Who Teaches Our Children?
Last Friday the Ordinary Synod on the Family concluded and released its document, or Relazione Finale. The document, currently available only in Italian, is causing some concerns. Sadly, we will have to wait until the document is translated into English to better understand its content. With such an important document, I question the decision to not publish it in the other major languages, especially in its release to the general public. This decision must have caused some difficulty for Synod Fathers who are not fluent in Italian, which may have affected their voting.
For the moment, I want to draw your attention to what I consider a problematic statement made in paragraph 58: “The family, while maintaining its primary space in education (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, No. 3), cannot be the only place for teaching sexuality.” (emphasis added)
This statement should have been rejected and replaced with one with more precise language on the role and duty of parents. Though the chapter in which this statement appears attempts to focus its concern primarily around the needs of the family and provide assistance to parents, the ambiguity on this crucial point leaves wide open the door to misinterpretation and abuse. That is why I am puzzled and concerned by the overwhelming endorsement given by the 265 eligible voters – 251 yes and 14 no.
Globally, families are confronted with state educational systems determined to impose their curricula of sex education and gender ideology while also endorsing homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, contraception, and abortion. Our children are being viciously attacked through these sex education programs, and parents have the right and moral responsibility to protect their children from such assaults. It is equally true that parents deserve absolutely clear support from the Church on this crucial point.
Pope Francis told parents during his pastoral visit to the Philippines to reject the “ideological colonization” coming from wealthy nations:
You were given a role to recognize the dangers to our families and protect them from new ideologies. There is an ideological colonization for which we have to be careful of those trying to destroy the family. Challenged by the redefinition of marriage and openness to life, as families we have to be very wise with the fortitude to this colonization, which will destroy the family. (Encounter with Families in the Philippines, January 2015)
The language of paragraph 58 of the Relatio does seem to contradict the Church’s clear teaching, which places the emphasis on the authority of parents to perform or carefully delegate and oversee the education of their children:
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 centers 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. (Familiaris Consortio, No. 37)
Considering the amount of pressure upon the Church to conform to secular language and ideologies, the Synod Fathers could have easily rebuffed this pressure by simply reaffirming Church teaching. They could have reemphasized Church documents like the Charter of the Rights of the Family – still not fully implemented – that address the duty and role of parents towards their children, as well as reiterate the obligation of the Church and State to respect and protect parents from intrusion and manipulation.
What does the Church mean when she proclaims that parents are the primary educators of their children? She means that parents teach their children from infancy, childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. She means that parents are the first in authority, in duty, and in ability to educate their children – to prepare them for this life but most importantly and primarily, to prepare them for eternal life.
Parents do not merely hold “a privileged place” among others in the education of children. The Church makes perfectly clear that parents who have conferred life on their children have an inalienable right to educate as highlighted in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
In the work of education, the family forms man in the fullness of his personal dignity according to all his dimensions, including the social dimension. The family, in fact, constitutes “a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society. (No. 238)
The right and duty of parents to educate their children 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. Parents have the duty and right to impart a religious education and moral formation to their children, a right the State cannot annul but which it must respect and promote. This is a primary right that the family may not neglect or delegate. (No. 239)
It is not just the secular sphere we should fear. The scandalous breakdown in Catholic education in the US and Europe has also incrementally undermined generations of Catholic families and young people through inadequate catechetical formation and dissent. This is why the statement in paragraph 58 is gravely concerning. We need the Church to be clear in its teaching on these crucial issues. If the Church sincerely wants to help parents and families, as well as strengthen the beauty of sacramental marriage, then a radical transformation toward orthodoxy must occur within the Church’s parochial schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, religious formation houses, and parish-based educational and sacramental programs. After all, this is where the majority of problems originates and festers.
The rationale given for the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods on the Family was to support the family in its vocation; instead, the faithful Christian family found itself in the middle of a debate between heterodox and orthodox teachings. Sadly, the Christian family, already marginalized and persecuted, finds itself not only being threatened by the wiles of the Culture of Death but wondering if the teaching of the Church remains secure.
As we await the full translation of the Relatio, let us thank God for the Church leaders who, in spite of pressure and intimidation during the Synod, courageously defended the family and its vocation. We must thank them and encourage them not give up this most important fight. Christian families faithfully living their vocation in Christ need encouragement, assistance, and protection; after all, they are the ones endangered. As Cardinal Dolan said during the Synod, faithful families are now a minority in need of special support. It seems that some in the Synod either forgot this reality or never knew it in the first place.
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing email@example.com.