.
Therefore, questions of procreative responsibility call for a couple’s conscientious reflection, in which they should take into account everything that might in any way be relevant: their physical, psychological, economic, and social conditions; the good of their present and future children; the needs of their extended families, of society as a whole, and of the Church.222
Nobody else can make this judgment for them: “With docile reverence toward God, they will form for themselves a right judgment by mutual agreement and working together” (GS 50). It must be made by mutual agreement, because carrying it out will require that they have intercourse at certain times and abstain at others, and in these matters neither spouse can make unilateral judgments without violating the other’s marital rights. They must make the judgment “with docile reverence toward God,” keeping in mind his plan and will for them, and their responsibility to provide members for his family.
c) The vocational perspective should shape the couple’s judgment. People who do not consider parenthood from the point of view of vocation are likely to suppose that spouses can rightly base their judgment simply on whether a child or children are among the things they happen to want out of life. However, Christian spouses should judge in the light of their vocational responsibilities, considered as a whole. In doing so, husband and wife respond not only to their common vocation to marriage and family life but to the total personal vocation of each. In this decision, as in others touching on vocation, they should focus on their gifts and limitations, and on the needs and opportunities calling for their service.
This means trying to discover whether, all things considered, they can have a child with a reasonable hope of raising him or her to be a good person, a good citizen, and a good Christian. Do any of the relevant factors make that hope unrealistic? And even if the hope is reasonable, do any of those factors constitute serious reason not to have a child, or another child, either now or, perhaps, ever? Reasons to limit family size are serious, however, only if they arise from responsibilities which at least one of the spouses should fulfill and which it would be impossible or difficult to fulfill if the couple have a child or another child.
d) Different couples’ responsible judgments can be different. A couple who have the gifts necessary to raise a very large family, and whose other vocational commitments will help rather than hinder them in doing so, can rightly decide to have many children, even though they will not be able to give them every advantage in life, such as higher education, travel, and so on.223 Another couple marry despite the fact that the man is afflicted with a serious disease; foreseeing that the wife will have her hands full caring for her husband and that any children they might have would grow up without their father’s care and guidance, they can rightly forgo having children.224
Still another couple, capable of raising a large family but living in a society with a severe population problem, can rightly decide to limit their own family’s size in order to use their gifts and resources to help other couples nurture and educate their numerous children. Their judgment is entirely different from that of a similar couple, living in an affluent society with a birthrate below the replacement level, who think the ecological effects of their nation’s way of life or population problems in other parts of the world justify limiting their family to two children, even while they use the savings to maintain their high standard of living and do little or nothing to promote social justice in other counties.
e) The couple should use upright methods to carry out their judgment. The couple should exclude from the outset all methods “found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law” (GS 51). Immoral methods—in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, infanticide, abortion, sterilization, and contraception—not only violate the good of life and/or other goods, but directly violate the good of marriage itself. Used to implement decisions about family planning, they either render nonmarital the sexual activity which they facilitate between the spouses (sterilization and contraception), radically betray the responsibility to care for children (abortion and infanticide), or replace the marital act with a technique which renders offspring objects of production (in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination).225 Spouses who fully understand and accept that marriage is their Christian vocation will reject all such methods.
By contrast, those who regard marriage as an arrangement for obtaining many of the things they want in life are likely to consider themselves entitled both to the children they want and to regular sexual satisfaction. As they see it, irresponsible procreation simply means having children whom their parents—or others—do not want; responsible parenthood does not require carrying out the vocation of marriage but merely doing what is necessary to prevent, or dispose of, “unwanted” children and have only those who are “wanted.”
f) To carry out their judgment, a couple need fertility awareness. Since truly responsible parenthood precludes using immoral methods, a couple who have correctly decided to have or not have a child will carry out their decision by engaging in or refraining from marital intercourse when appropriate.
If the decision is to have a child, generally they need only have marital intercourse whenever that is opportune, and pregnancy soon will result. If not, however, they should use one of the available methods for identifying the days during the wife’s menstrual cycle when conception is more likely.
If the decision is not to have a child, the couple could abstain entirely from marital intercourse; this in fact should be done if they conscientiously judge that they are strictly bound not to have a child and can be certain of that only by abstaining indefinitely. Still, few couples need do so. A woman is fertile only briefly during any cycle, and almost every couple can avoid having a child by abstaining only during part of each cycle. How large a part depends on circumstances. If they judge that at present it would be seriously wrong to have a child, they should abstain except when morally certain conception will not occur. But if they have less stringent reasons—for example, good reasons for spacing births—they could rightly decide to be less cautious. In either case, the couple can engage in marital intercourse at other times during the cycle (unless there happens to be some other reason to abstain) without in any way being irresponsible, and sometimes they should do so to express and nurture conjugal love.226
g) Such birth regulation by periodic abstinence is not contraception. This alternation of periods of marital intercourse and periods of abstinence sometimes is called “periodic abstinence” or “natural family planning.” As has been explained (in 8.E.2.e), periodic abstinence which implements a truly responsible judgment is different, morally speaking, from contraception, since under those conditions periodic abstinence, while it avoids causing a baby, is not contralife, as contraception inevitably is. To that explanation, only a few additions need be made here.
First, Pius XII and Paul VI indicate that periodic abstinence is appropriate precisely to implement a morally upright judgment, for they say it is rightly used only if there are “sufficient moral grounds” or “serious reasons” for avoiding conception or spacing births.227
Second, by carrying out an intention to impede procreation, spouses who contracept mutilate their sexual intercourse so that it is not truly marital (see E.1.a, above). Thus, contraception within marriage not only is contralife, as it is even for the unmarried, but contrary to marital love. By contrast, couples practicing periodic abstinence engage either in integral marital acts or none at all. With the practice of periodic abstinence, “The dynamics of self-giving and acceptance of the other person, which are proper to the conjugal act, are not denied.” But the choice of contraception “denies the intrinsic meaning of the giving and receiving which is proper to the conjugal sexual act and closes it arbitrarily to the dynamics of transmitting a new human life.”228
Third, John Paul II also tries to clarify the fundamental anthropological as well as moral difference between contraception and periodic abstinence:
It is a difference which is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality. The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the person, that is the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control. To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognize both the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion, and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity. In this context the couple comes to experience how conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality, in its physical dimension also. In this way sexuality is respected and promoted in its truly and fully human dimension, and is never “used” as an “object” that, by breaking the personal unity of soul and body, strikes at God’s creation itself at the level of the deepest interaction of nature and person.229
The final sentence makes the point that periodic abstinence, when practiced with upright intentions, promotes marital chastity and overcomes the masturbatory attitude which so often contaminates sexual activity even within marriage.
Considered as a whole, the explanation is helpful, provided marital intercourse is thought of as an act by which the couple realize and share in the good of marriage and periodic abstinence is viewed as a practice by which they serve that same good. The explanation will seem unintelligible, however, to someone who thinks of sexual intercourse as a way of satisfying sexual desire, assumes that married couples are entitled to regular sexual satisfaction, realizes that on this assumption most couples’ natural fertility would lead to the problem of unwanted births, and regards periodic abstinence as a solution to that problem—but one which, on those assumptions, hardly seems acceptable since it requires couples to forgo the regular satisfaction to which they supposedly are entitled.
h) The practice of abstinence to regulate births involves chastity. Abstinence is not always easy even for couples who correctly understand marital intercourse and the appropriateness of sexual abstinence to regulate births. Sometimes even for them, and more often for those without their insight, abstinence seems to have bad consequences. Vatican II notes this fact: “Where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness often can be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness undermined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered” (GS 51). Thus, the Council Fathers make it clear that they have paid attention to the evidence that in many cases, when sexual abstinence is prolonged, a husband and a wife become irritable with each other and express their feelings by treating the children badly; they may be tempted to commit adultery, at least in thought; their love cools, and they are unlikely to welcome another child.
Still, these evils are not inevitable, for they do not stem precisely from not engaging in marital intercourse but from one or both spouses’ frustrated desire to engage in it. Many couples whose sexual urges are subordinated to their marital love do not suffer bad consequences when they abstain: “The power of love— authentic in the theological and ethical sense—is expressed in this, that love correctly unites ‘the two meanings of the conjugal act’, excluding not only in theory but above all in practice the ‘contradiction’ that might be evidenced in this field.”230 Hence, whether briefly or even for a rather long period, such a couple can abstain when they should—to carry out a conscientious decision to avoid having a baby, or during necessary separations, illnesses, and so on—without experiencing distressing frustration.
Consequently, Vatican II, having noted that abstinence can have bad consequences, does not conclude that couples should not abstain when necessary. Instead, the Council teaches that conjugal love and the responsible transmission of life can be harmonized; but it points out: “Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced” (GS 51).
While the Council does not explain how that should be done, its teaching certainly assumes that, from the beginning of their marriage, each couple should cooperate in doing it. All too often, a couple take little thought of parental responsibility and indulge their desire for sexual gratification without restraint, until urgent problems result. Instead they should practice chastity from their wedding day on. If so, they will avoid any abrupt, and perhaps unilateral, breaking off of the intimacy of married life.
Of course, conjugal chastity does not mean complete abstinence. As the core of the virtue of chastity for all Christians is a firm commitment to subordinate sexual desire to the intelligible goods served in carrying out their personal vocations, so, for the married, that means subordinating it to the good of marriage. Thus, conjugal chastity involves having marital intercourse when that truly serves the good of marriage; and even when abstinence is necessary, marital chastity does not mean breaking off intimacy but limiting sexual acts to the extent required to integrate them with other aspects of marital love.
i) Periodic abstinence contributes to conjugal love. Many couples who, judging that they should not have another baby, abstain for ten to twenty or more days each cycle bear witness to the benefits periodic abstinence has for their marital relationship. The explanation is that this practice not only calls for chastity but fosters it, by integrating the sexual urge with the good of marriage, and so making marital intercourse a more genuine act of mutual love, with a deeper and more lasting satisfaction. The self-discipline necessary to foster chastity, Paul VI teaches,
brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children.231
Thus, periodic abstinence can and should be experienced as enhancing conjugal love, rightly understood as the principle of marital communion fulfilled in the couple’s cooperation with God in the service of life; it should not be considered, and so experienced, as a frustrating deprivation of conjugal love, mistakenly reduced to regular sexual satisfaction.232
Attaining marital chastity can be difficult, and can require real heroism, as John Paul II points out. It does not follow that it is beyond the reach of any Christian married couple, for the new covenant’s grace, which all receive in the sacrament of marriage, enables all to act heroically when they must.
The real difficulty is that the heart of man and woman is prey to concupiscence: and concupiscence urges freedom not to consent to the authentic demands of conjugal love. It would be a very serious error to conclude from this that the Church’s teaching in this matter is in itself only an “ideal” which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man: according to a “balancing of the various goods in question”. But what are the “concrete possibilities of man”? And of which man are we speaking? Of the man dominated by lust or of the man redeemed by Christ? Because this is the matter in question: the reality of Christ’s redemption.
Therefore, married couples should not consider the requirement of marital chastity “as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future; they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy.”234
Christ has redeemed us! This means: he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has liberated our freedom from the domination of lust. And if the redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act.233
j) Chastity can be developed by practicing periodic abstinence. The practical measures which married couples, like all other Christians, can and must take to attain chastity have been treated (in E.8, above). Only a few additional specifications are needed with respect to periodic abstinence.
A couple whose chastity is imperfect will foresee that abstinence might be an occasion of sin, inasmuch as one spouse or both might be tempted to seek sexual satisfaction apart from marital intercourse. If the abstinence implements a genuinely conscientious judgment concerning birth regulation, however, the couple will already have taken this into account and, often, will not attempt to abstain for too long a time; in this way, they almost entirely forestall the occasion of sin.
But what if the reasons for not having a baby are very serious, so that they cannot forestall the occasion of sin by limiting abstinence? Then they should work together to change the situation, so that the temptation can be avoided or, if it arises, resisted. On the one hand, they can increase expressions of affection that are not sexually arousing. For example, a wife whose husband finds it hard to abstain can do many kindly, gentle things to intensify his feelings of affection, so that the latter will oppose his unruly sexual desire and help him control it. On the other hand, the couple can take special care to avoid experiences and thoughts, even though licit at other times, which lead to intense sexual arousal and so increase frustration. For example, a husband who finds it hard to abstain not only should avoid entertainment which leads to temptations to seek sexual satisfaction apart from marital intercourse (every husband should do that), but also as much as possible should avoid incomplete sexual acts, except those he is confident eventually will be completed in marital intercourse without departing from the practice of abstinence as it is required by the couple’s conscientious judgment.
Finally, couples striving for the chaste practice of periodic abstinence should seek help from other couples who have been successful at it. Those who have already achieved greater maturity can provide good example and encouragement, as well as practical guidance in the techniques of interpreting the signs of fertility and infertility. Some dioceses and parishes have organized such couple-to-couple apostolates, and many more should.
k) All couples can perfect their marriage by parenthood. While some couples conscientiously conclude that they should not have children, others who think they should are disappointed by not having them. They can and should try to deal with this condition just as with any other health problem, using reasonably available medical help to make their marital acts fruitful. But if that does not help, they, like couples who judge that they should not have children, should recognize that begetting and giving birth to natural children is not, after all, part of their vocation as a married couple: God is calling them to some other form of service to life.
While they cannot realize and enjoy that fulfillment of marital communion which comes about when one-flesh unity is blessed with its proper fruit, they nevertheless can perfect their marriage by true parenthood. For parenthood is far more a moral than a biological relationship: its essence is not so much in begetting and giving birth as in readiness to accept the gift of life, commitment to nurture it, and faithful fulfillment of that commitment through many years.
The most obvious way for such couples to exercise parenthood is by adopting children. In adopting, a couple should take the same attitude as a couple engaging in marital intercourse with the right openness to new life. Just as these latter should always be ready to love and cherish any child God gives them, so, in adopting, a couple should not try to find the child who meets just those specifications they happen to feel are important, but the one God is calling them to accept. As is always true for people discovering an element of vocation, they first must recall that God’s grace will enable them to overcome whatever difficulties they encounter in doing his will. Then they will identify the child God wishes them to accept by considering their own gifts and limitations, and matching these with the opportunities for adoption and the needs of babies and children who lack parents. For example, a couple who proceed as they should in identifying the right child will not be daunted by the prospect of adopting a severely handicapped child whom no one else wants and will be open to doing so, unless there are compelling reasons (not mere emotional motives) excluding that possibility.
Some couples with natural children of their own also can and should adopt. But what about those who not only should not or cannot have natural children but also cannot or should not adopt children? Fruitfulness and parenting are not limited to having and raising children, whether natural or adopted. They take other forms to which every Christian family is called:
Family fecundity must have an unceasing “creativity”, a marvelous fruit of the Spirit of God, who opens the eyes of the heart to discover the new needs and sufferings of our society and gives courage for accepting them and responding to them. A vast field of activity lies open to families: today, even more preoccupying than child abandonment is the phenomenon of social and cultural exclusion, which seriously affects the elderly, the sick, the disabled, drug addicts, ex-prisoners, etc.
Couples who cannot be parents even by adopting children are called to perfect their marriages by parenting in these other ways.
This broadens enormously the horizons of the parenthood of Christian families: these and many other urgent needs of our time are a challenge to their spiritually fruitful love.235
To understand the specific elements of Christian parents’ responsibility in raising children, it is necessary to understand both its end—the coming to be of good people who also are good Christians—and the reason why parents have the primary and inalienable right and responsibility to bring up their own children.
a) The end of raising a child is a good, Christian person. Parenting is cooperating with God in bringing new people to be and, even more, to maturity. Since God loves children and wants what is good for them—that they should become good and holy—Christian parents should want the same. Children who grow up to be good and holy people will, however, be good members both of human society and of the kingdom; thus, in working for their children’s best interests, good Christian parents also serve these larger communities, as Pius XI teaches:
The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ himself in those regenerated by Baptism, according to the emphatic expression of the Apostle: “My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you” (Gal 4.19). For the true Christian must live a supernatural life in Christ: “Christ who is your life” (Col 3.4), and display it in all his actions: “That the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4.2).
For precisely this reason, Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ.236
b) Raising a child includes nurturing, training, and educating. To the extent that children are naturally endowed with their own dynamisms toward healthful growth, they need only be nurtured and allowed to develop spontaneously to become what they can and should be. To some extent, too, children must be trained, very much as pets are, though also with obvious differences, not least that pets are trained solely to domesticate them while children are trained for their own sake, that is, trained to do what will contribute to their development and flourishing as persons. Insofar as raising children involves training them, it produces something: a well-trained child.
Some theorists, however, overemphasize either nurture or training, or both, and try to reduce raising children to these parts of the larger process. But neither nurturing nor training addresses what is specific to a human person: practical intelligence and freedom.
The point of nurture should be the child’s healthy growth. The point of training a child is twofold: to protect life and health, and to prepare the child for education in exercising specifically human capacities. The point of education, then, is the child’s human goodness and Christian holiness, and nurture and training only provide the basis for it, while its heart lies in helping children to deliberate soundly and encouraging them to make good free choices. To accomplish this, parents and teachers should engage in constant, careful, and sympathetic communication with children, always keeping in mind their difficulties, ignorance, and inexperience, never shrinking from using authority, yet not using it harshly or rigidly but gently, to guide and encourage each child’s own efforts to act responsibly.237
c) Education should be directed toward the child’s vocation. “Children should be so educated that as adults they can, with a full sense of responsibility, follow their vocation, including a religious one, and choose their state of life” (GS 52). Parents should nurture and train children so that their specifically human potentialities can come into play and be realized for good, not bad. Good Christian children eventually will seek, accept, commit themselves to, and faithfully carry out their personal vocations. The overarching goal of all education should be to help them, in two ways, to do that: by preparing them, and by advising and encouraging them regarding the specific acts involved.
Children are prepared by facilitating and encouraging the acts that bring their capacities and gifts into play, by helping them share in true human goods and experience the delight of knowing truth, appreciating beauty, working well, making friends, and so on. Having prepared children to take up their personal vocation, parents should help them to reflect on their gifts and opportunities, and understand how everything in their lives is related to the principle of vocation.
The vocational principle makes it clear that parents should not provide children with everything they want, and sometimes should provide them with things they do not want. Nor should it be parents’ main aim that their children enjoy themselves and have possessions, success, and status. All these must be subordinated to being a good Christian person, one who finds and fulfills his or her unique vocation.
d) Parents should cooperate in children’s personal formation. To bring children’s capacities and gifts into play is to form them as persons, to develop their more or less good or bad character, and to shape their relationships with others. Since each parent makes a distinctive and irreplaceable contribution to this development, a father and a mother should cooperate. Negatively, they should avoid making incompatible demands and undercutting each other’s efforts; positively, they should plan a coherent strategy for raising their children, discuss problems together, encourage each other to do what is appropriate, and then each personally do his or her part.238
In technologically advanced societies, economic and cultural factors tend to limit the father’s contribution. Most men work and carry on many of the activities they take seriously away from their homes and children, while at home many waste much time in rather passive entertainment like watching television, rather than in activity involving interaction with their children. To fulfill their responsibilities, fathers should reduce passive entertainment to a minimum, converse with their children regularly about their own concerns and activities and the children’s, and enlist the children’s cooperation, for example, by getting them to help with chores around the house, helping them with their studies, and joining with them in church or civic projects, as well as in various active forms of recreation.239
e) In raising children, the responsibility of parents is primary. Vatican II teaches: “Since parents have given life to their children, they have a very grave duty to educate them, and so are to be recognized as their primary and principal educators” (GE 3).240
This important teaching can be explained more fully as follows. A child comes to be and matures by gradually separating off from his or her parents and becoming independent. To the extent children have separated from their parents, they can and should function independently; and everyone, beginning with the parents themselves, should respect children’s fundamental rights, which do not differ from anyone else’s. But to the extent children have not yet separated off and cannot yet function independently, they are more closely tied to their parents than to anyone else, and their status in the larger society is not unlike that of a special part of their parents.241 Now, everyone has the primary responsibility and right to care for himself or herself. Consequently, parents, rather than other interested parties, have the primary responsibility and right to nurture, train, and educate children.242
f) The sacrament of marriage helps parents to raise their children. Since the parental mission of raising children is a service to God and the Church, parents can count on the grace of the sacrament of marriage to help them fulfill this great responsibility. The sacrament
consecrates them for the strictly Christian education of their children: that is to say, it calls upon them to share in the very authority and love of God the Father and Christ the Shepherd, and in the motherly love of the Church, and it enriches them with wisdom, counsel, fortitude and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to help the children in their growth as human beings and as Christians.243
Therefore, parents should not lack confidence, especially when they encounter difficulties and their best efforts seem to fail. Remembering that they are not alone, they should ask the Holy Spirit for his light and power, and confidently hope that if they continue to do their best, their loving effort will bear good fruit.
g) The parents’ responsibility is limited and shared in certain ways. Since the Church and civil society exercise legitimate authority over everyone, they have legitimate authority over children and, insofar as children depend on their parents, over the raising of children (see GE 3). Parents, however, sometimes cannot fulfill their responsibility or fail to do so, and if they cannot or will not properly care for their children, others should do what they can. Thus, some can and should adopt children or provide foster care, while society should provide care, support, and protection for children who are orphaned, abandoned, neglected, or abused.
Moreover, parents cannot do everything necessary to nurture, train, and educate their children, any more than they can to care for themselves, and so they should make use of appropriate helps in raising children.244 Still, they have the right to decide what helps to use, and should never abdicate this responsibility to others or to society.
Parents who give children up for adoption are not obtaining help in raising them, but are transferring the very role of parenting. They can rightly do this if they judge that the children’s best interests require it. Sometimes adoption can be carried out within an extended family or other close community, and the natural parent can help raise the child. However, since children need the security of a unified parental principle, parents who do not retain parental responsibility should accept a strictly subordinate role rather than trying to divide it with others.
h) Children’s good should limit the help obtained in raising them. In judging what help to obtain, parents should have their children’s good in view. To have a strong sense of identity and basic security, children need a warm, close, and stable relationship with their parents and those who help care for them; this also is essential so that those raising children will be able to recognize each child’s personal needs and gifts.
Moreover, children’s personal formation comes about largely by the example and conversation of those who raise them. Nobody involved in raising children is perfect, but all involved should try hard to hand on only what is good in themselves, and to remedy, insofar as possible, the harm they inevitably do to children. Instead of rationalizing their defects, they should admit them and try to change for the better, like loving parents who thereby enjoy an important benefit of parenthood. Unfortunately, not everyone involved in caring for other people’s children is sufficiently motivated to become a better person or to be honest about his or her faults. Parents therefore should personally care for their children, especially when small, and should educate them in matters where others might do them great and lasting harm.245
Thus, parents do their children a grave wrong if they evade the parental role by unnecessarily turning over their responsibilities to others. Those who need help should be very careful to get it from people who will nurture, train, and educate their children out of love, not simply as a job. They also should consider what it will take to remedy, insofar as possible, the damage the child inevitably will suffer, and should work systematically to that end.
For example, unless absolutely necessary, parents should not resort to a day care center operated for profit and staffed by employees whose motivation is doubtful and who use dubious approaches to the care and education of children. Even if adequately nurtured, children often are badly trained and wrongly educated in such centers.246 If day care is unavoidable, parents should prefer a care giver who shares their own values and is, or is likely to become, emotionally attached to the children—a grandparent, aunt, good friend, or neighbor. Some church-sponsored and community centers also provide child care by devoted people who share the parents’ beliefs and values, are morally upright and psychologically balanced, and are more interested in the children’s welfare than in earning a salary or making a profit. If there is no alternative to employing strangers mainly motivated by money, parents should look into the options available and choose carefully. Then they should drop in unexpectedly on the care giver from time to time or have a relative or friend do so, and be alert for any sign of trouble.
Parents should use their position and the power it gives them for their children’s real benefit. They can abuse it in two ways: by exploiting a child for their own selfish interests, and by practicing favoritism among their children. Parents also can be unfair to children by neglecting them.
a) There are special reasons to be fair to children. While serious unfairness to anyone is a grave matter, even slight unfairness in dealing with one’s children is likely to be serious, since it has especially bad consequences. Children treated unfairly by their parents are likely to take this as a lesson to treat others unfairly. Moreover, they will not have the experience they need to conceive of God as a loving and faithful Father.
b) Parents should be fair between themselves and their children. Parents should not use a child to serve their own interests. While they sometimes do this in gross ways, such as by making children do heavy work or submit to incest, more often it happens in subtle, psychological ways, for example, by expecting children to compensate for parental failings and defects, by taking out hostilities on them, and so on. A deplorably common form of parental unfairness is arbitrary and harsh treatment of guiltless, but naughty and annoying, small children, motivated by negative parental feelings, unshaped by reason and unrestrained by love—which, perhaps, is absent.
Sometimes parents rightly prefer what immediately benefits them to what immediately benefits their children. That is so when, but only when, the child would choose the same thing, supposing he or she could reason and chose rightly. For example, parents of a large and poor family, having met their children’s essential needs, rightly prefer an adequate diet and medical care for themselves to some of the advantages for their children—say, music lessons and summer camp—which more affluent parents can and should provide for theirs.
But if the parents’ interests conflict with needs of the child which the child would reasonably put first, the parents, for the sake of their own fulfillment as good parents, must sacrifice their interests.
c) Parents should not practice favoritism among their children. Many things can tempt parents to practice favoritism, but, whatever the motive, they should not.247 If their resources for parenting—time, energy, and material means—are sufficient, they should try to give each child an equal share. This does not mean treating all the children alike, since children’s needs and gifts differ; on the contrary, using equal portions of resources for the children often will result in treating each differently. Also, if parents with limited resources have a child whose extraordinary needs or gifts call for a larger portion, they can fairly depart from strict equality, provided they can honestly say they would do the same no matter which of their children received the advantage.
Factors that could lead to unfairness in dividing resources often are relevant to the question of how to use them. For instance, while it is wrong to do more or less for children depending on their sexes, it is not wrong to provide them with suitably different educational opportunities depending on sex (see GE 8). Again, while parents should not do less for a child who behaves badly, they should provide a well-behaved child with opportunities a badly-behaved child would waste, and should use the latter’s fair share of available resources in efforts to overcome the causes of the bad behavior.
Of course, it is hard to allocate equal shares to different children, since most family resources vary over time and some, such as parental time and energy, are hard to measure. Parents need only try to do the best they can. Moreover, if their resources increase over time, they need not try to compensate, after the children are grown, for unavoidable differences while they were being raised. Parents who are fair in each decision they make while raising their children do not owe any child special treatment as an adult.
d) Parents should not neglect their children. In becoming a parent, one assumes a very extensive responsibility: to do everything in one’s power, consistent with meeting other grave moral responsibilities, to see to it that all of the child’s genuine needs are met, until he or she is able to meet these needs without parental action. Genuine needs refers to much more than what is essential for survival (see 10.E.b); it includes everything necessary for psychological health and normal development in every respect.
Failure to fulfill this responsibility is neglect, whether or not that failure falls under the legal concept of child neglect. Such neglect is in itself a grave matter—a serious injustice—though it admits of parvity, for example, if generally conscientious parents occasionally fall short in small ways.
Since parents are primarily responsible for raising children, they must exercise authority. In doing so properly, they share in the authority of God the Father and help children to learn how wise it is to obey his loving plan for their lives. They should always be gentle and never arbitrary: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6.4; cf. Col 3.21).
Nurture, training, and education require different methods. Since neither nurture nor training appeals to the child’s intelligence and freedom, neither involves the use of authority in the strict sense, which always is a matter of making decisions to shape properly human actions. Parental authority in the strict sense therefore extends only to supplying for children’s inability to judge for themselves what they should do.
In a wider sense, however, all initiative by parents in raising children can be considered an exercise of their authority. Moreover, parents exercise authority over the family as a community, so that even adult children living at home should obey their parents’ reasonable decisions in matters affecting the whole family.
a) Parents should exercise their authority, not abdicate it. Because egalitarian ideology denigrates authority in general and consumerist culture encourages children to be insubordinate, many parents in the affluent Western nations are reluctant to exercise authority. Moreover, easily tempted by laziness and cowardice to abdicate their authority, and often feeling little discomfort or distress in the face of their children’s self-centeredness, laziness, self-indulgence, or cowardice, parents frequently ignore, or even nurture, their children’s moral weaknesses, rather than challenging them to behave better and develop strength of character. A child makes things difficult, the parents give in; a child argues that other children are allowed to do something, the parents compromise. And while wisely accepted advice can help parents make their own judgments, too often they unquestioningly accept the judgments of priests, teachers, and others about what children should do, or even uncritically take advice from psychologists and other so-called experts whose world views may not be consonant with Christian faith. In behaving like this, parents fail to fulfill their responsibility. Instead of using their authority as necessary to promote their children’s true good, they neglect to use it, or even abuse it, to suit their own comfort and convenience.
b) Parental authority should serve children’s true fulfillment. While parents are responsible for their children’s nurture and training, they can exercise authority strictly so-called only in regard to education, where children cooperate in their own upbringing. Like any other, the authority of parents is not simply power; and although parents plainly can abuse and exploit children, they exercise no authority whatsoever in doing so. Like all other authority, parental authority is rooted in a common good. But the common good here is unusual, since the child is subject to parental authority in the strict sense just insofar as he or she is still incompletely separated from the parents. Therefore, the common good of parent and child as such, as distinct from their common good as members of the community of the family, is the child’s good considered insofar as it also perfects the parent precisely as parent. In other words, in exercising parental authority in the strict sense, a mother and a father rightly seek only one thing for themselves: the fulfillment of becoming and being a good mother and a good father.
Since raising children involves separating them from their parental source, parents in educating should direct children only to the extent they cannot direct themselves. In doing this, parents should assume that their children would judge reasonably and choose rightly, if they could. Consequently, they should not lead a child to pursue his or her own self-interest, narrowly or selfishly conceived, since that harms the child. Rather, they should try to lead the child to do what is reasonable and good, which includes the generosity and unselfishness characteristic of good family members, thoughtful neighbors, and so on. Indeed, one of the best ways for parents to exercise their authority is by including children in family projects and encouraging them, from an early age, to contribute actively to the family’s well-being.
c) Nurture and education set the proper standards for training. Training is the use of technique to shape children without their free cooperation. Although some training is legitimate, children are persons, not things, and so its use must be limited. In overstepping the limits and trying to shape a child as a person in accord with their own preferences, parents treat the child as no more than a product.
Training can serve nurture by establishing safe and healthy patterns of behavior; and parents should not prefer their own convenience and their satisfaction in a child’s rapid progress to what is really safe and healthy. Training serves education in a more complex way, by establishing patterns of behavior that develop a child’s capacities and enable him or her to experience goods which later will motivate human actions.
Training sometimes must use conditioning by sensory rewards and punishments arbitrarily connected to satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance. For example, small children can be rewarded by being given certain toys to play with for a brief time when they have behaved well; light spanking may be used as a punishment. Such motivations should serve training’s legitimate purposes and not be used merely to control the child’s behavior here and now. Moreover, an attempt at training should not be extended to behavior which a child could and should, but will not, perform as an act of responsible obedience. Thus, it is hard to see any justification for corporally punishing children whose misbehavior seems to stem from a free choice to disobey, that is, to reject a directive of parental authority, strictly so-called. (Rather than punishment by sensory pain, such wrongdoing calls for punishment which brings home to the child the badness of wrongdoing both in itself and by virtue of the effects that naturally flow from it.)
d) Parents should exercise control by providing suitable means. To some extent, parents can channel children’s behavior by controlling their environment. Since inactivity is boring and intolerable for children, parents should provide them with the means appropriate for good actions while depriving them of means for bad actions. To some extent, all parents follow this principle—for example, giving babies safe rattles and taking away small objects they might choke on—but it should be followed systematically.
When children begin to reason and make choices, parents should continue to try to control their environment; but as they develop this becomes less effective in channeling their behavior, since they often can find ways of doing whatever they wish and always can abuse the means which their parents provide for doing good actions. Even so, until children become entirely independent, able to make their way without parental support, parents bear some responsibility in this matter. They should know how the means they provide their children are to be used and should not facilitate anything they judge wrong.
e) Parental authority presupposes love and reasonableness. Parental authority in the strict sense arises from parents’ responsibility for their child’s well-being and their superior ability to make judgments in his or her true interests. If parents love their children and treat them unselfishly and with consistent reasonableness, the children soon come to realize that parents generally do know best: it is good to follow their judgment and foolish to disobey. So, until their ability to reason practically is fully developed, children of good parents are aware that they should obey them and other adults who share their authority. This recognition of authority harmoniously complements a more elementary motivation which children who are well cared for develop in infancy: an awareness of dependence and a bond of affection, inclining them to enjoy giving pleasure to their parents and to fear displeasing them.
Nevertheless, even when good parents exercise authority properly, children can choose to disobey. Parents simply cannot make good choices for their children.
f) Parents should help children engage in human acts. Adults of normal intelligence can engage in practical reasoning, beginning from principles they understand or accept from some credible authority, and ending with judgments of conscience, which they then can freely choose to follow or violate. That ability is called “the use of reason.” Small children do not have it; they develop it gradually, with respect to simple matters before more complicated ones. Therefore, for many years parents must supply children with more or less of the practical reasoning they need. In doing this, they naturally and rightly try to lead their children to do what they think is right and appropriate.
Sometimes the parent must do all the practical reasoning to reach the precise judgment regarding what the child should do and not do. But often, especially as children grow older, the parent need only work out the reasoning and present it, to help children understand what is right. It may even be sufficient to call attention to something relevant by raising a question. Since the long-range goal is that the child gain and rightly exercise full responsibility, the parent should supply only as much as necessary; hence, Vatican II teaches that “children and young people have the right to be stimulated to appraise moral values with right conscience and embrace them with personal commitment, and to know and love God more perfectly” (GE 1).
Therefore, in guiding a child’s action, a parent should call attention to as much of the relevant sound motivation as the child can understand. When he or she cannot understand all the reasons, the parent should point to those elements the child can grasp. For example, one may appeal to sensible motives which really are part of the reasonable motivation of the act: “You should take this bitter medicine because it will make you feel better.”
Parents should not appeal to authority as a motivation unless other motives are entirely beyond the children’s understanding. Those who prefer the simplicity of authority to the complexity of explanation are shirking their duty to help their children grow in responsibility. Good parents are patient and careful in responding to children’s “Why should I?” They are very reluctant to answer, “Because I said so.”
Even when very small, a child should be allowed to choose between entirely acceptable alternatives identified by the parent, for example, between having chocolate or vanilla ice cream. The same principle also should be followed with regard to important matters such as vocation. Children may need help in reflecting on such matters and identifying possibilities to be considered, but parents should not try to practice discernment for them.
g) Parental authority is limited by the child’s true good. Parents have no authority to require children to serve parental interests unless that really is beneficial to the children themselves. For example, parents may not require a child to work around the house except insofar as the work is the child’s fair contribution to the family’s common good, and so perfects the child as a responsible family member. If more work than that is required, the parents are exploiting the child; and if it harms the child’s health or displaces other things he or she should be doing, the injustice is grave. Exploitative parents usually try to motivate a child by appealing to their authority and the child’s dependence and affection. Unjust in itself, that also undermines parental authority, so that the child no longer has an adequate motive for accepting whatever sound guidance the parents offer.
h) Parents should appeal only to appropriate motives. Parents sometimes arbitrarily attach rewards and punishments to children’s actions in order to motivate their obedience: “If you do well in school this year, next summer we will reward you with that trip you want to take.” That is wrong, for by motivating children in this way, parents teach them to act simply to get what they happen to want, rather than on the basis of reason and sound discernment, in accord with their personal vocation. Plainly, too, if what is promised or threatened is not good for the child, it should not be done; whereas if it is good for the child and suitable for the parent to do, it should not be made contingent on irrelevant aspects of the child’s behavior.
This mistake must be distinguished from other, legitimate uses of parental authority. Parents rightly insist on intrinsic connections—as distinct from arbitrarily attached rewards and punishments—and require children to organize their activities in a reasonable way: “You may not have dessert if you do not eat your vegetables,” “You may not go out to play until you finish your homework.” Again, parents rightly link a child’s direct contributions to the family’s common good with some direct benefit he or she receives from the family: “You must do your chores to obtain your allowance.” Parents also rightly impose punishments of the sort chosen by self-disciplined people as ascetical practices: “Yesterday you rode your bicycle where it is too dangerous; so, today you may not take it out.” Then too, in relating to their children not as authorities but as friends, parents rightly provide optional treats, which they also may promise under some condition, just as friends do: “When you pass your exams, I’ll treat you to dinner and the theater!” Finally, parents should praise children for their good acts, honor their accomplishments, and offer them tokens of recognition, provided these are kept in their proper place and not enlarged to the point of being a principal motive for children’s action.
i) Parental authority ends when children can reason for themselves. Eventually a child can do all of his or her own practical reasoning, and can rightly judge that mother and father do not always know best. As friends, parents still should offer advice they consider helpful; and in advanced cultures, the child still will need parental support, perhaps for many years (though the parents should judge for themselves whether the support a child desires will be in his or her true interests). Beyond this residue of parental authority, however, parents should deal with their conflicts with an autonomously functioning child in the same way as with marital troubles (see below, H.1).
The relationship which mature children who continue to live at home have with their parents is similar to that of other members of the extended family—a grandparent, uncle, or aunt—who may live there. The heads of the household rightly provide the direction required for its smooth functioning, and others should comply. But such direction is specifically distinct from parental authority.
Since Christian parents should raise their children to be good Christians, they should take special care with religious formation, and should personally attend to it at every stage.248 The sacrament of marriage consecrates Catholic parents for this work, a ministry of the Church directed toward building up her new members. In particular, parents fulfill this ministry by the example they give of following the way of Jesus: “By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are, through the witness of their lives, the first heralds of the Gospel for their children.”249
a) Parents should not delay religious formation. Some people argue that religious formation violates a child’s autonomy and religious liberty: it is wrong, they say, for parents to indoctrinate a child with their personal religious beliefs; instead, the child should be allowed to make an unhampered choice about religion when he or she is old enough.
This view is contrary to the basic principles of parenting. Good parents naturally do their best to communicate to their children every good they themselves enjoy. But parents who do not raise their children in the faith not only deprive them of an important part of their Christian lives but leave them vulnerable to the secular humanism permeating contemporary culture. One therefore suspects that those who urge parental abstention from religious formation simply do not put a high value on religious faith and practice or even take a negative view of them.
Considered on its own terms, the argument against religious formation also fails. In bringing a child up to be a good Catholic, parents do not violate his or her autonomy; rather, they help the child enjoy the freedom of God’s children from sin’s consequences, which dreadfully burden people who lack faith and the sacraments.250 Nor does religious formation violate religious liberty. To be sure, that liberty excludes coercive interference in anyone’s religious quest and religious practice; but parents who provide religious formation, far from coercing their child, are doing what they can to initiate his or her personal religious quest and practice.
Of course, in this matter as in others, when children are ready to assume their own responsibility, parents should respect their right to do so, while providing good advice and encouragement, and hoping and praying for the best, but never resorting to coercion.
b) Children should be baptized within the first weeks of life. Since baptism is necessary for salvation, parents should arrange to have a child who is in danger of death baptized at once or should do it themselves. Otherwise, they should arrange for baptism within the first few weeks.251
In naming the child, the parents should confer with the pastor who will baptize him or her and should avoid any name that offends Christian sensibilities.252 While the name need not be that of a saint, parents should consider the benefit to the child of bearing the name of a saint who will be his or her patron. In this matter, too, as in all the rest of their parenting, parents should give priority to what will be in the child’s interests, and think about how names are used and abused, not least during the school years.
The parents ordinarily should choose as godparents two practicing Catholics, a man and a woman, who are at least sixteen and who have made their first Communion and been confirmed. One qualified Catholic is sufficient, however, and, together with a Catholic sponsor, a non-Catholic Christian can serve as a witness, though not strictly speaking as a sponsor.253 Godparents should not be selected for their potential as gift givers or on trivial social considerations, but in light of their willingness and ability to “help the baptized to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism, and to fulfill faithfully the obligations connected with it.”254
c) Parents should provide religious formation for preschool children. Parents should begin religious formation while the child is still a baby and should continue it, mainly by their own personal efforts, during all the preschool years. The home should be enriched with concrete expressions of faith—objects such as statues and sacramentals, actions such as prayers and hymns—so that these will be among the first things of which the baby becomes aware. As soon as the child begins to respond to the parents’ efforts to communicate, they should begin to communicate religious truths about Jesus along with other important truths. They not only should pray for their small children but, as soon as possible, encourage them to join in simple family prayers.
As a child grows, parents should give more extensive religious instruction in keeping with his or her capacity. They should take seriously any religious and moral question which the child asks, and should answer it with care. They should encourage the child to pray alone as well as with the family, and should suggest things to pray for, following the usual principle of directing what the child would wish to do if he or she were self-directing, for example, “Keep me safe, and help Mama and Daddy to be better parents.”255
Blessings are sacramentals of a special and important kind. The Book of Blessings includes many blessings which lay persons can administer. Parents should make good and regular use of some of these, especially in blessing their own children and saying grace before and after meals. When a priest or deacon visits the home, he should be invited to administer some appropriate blessing.
At least occasionally, children should be taken to Mass even when they are small. Parents should use the opportunity for catechesis by explaining what goes on at church. With good parental instruction and example, children quickly learn to love the Eucharist and wish to participate. While being considerate of others in the congregation, parents should not be inhibited by the fact that, because of their short attention span, even children who wish to attend Mass sometimes misbehave and cause distractions.256
d) First confession should precede first Communion. The Church’s law is that children should be prepared for first Communion and should receive it as soon as possible after they begin to reason, that is, around seven years of age. This reception should be “preceded by sacramental confession.”257 Bringing children to the sacrament of penance before first Communion is a sound practice. St. Paul’s precept—one should examine oneself before receiving the Eucharist (see 1 Cor 11.28)—applies even to children. For even though some people argue that small children never commit mortal sins and so do not need the sacrament of penance, small children certainly do commit venial sins.258 Preparing for and receiving the sacrament of penance will awaken their consciences and help them examine themselves, correctly evaluate the moral significance of whatever troubles them, and so receive Jesus with the greatest possible purity and peace of heart.
Children who begin to receive the sacrament early will be inclined to receive it when appropriate throughout their lives. If they do not begin before first Communion, however, some will not go to confession during their entire childhood, and that will be a formidable obstacle to their eventually doing so, even if absolutely necessary, when adolescents and adults.259
e) Parents bear the chief responsibility in this matter. Parents have the right and responsibility to see to it that their children are adequately prepared for the sacraments and are introduced to them when they should be.260 They should begin fulfilling this responsibility when the children are very small, by providing an example of devout and frequent reception of the sacraments. Well in advance of formal preparation for the sacrament of penance, they should teach their children to examine their consciences, repent sins, and ask Jesus for forgiveness. They also should provide a model of repentance and reconciliation in their own marital relationship.
When the time comes for formal sacramental preparation, parents are entitled to seek help and to look for suitable confessors for their children, whether in their own parish or elsewhere. A suitable confessor is faithful to the Church’s moral teaching and able to communicate it to children in a way they can grasp. Taking into account both the reality and the limits of children’s moral responsibility, a priest of this sort tries to take children’s sins as seriously as God does and help them understand just how seriously that is, which may well be less than they think.
Of course, if a child were prepared and encouraged to receive the sacrament of penance but were unwilling to do so, it would be wrong to prevent him or her from receiving first Communion when ready. This is hardly likely to happen, however, if parents, pastors, and catechists proceed according to the spirit of the Church’s law.
f) Parents must arrange systematic instruction in faith and morals. For religious formation to succeed, parents must initiate it during the preschool years and continue it in the home even after children are in school. Besides providing informal catechesis, however, they should see to it that their children receive a thorough and sound formal catechesis in all the essential elements of Catholic faith and life. This requires a planned, organized program of instruction throughout the school years. While some parishes provide sound programs, whether in parish schools or otherwise, in others either there is no program or it is unsound. Parents then should seek other means: a sound program elsewhere or regular, systematic home instruction using sound materials.
Of course, in judging the soundness of any program, parents should recognize their own limitations and not jump to conclusions. If need be, they should seek advice from someone faithful to the Church’s teaching and competent in theology and catechetics. But even then, they should not abdicate their responsibility before God and their duty to judge which of the acceptable catechetical programs should be used in instructing their children; only they can judge which will best complement their own efforts.
The judgment of the parents should prevail in this matter, because the principle of subsidiarity (see 6.E.5.c) applies: pastors and catechists should help parents, not replace them, in the work of religiously forming children.
g) Parents should prepare children for confirmation and apostolate. Children are confirmed at somewhat different ages in different dioceses. Parents nevertheless should see to it that their children are prepared for confirmation and receive it at the appropriate time.261 They also should prepare for and/or follow up on this sacrament by guiding the children’s thinking about vocation. Even if confirmation is administered toward the end of the grammar school years or later, parents should begin speaking about vocation soon after the children make their first Communion. In this way, they will be well prepared for confirmation, which will strengthen them to commit themselves to the various elements of their vocation and to carry out such commitments (see 2.B.4, above, and CMP, 31.D).
In developing the idea of vocation, parents should help children see as clearly and richly as possible the connections between their particular good choices and their Christian hope for the kingdom’s coming and their personal share in it. They should teach children that whatever good they do has a value which goes beyond this world, while it is literally and utterly hopeless to waste this life seeking possessions, pleasure, and status.
As early as possible, too, parents should begin to tell children of their duty to help Jesus with his work of bringing the good news to all people and building up his kingdom, and to point out that each will have his or her own unique opportunities and ways of doing this. As children grow, this elementary concept of personal vocation should be developed. John XXIII teaches:
Please carry on with your mission tirelessly and especially try to instill in youngsters from their earliest years—this is an area in which your apostolate can be particularly effective—a deep conviction that life is not just a lark, not just some kind of aimless wandering, not a search for some passing success and even less for easy money; instead, it means daily dedication of oneself; it means serving one’s neighbor; it means a spirit of sacrifice applied to the hard work of a conquest that is always going on. This is the right way: and not the one that is sometimes suggested and urged by a mentality that deforms consciences and offers them a distorted view of reality.
Children should be helped to understand not only their gifts and limitations but also the needs and opportunities of the Church and the world. They also should be encouraged to pray for discernment, so that in due time they will discern and commit themselves to their personal vocations. Parents should explain Jesus’ counsels about poverty, chastity, and obedience, pointing out that, for those with the necessary gifts, life according to the counsels or in priestly celibacy for the kingdom’s sake is preferable to marriage.
You must also teach them that a person will enjoy true joy and peace of mind only if he lives up to his obligations generously and develops to their fullest the talents that God has hidden away in the mind and heart of each and every individual; you must make them realize that looking upon life as a vocation and living it in the light of that awareness is the one thing that will bring them the greatest satisfaction as well as being the secret of interior peace and of edification of neighbor.262
h) Parents should respect children’s vocational discernment. Parents should not press their children to choose one vocation or another; that requires discernment, and everyone must do his or her own discerning (see GS 52).263 Still, parents can and should help their children understand their vocational options (see AA 11), and should use their judgment about whether to permit young children to take definite steps toward one or another vocation. For example, if convinced that an underage child is not ready, parents should forbid him or her to marry or enter a religious community. Similarly, when a child in grammar school or high school has the option of choosing, subject to parental approval, between different programs and courses, parents should approve or disapprove particular choices based on their own judgment regarding the child’s gifts and probable vocation. As usual, though, the child should be allowed to make his or her own choices among possibilities which the parents deem acceptable.
i) Even in religious matters, parental authority has limits. At what age should a child’s personal choices be respected in religious matters, such as Mass attendance? There is no single answer, but several things can be said.
First, children are never too old to be exhorted and admonished to fulfill their religious and other responsibilities.
Second, a preadolescent child’s whimsical refusal to go to Mass with the family should be dealt with for what it is, not treated as an exercise of mature free choice.
Third, just as public officials may restrict or prevent outward religious behavior that disrupts public order (see DH 7), so parents may take appropriate steps to deal with the outward religious behavior of anyone in the household if it disrupts the whole household or the rights of any of its members. Deliberately missing Mass, however, even if it involves refusing to go to Mass with the family, is not disruptive behavior and it does not violate the rights of other family members. When such a failure or refusal to worship carries out a free choice of a kind that could be either a mortal sin or in accord with an erroneous conscience, no human power has the right to coerce anyone (see DH 2). Moreover, parents should realize that coercion in such a case, at best, will elicit only temporary and religiously meaningless outward conformity and, at worst, will provoke lasting resentment.
Raising children includes many other specific elements besides religious formation. Most present no moral problem for parents with a sound general understanding of their responsibilities. Here only a few matters are treated about which parents are likely to have moral questions.
a) Parents should teach children the true value of material goods. As explained above, as long as children depend on their parents, the latter can and should judge what to provide so that the children will become good people and good Christians. Knowing that some means are likely to be used badly and others well, good parents act accordingly. Catholic parents should consider means in the light of faith and pay careful attention to every aspect of their moral impact: “Children must grow up with a correct attitude of freedom with regard to material goods, by adopting a simple and austere life style and being fully convinced that ‘man is more precious for what he is than for what he has’ (GS 35).”264
Often, for instance, children, lured by skillful advertisements, want toys and games which seem innocent but neither develop their capacities, nor exercise them in a healthy way, nor promote sociability.265 Though tempted to provide such playthings simply to keep children occupied and out of physical danger, parents should not give in to demands for such things, which not only displace more worthwhile activities and waste resources but teach false values, for instance, that being entertained or having what others have is good in itself.266 Instead, they should provide toys and games which will promote activities that benefit children while displacing not only obviously harmful but even seemingly harmless activities that do nothing better than keep them busy.
But even though the toy industry, like other aspects of culture, often does not serve children’s true needs, are not parents better advised to provide the toys and games children want as long as they are not harmful, inasmuch as the practical alternative is that they feel deprived, become resentful, and sneak off to play at the homes of friends better supplied with popular items? No; for if parents use their ingenuity and persist in teaching sound values, children learn that beneficial activities are interesting and enjoyable.
However, the objection does point up something treated previously (E.8.j): conscientious parents need to seek or develop a wider community in which to live and raise children. In the midst of an alien culture, it is virtually impossible to bring children up as Christians if, for most of their time and from their tenderest years, they are fully immersed in its greediness and wastefulness.
b) Parents should teach children the right use of the media. The media of communication which parents allow in the home, and whose use outside the home should be a matter of parental guidance (see IM 10), are of very great importance in forming children. Excessive use of the media for passive entertainment displaces conversation and other activities, such as reading and handicrafts, and so stunts children’s development.267 Moreover, much of the content of television, radio, the cinema, popular music, and the print media is likely to have bad effects on children. The problem is not limited to elements patently immoral because they arouse lust and/or fascinate by representing brutality and violence. Sex and violence aside, much media content is objectionable because it conveys the secular world view and implicitly teaches that human happiness lies in possessions, status, success, and enjoyment. John Paul II teaches:
It is wise to be alert to the growing influence which the mass media, and especially television, are exercising on the developing minds of the young, particularly as regards their vision of man, of the world and of relationships with others; for the vision furnished them by the media often differs profoundly from that which the family would wish to transmit to them. Parents, in many cases, do not show sufficient concern about this. Generally they pay vigilant attention to the type of friends with whom their children associate, but do not exercise a similar vigilance regarding the ideas which the radio, the television, records, papers and comics carry into the “protected” and “safe” intimacy of their homes.268
Motion pictures and television have a special power and significance. Easily accessible and delightful in various ways, they provide a sense of immediacy, render viewers rather passive, and communicate much by suggestion, so that they bypass critical reflection.269 Parents should exercise very tight control of small children’s access to the media, for example, by making television available only for certain programs they judge beneficial for the children. Often, to accomplish this, they will have to protect younger children from experiences they rightly allow to older ones, and sometimes they will have to forgo entertainment which would be harmless to themselves.
As soon as possible, parents must begin teaching children to use the media moderately and to discriminate among the things the media provide. Instead of allowing children to accept media content passively, they should make it a subject for conversation and a means for education: for example, by pointing out the more and less satisfactory aspects of the media content which they permit the children to experience. In sampling promising new media content, parents should encourage growing children to apply standards critically, so that they will learn early to make their own sound choices.270
But no single family can censor everything the media present, and families therefore should cooperate in sharing information about their experiences and evaluations. They also should urge the bishops of the country to provide a sound, well-organized, and well-publicized service for rating the content of all the media for various age groups.
c) Parents should prefer a Catholic school if it is sound. Sound Catholic schools are a great help to parents in fulfilling their responsibilities regarding their children’s religious formation and moral education. In such schools, moreover, other elements of formal education are correctly related to religion. The Church’s law therefore directs parents to send their children to Catholic schools if they can.271 But since the law’s underlying intent is that parents fulfill their responsibility for the sound formation of their children, epikeia not only permits but requires them to avoid unsound Catholic schools if they can fulfill their responsibility more adequately in some other way (on epikeia, see CMP, 11.E.10, 11.G.6).
Of course, that is not so easy as might be thought. A secular school not only communicates some bad specific content and the secular world view, but may denigrate religion by treating it as not worth studying. Often, too, Catholic children in such a school have few if any companions who share their faith and way of life. Thus, secular schooling often succeeds in secularizing Catholic children or, at least, in convincing them that religion is only a private matter of secondary importance in life.272
Parents without access to sound Catholic schools therefore face a hard choice. Some can undertake the task of formal education themselves, sometimes in cooperation with one or several other families, and many parents should consider this possibility. Taking under consideration all the possibilities and their own capacity to remedy the defects of each, parents should judge which approach is likely to be best for their children.
d) Parents should provide timely education in sexuality. Children should not be told everything about sexuality all at one time; instead, as with most other matters, some things must be explained repeatedly and in diverse ways as they mature. The most basic point to communicate is that children are secure in parental love; parents also should manifest and teach great reverence for persons in their bodiliness. But, as is true in everything else, when a child of whatever age asks a question about sex, parents should answer honestly, not indulge in evasions or falsehoods: “Especially in the heart of their own families, young people should be aptly and seasonably instructed about the dignity, vocation, and exercise of married love” (GS 49). But parents need not and should not tell their children more than they can understand.
By the time children go to school, their parents should have taught them how to recognize and resist various improper advances they may encounter. A twelve-year-old child of average intelligence can understand, and should be told, why marital intercourse is good and sexual acts outside marriage are bad. As a child reaches puberty, parents should explain personally what sexual differentiation and sexual desire are, how sexual intercourse is carried out, and its possible consequences. Girls should be taught about menstruation and boys about nocturnal emissions before they experience them. Pius XII, addressing mothers, teaches:
With the discretion of a mother and a teacher, and thanks to the open-hearted confidence with which you have been able to inspire your children, you will not fail to watch for and to discern the moment in which certain unspoken questions have occurred to their minds and are troubling their senses. It will then be your duty to your daughters, the father’s duty to your sons, carefully and delicately to unveil the truth as far as it appears necessary, to give a prudent, true, and Christian answer to those questions, and set their minds at rest. If imparted by the lips of Christian parents, at the proper time, in the proper measure and with the proper precautions, the revelation of the mysterious and marvelous laws of life will be received by them with reverence and gratitude, and will enlighten their minds with far less danger than if they learned them haphazard, from some unpleasant shock, from secret conversations, through information received from over-sophisticated companions, or from clandestine reading, the more dangerous and pernicious as secrecy inflames the imagination and troubles the senses.273
The point is that a child needs to know how to respond to sexual desire when he or she experiences it. Parents therefore should explain to children reaching puberty the sacredness of sex, the wrongness of masturbation and premarital sexual intercourse, the goodness of self-control, and the ways of dealing with temptation. This parental instruction should continue throughout adolescence.274
As John Paul II teaches, education in sexuality offered in schools should complement sound parental instruction, not conflict with it:
Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents.275
Sometimes sound elements of sexual education are included in religious-formation programs and in courses in other fields, such as science or hygiene. Often, though, conscientious parents find real defects in programs of sexual education, such as imprudent timing and administrative arrangements, the unnecessary use of erotically arousing materials, erroneous teaching, and bad moral advice. In such cases, they should try to see to it that the defects are eliminated, or else should arrange for their child to be exempted from participating. Teachers and school administrators should recognize that parental judgment takes priority over theirs and respect that judgment, since their proper role is to serve as the parents’ helpers.
Still, parents should not focus so much attention on one issue that they overlook or tolerate other questionable aspects of their children’s formal education. Rather, they should fulfill their personal responsibility to give sexual education to their child, pay careful attention to what he or she is being taught by others, and do what they can to prevent or remedy the harm done by unsound teaching.
e) Parents should monitor children’s hobbies and friends. Children need recreation, hobbies, and friends, and the three tend to go together. It is often the case that parents can responsibly allow a child considerable freedom, even autonomy, in these matters before many others. Doing so is important in order that the child can begin to develop personal interests, discover and try out his or her unique gifts, make personal friends, and so on.
Sometimes, though, parents who are conscientious about religious formation and formal education are too permissive about their child’s recreation, hobbies, and friends. Aware of something definitely harmful, they are quick to intervene; but they also should be alert to subtle harms. For example, friends convey their families’ values, which may not be good ones, and some hobbies and recreations can lead children to be overcompetitive, exclusively concerned with attaining goals, enamored of possessions, or absorbed in gaining status. At the same time, parents should respond affirmatively to all of a child’s wholesome interests, not disdaining any, even if they seem rather insignificant, since any wholesome interest is an aspect of a child’s development.
f) Parents should try to find or form a suitable community. Since a hostile social environment makes it far more difficult for parents to fulfill their responsibilities, they should try, if possible, to raise their children in a community friendly to their faith. It need not be entirely Catholic, not even entirely Christian, but it must be made up predominantly of faithful Christians or others committed to living their faith and handing it on to their children. In such a community, people with faith will set the trends in children’s and young people’s activities, and will greatly influence what goes on in school. Some parents can find a suitable community and sacrifice other things to move into it; others can build up such a community or, at least, some elements of one. In any case, when weighing options about where to live, parents should give very high priority to this factor.
218. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 14, AAS 74 (1982) 96, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 3.
219. Pius XII, Address to Newlyweds (5 Mar. 1941); Discorsi e radiomessaggi 3 (1941–42): 7; Papal Teachings: Matrimony, 322, teaches: “It will depend on you also whether those ‘innocent souls, who know nothing’ (Dante, Purgatorio, 16.87) shall come to the threshold of life, whom the embrace of infinite Love desires to call from nothing to make of them one day his chosen companions in the eternal happiness of Heaven. But if, alas! they remain but magnificent images in God’s mind when they could have been rays of Sun that illuminates every man who comes into this world, they will forever be but lights extinguished by men’s cowardice and selfishness.”
220. John Paul II, Address to Participants in Congresses on the Family (7 Dec. 1981), 2, Inseg. 4.2 (1981) 857, OR, 18 Jan. 1982, 5. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 1, AAS 60 (1968) 481, PE, 277.1, uses the word munus, which means an office or gift, a vocation, a mission. On this word’s rich significance, see Janet E. Smith, “The Munus of Transmitting Human Life: A New Approach to Humanae Vitae,” Thomist 54 (1990): 385–427.
221. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 10, AAS 60 (1968) 488, PE, 277.10 (translation amended); cf. GS 51. Helpful discussions of NFP drawn from experience: Natural Family Planning: Nature’s Way–God’s Way, ed. Anthony Zimmerman, S.V.D. (Milwaukee: De Rance, 1980), 5–76.
222. See GS 50, 87; Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 10, AAS 60 (1968) 487, PE, 177.10. Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family, art. 3, EV 9 (1983–85) 474, OR, 28 Nov. 1983, 3, summarizes: “The spouses have the inalienable right to found a family and to decide on the spacing of births and the number of children to be born, taking into full consideration their duties towards themselves, their children already born, the family and society, in a just hierarchy of values and in accordance with the objective moral order which excludes recourse to contraception, sterilization and abortion.”
223. See the commendation of couples who have large families in GS 50 and in the address of Pius XII to which the Council refers in its n. 13 (n. 171 in Abbott).
224. Pius XII, Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives (29 Oct. 1951), AAS 43 (1951) 844–45, Catholic Mind 50 (1952): 56–57, teaches that a couple could rightly marry with the intention of limiting marital intercourse to infertile periods provided they have sufficient and sound moral grounds to avoid parenthood, and are willing to accept and raise any child they have despite their precautions.
225. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day, 2, AAS 80 (1988) 85–97, OR, 16 Mar. 1987, 4–6. On in vitro fertilization, see 5.D.4.c, above.
226. Sound and useful practical treatments of natural family planning: John Kippley and Sheila Kippley, The Art of Natural Family Planning, 3rd ed. (Cincinnati: Couple to Couple League, 1984); Evelyn Billings and Ann Westmore, The Billings Method: Controlling Fertility without Drugs or Devices (New York: Ballantine, 1983). On the scientific aspects of NFP, also see Natural Family Planning: Nature’s Way–God’s Way, ed. Zimmerman, 81–140.
227. Pius XII, Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives (29 Oct. 1951), AAS 43 (1951) 846, Catholic Mind 50 (1952): 57, teaches: “There are serious motives, such as those often mentioned in the so-called medical, eugenic, economic and social ‘indications,’ that can exempt for a long time, perhaps even for the whole duration of the marriage, from the positive and obligatory carrying out of the act.” Also see Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 16, AAS 60 (1968) 492, PE, 277.16.
228. John Paul II, Address to Participants in a Training Course on Natural Family Planning (10 Jan. 1992), 3; L’Osservatore Romano, It. ed., 11 Jan. 1992, 5; OR, 22 Jan. 1992, 2.
229. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 32, AAS 74 (1982) 120, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 7.
230. John Paul II, General Audience (10 Oct. 1984), 4, Inseg. 7.2 (1984) 846–7, OR, 15 Oct. 1984, 8.
231. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 21, AAS 60 (1968) 496, PE, 277.21.
232. John Paul II, General Audience (21 Nov. 1984), 3, Inseg. 7.2 (1984) 1258, OR, 26 Nov. 1984, 1, teaches: “Respect for the work of God contributes to seeing that the conjugal act does not become diminished and deprived of the interior meaning of married life as a whole—that it does not become a ‘habit’—and that there is expressed in it a sufficient fullness of personal and ethical content, and also of religious content, that is, veneration for the majesty of the Creator, the only and the ultimate depositary of the source of life, and for the spousal love of the Redeemer. All this creates and enlarges, so to speak, the interior space for the mutual freedom of the gift in which there is fully manifested the spousal meaning of masculinity and femininity. The obstacle to this freedom is presented by the interior constriction of concupiscence, directed to the other ‘I’ as an object of pleasure. Respect for what is created by God gives freedom from this constriction, it frees from all that reduces the other ‘I’ to a mere object: it strengthens the interior freedom of the gift.”
233. John Paul II, Address to Participants in a Course on “Responsible Parenthood” (1 Mar. 1984), 4, Inseg. 7.1 (1984) 582–83, OR, 2 Apr. 1984, 7; cf. John Paul II, Address to Participants in a Seminar on “Responsible Parenthood” (17 Sept. 1983), 4, Inseg. 6.2 (1983) 564, OR, 10 Oct. 1983, 7. For a fuller and very clear presentation of the relevant teaching on this matter, see Pius XII, Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives (29 Oct. 1951), AAS 43 (1951) 846–47, Catholic Mind 50 (1952): 58–59.
234. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 34, AAS 74 (1982) 123, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 7.
235. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 41, AAS 74 (1982) 133, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 9.
236. Pius XI, Divini illius Magistri, AAS 22 (1930) 83, PE, 206.94–95.
237. See Pius XII, Apostolic Exhortation to an International Congress of Teaching Sisters (13 Sept. 1951), AAS 43 (1951) 739–41, Catholic Mind 50 (1952): 376–78.
238. Two valuable works on the moral formation of children and adolescents: C. G. de Menasce, The Dynamics of Morality, trans. Bernard Bommarito (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961); David Isaacs, Character Building: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (Blackrock, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1984). Helpful booklets: James B. Stenson, Preparing for Peer Pressure: A Guide for Parents of Young Children (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Scepter, 1988); idem, Preparing for Adolescence: A Parents’ Guide (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Scepter, 1990).
239. A helpful booklet on the father’s responsibilities: James B. Stenson, Successful Fathers (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Scepter, 1989).
240. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 36, AAS 74 (1982) 126, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 8, explains the conciliar teaching: “The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.” The Church’s law also is very clear on this matter: CIC, c. 793, §1: “Parents as well as those who take their place are obliged and enjoy the right to educate their offspring; Catholic parents also have the duty and the right to select those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of the children according to local circumstances”; c. 1136: “Parents have the most serious duty and the primary right to do all in their power to see to the physical, social, cultural, moral and religious upbringing of their children.”
241. People’s recognition of this truth no doubt is one reason why many feel it right to leave the abortion decision to the pregnant woman. That solution to the problem, however, does not follow from the principle, partly because abortion bears on the unborn precisely insofar as they are alive and growing human individuals, in these respects distinct from their parents from fertilization onward (see 8.D.1), and partly because abortion is radically opposed to the parental role, which is to promote the development of the child to maturity and independence.
242. See Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 646–47, PE, 115.14; St. Thomas, S.t., 2–2, q. 10, a. 12, c. Some recent secular thinking challenges the role of parents by regarding children as entirely autonomous individuals; the effect of such thinking is to increase the involvement of civil society in intimate family matters. A criticism of such thinking in the interests of family intimacy: Ferdinand Schoeman, “Rights of Children, Rights of Parents, and the Moral Basis of the Family,” Ethics 91 (Oct. 1980): 6–19.
243. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 38, AAS 74 (1982) 129, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 8; cf. CIC, c. 1134.
244. Schools are among helps to parents in fulfilling the educational task which, as both right and duty, pertains primarily to parents. Thus, CIC, c. 796, §1, declares: “Among educational means the Christian faithful should greatly value schools, which are of principal assistance to parents in fulfilling their educational task” (emphasis added).
245. Pius XII, Address to Women of Catholic Action (26 Oct. 1941), AAS 33 (1941) 452–53, Clergy Review n.s. 22 (1942): 134, teaches that the upbringing of children in the first months and years is entrusted especially to mothers, and urges mothers to nurse babies unless it is practically impossible to do so. John Paul II, Meeting with Unemployed Youth at Willson Training Centre (Hobart), 4, Inseg. 9.2 (1986) 1688, OR, 9 Dec. 1986, 5, teaches: “Children need care, love and affection. This attention must be given if children are to develop into secure, responsible persons, with moral, religious and psychological maturity. While the responsibility for family development rests on both mother and father, still very much depends on the specific mother/child relationship (cf. Laborem Exercens, 19; Familiaris Consortio, 23).”
246. Even the adequacy of nurture, especially in its psychological aspects, is questionable: Bryce J. Christensen, “Day Care: Thalidomide of the 1980’s?” The Family in America, 1 (Nov. 1987), 1–8; Dwight P. Campbell, “Daycare as Child Neglect,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review 91 (Oct. 1990): 12–21.
247. Pius XII, Address to Women of Catholic Action (26 Oct. 1941), AAS 33 (1941) 457, Clergy Review n.s. 22 (Mar. 1942): 137–38, teaches: “The whole education of your children would be ruined were they to discover in their parents—and their eyes are sharp enough to see—any signs of favouritism, undue preferences or antipathies in regard to any of them. For your own good and for the good of the family it must be clear that, whether you use measured severity or give encouragement and caresses, you have an equal love for all, a love which makes no distinction save for the correction of evil or for the encouragement of good. Have you not received them all equally from God?”
248. CIC, c. 226, §2, prescribes: “Because they have given life to their children, parents have a most serious obligation and enjoy the right to educate them; therefore Christian parents are especially to care for the Christian education of their children according to the teaching handed on by the Church.” A study of many of the points treated in this section: Donald Martin Endebrock, The Parental Obligation to Care for the Religious Education of Children within the Home with Special Attention to the Training of the Pre-school Child (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955).
249. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 39, AAS 74 (1982) 131, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 8. CIC, c. 774, §2, prescribes: “Parents above others are obliged to form their children in the faith and practice of the Christian life by word and example; godparents and those who take the place of parents are bound by an equivalent obligation.”
250. For a fuller refutation of arguments against parental religious formation, see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Infant Baptism, AAS 72 (1980) 1137–56, Flannery, 2:103–17.
251. See CIC, c. 867.
252. C. 761 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law required that those who are baptized be given a “Christian name,” but CIC, c. 855, says only: “Parents, sponsors and the pastor are to see that a name foreign to a Christian mentality is not given.”
253. See CIC, cc. 873–74.
254. CIC, c. 872.
255. On the catechesis of infants, see John Paul II, Catechesi tradendae, 36, AAS 71 (1979) 1308, Flannery, 2:784–85. A helpful work on the religious education of children from ages three to six: Sofia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child, trans. Patricia M. Coulter and Julie M. Coulter (New York: Paulist Press, 1983).
256. On parents’ responsibility to initiate children into prayer and to take them to Mass when they wish to go, see Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on Children’s Masses, 10, AAS 66 (1974) 32–33, Flannery, 1:257.
257. CIC, c. 914. See Congregations for the Clergy and for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Sanctus Pontifex, AAS 65 (1973) 410, Flannery, 1:241; Congregations for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, and for the Clergy, Reply to a Query, AAS 69 (1977) 427, International Commission on English in the Liturgy, Documents on the Liturgy, 1963–1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1982), 990–91.
258. The argument that children of six or eight lack the sufficient reflection necessary for mortal sin is appealing, but does not prove its point beyond all reasonable doubt. It also overlooks the important possibility that even small children commit very serious venial sins in grave matter. A more ambitious argument against introducing children to the sacrament of penance rests on the assumption—sometimes bolstered by a misinterpretation of St. Thomas (S.t., 1–2, q. 89, a. 6)—that they cannot commit any sins at all until old enough to make a “fundamental option” and the claim that they do not make such an option until adolescence. Against this argument’s premises, see CMP, 16.D–E, 16.1.
259. See Congregations for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, and for the Clergy, In quibusdam Ecclesiae partibus (31 Mar. 1977), EV 6 (1977–79) 132–39, Documents on the Liturgy, 988–90. Some rationalize gross disobedience to the Church’s norms concerning preparing children for the sacrament of penance by saying that encouraging them to receive it leads them to form a bad self-image, gives them an overly negative experience of the life of faith, and so on. Such assertions are gratuitous, grounded neither in faith, nor in a sound philosophy of moral responsibility, nor in competent and sound psychology.
260. See CIC, c. 914.
261. See CIC, 890.
262. John XXIII, Address to the Second National Congress of the Children’s Association of Catholic Action (14 July 1961), Discorsi, messaggi, colloqui del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII, vol. 3 (Vatican City: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1962), 361; The Pope Speaks 7 (1961–62): 267–68; cf. John Paul II, Homily in Miraflores Park (Cuenca, Ecuador), 7–9, Inseg. 8.1 (1985) 309–11, OR, 11 Mar. 1985, 5–6.
263. CIC, c. 219, declares: “All the Christian faithful have the right to be free from any kind of coercion in choosing a state in life.”
264. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 37, AAS 74 (1982) 127, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 8.
265. See Eric Clark, The Want Makers: The World of Advertising: How They Make You Buy (New York: Viking, 1989), 185–201.
266. Paul VI, Address to the Eleventh Congress of the European Institute of Toys (7 May 1969), Inseg. 7 (1969) 953, OR, 15 May 1969, 2, teaches: “We likewise believe that it is Our duty to remind you that choice of toys has great pedagogical importance; luxury games establish certain habits, weapons develop aggressivity; others excite cruelty toward animals, and others again suggest dangerous attitudes. And everyone knows what influence has been exerted ever since ancient times by dice and cards.”
267. Marie Winn, The Plug-In Drug: Television, Children, and the Family (New York: Viking, 1977), provides evidence and cogent analysis supporting this point.
268. John Paul II, Message for World Communications Day (1 May 1980), Inseg. 3.1 (1980) 1042–43, OR, 19 May 1980, 11. Cf. Paul VI, Message for the World Day of Social Communications, AAS 70 (1978) 341–45, OR, 4 May 1978, 2, 12; Pius XI, Vigilanti cura, AAS 28 (1936) 254–57, PE, 217.16–26. A forceful, evangelical Protestant treatment of the problem: Donald E. Wildmon, The Home Invaders (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1985).
269. See Pius XII, Miranda prorsus, AAS 49 (1957) 800–803, PE, 260.152–66. Also see Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (New York: William Morrow, 1978), 192–260.
270. Pontifical Commission for the Instruments of Social Communication, Communio et progressio, 67, AAS 63 (1971) 618–19, Flannery, 1:316, teaches: “Parents and teachers should urge children to make their own choice even if the educators should reserve at times the final decision to themselves. And if they find themselves forced to disapprove of the way their children are using some aspect of the media, they must clearly explain the reasons for their objections. Persuasion works better than prohibition, and this is especially true in education.”
271. See CIC, c. 798; cf. GE 8. C. 796, §2, directs parents and teachers to cooperate closely with one another. Since the primacy of parental responsibility in educating children is emphasized in the Church’s teaching and law (several instances have been quoted or cited), c. 798 probably should not be interpreted as curtailing the freedom of parents to educate their children at home, provided they are able adequately to do so, even if they could send their children to satisfactory Catholic schools; see Edward N. Peters, Home Schooling and the New Code of Canon Law (Front Royal, Va.: Christendom College Press, 1988), 39–46.
272. Pius XII, Sertum laetitiae, AAS 31 (1939) 639 and 650, PE, 223.20, teaches: “We raise Our voice in strong, albeit paternal, complaint that in so many schools of your land [the United States] Christ often is despised or ignored, the explanation of the universe and mankind is forced within the narrow limits of materialism or of rationalism, and new educational systems are sought after which cannot but produce a sorrowful harvest in the intellectual and moral life of the nation.” DH 5, GE 6, and CIC, c. 797, assert the right of parents against civil society to a choice of schools in harmony with faith.
273. Pius XII, Address to Women of Catholic Action (26 Oct. 1941), AAS 33 (1941) 455–56, Clergy Review n.s. 22 (Mar. 1942): 136.
274. A sound and clear little book intended to help parents fulfill their responsibilities as sexual educators: H. Vernon Sattler, C.Ss.R., Challenging Children to Chastity: A Parental Guide (St. Louis: Central Bureau of the Catholic Central Verein of America, 1991). Parents also might find it helpful to obtain and study (or read and discuss with their children) a sound treatment of Catholic sexual morality written for adolescents, for example, Robert J. Fox, Charity, Morality, Sex, and Young People (Manassas, Va.: Trinity Communications, 1987).
275. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 37, AAS 74 (1982) 128, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 8. A clarification of parental responsibilities and standards for judging the quality of school programs: Congregation for Catholic Education, Educational Guidance in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education, EV 9 (1983–85) 420–56, OR, 5 Dec. 1983, 5–9.