Parental Privilege and Duty

Abuse and Neglect

Being called by God to the beautiful vocation of conjugal love and married life, spouses are usually also given by God the further call to parenthood. This vocation and state of life, as is well known, brings with it not only certain wonderful God-given privileges but also some serious obligations. For example, parents must lovingly protect, feed, clothe, and train their offspring. One of the most heinous sins and crimes is any kind of deliberate child abuse or neglect. However, physical neglect and abuse, horrible as it is, can be surpassed in wickedness by spiritual abuse and neglect. Caring for children's bodies as they grow and develop into adulthood must always be accompanied in Catholic families by even greater care for the spiritual growth of children and youth as they journey toward their earthly goals and then toward the ultimate purpose of human existence, union forever with God in heaven.

The Second Vatican Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World says, "Catholic spouses must be penetrated with the spirit of Christ. This spirit suffuses their whole lives with faith, hope, and charity. Thus they increasingly advance their own perfection, as well as their sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God. As a result, with their parents leading the way by example and family prayer, children and indeed everyone gathered around the family hearth will find a readier path to human maturity, salvation, and holiness. Graced with the dignity and office of fatherhood and motherhood, parents will energetically acquit themselves of a duty which devolves primarily upon them, namely education, and especially religious education."


In setting family priorities, Catholic spouses should always do so in the context of the great question of Jesus: "What does it profit a man were he to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26). This especially is important when it comes to giving first place in the lives of children and youth to their religious instructions, either in Catholic schools or in parish CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes. Insisting and ensuring that children and youth are enrolled in and are regularly attending religion and catechism classes must never treated as a trivial matter, and parents, as an issue of their own moral obligations as well as the grave moral imperative resting on the souls and consciences of their youngsters, must see to it that this is done. Neither sports, jobs, clubs, cars, dancing lessons, social life or similar matters ought to have more importance, and nothing short of a dire emergency or the severest hardship should be permitted by parents to interfere with the regular and systematic faith formation of their children and youth.

More than material goods Catholic parents should want to bequeath to their children the priceless gift of faith, along with their personal time and attention. Parents, as we know, who are too lax, permissive, or indifferent in regard to their children are as cruel as those who are too severe and restrictive. Some parents try to "buy" their children's affection with excessive and mistaken indulgence. In later life, adult children will realize they were actually hurt such false kindness. That is not true parental love. Parents always should remember that they will have to answer to God some day not just for the bodily well-being of their children, but for their souls as well. This is why parents should pray daily for their children and for the grace to live up to their important responsibilities, and then should teach their children to pray for them, so they can be the sort of parents God desires them to be.

High School

Parents of high school age youth have a delicate yet crucial role to play in that stage of their children's life journey. Peer pressure, hundreds of other interests and distractions, adolescent boundary exploration, and the beckoning of a cultural value system in the entertainment media alien to Christianity sometimes make it more difficult for parents to get their high school youth to religious instructions. As children get closer to emancipation and adulthood, they obviously seek and have to be given greater freedom and occasional autonomy, respect, and privacy.

At the same time, parents would be making a big mistake, if they did not continue to be vigilant and interested in their children's lives and activities, if they did not continue to insist on a measure of discipline (albeit in a different form than for younger children), and if they did not make sure that their high school age youth did not continue religious and catechetical training. Leaving children at that age at a level of religious knowledge which is infantile and puerile not only opens them up to all sorts of false values and attitudes, but also deprives them of the ability to enrich their nearing adult lives with the joys and satisfactions which can only come from the truths and grace of the Catholic Faith. Catholic campus ministers and Newman Club chaplains in our country usually complain that it is during the critical high school years that there are the largest numbers of nominal Catholics who already have lapsed from the faith by the time that they arrive at a college or university. Sometimes such young people, at the most, might retain some vestiges of Catholic culture, but the Church ceases to be a formative influence in their lives. These tragic cases are almost always due to parental neglect in seeing to their religious train-ing in their high school years.


In the new National Directory for Catechesis, issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in May of 2005, the American Bishops state: "Parents are the most influential agents of catechesis for their children. They have a unique responsibility for the education of their children. They are the first educators or catechists. They catechize primarily by the witness of their Christian lives and their love for the faith. One way that parents communicate Christian values and attitudes to their children is by loving each other within the context of Christian marriage and their love for Christ and for the Church. Their participation in the life of the parish, above all in the Sunday Eucharist, their willingness to evangelize and serve others, and their dedication to daily prayer demonstrate the authenticity of their profession of faith."

What a glorious memory it is for adults to recall hearing as children their parents often say "I believe in God the Father Almighty…" and to remember how they gathered from their tenderest years with the whole family each night to say "…forgive us as we forgive…" and to be able to say, "I know and love my Catholic Faith as an adult because of my parents' great love for me…"

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