As the father of young children…


One of the advantages of being not only a priest but also a husband and father, is that I have some insight regarding parenting in the 21st Century. This can prove helpful in the confessional or when preparing couples for marriage and baptism. I speak as one who shares the struggles to get it right. As one who has staggered along the landing half asleep, at 3am in the morning, desperately trying to pacify a mewling infant only for it to burp rather suddenly and deposit the contents of it’s stomach over my back!

Such experiences rid one of unrealistic and romanticised views of marriage and family life. Lets get real. It is a joy to have a family but also a challenge. And when one factors in the need to raise children in love, it is also a most profound responsibility. If I am honest it always feels beyond my ability. For every positive I might bring  to the family table there seem to be equal and opposing negatives. What wounds we fallen sinners inflict on children by our own bad habits, hard words and inability to love as truly we should. Even though our hearts burst with love for our children!

So it thrilled me when the church announced a Synod on the family. Heaven knows there are burning issues at present that confront the Catholic family and make the job all that much harder! We need help, we really do. And I want to share some questions I had hoped, as a parent, the Synod might address.

1) How do we help our children navigate a hostile secular culture?  The faith we would love to instil in our children is under serious attack in the public square. I was raised in a culture of ambivalence which, at least, paid lip service to the truth of the Gospel. My children will grow up in a more hostile environment where the faith is challenged and ridiculed in most every classroom, lecture hall and newspaper. What help is the church planning to give parents to support them in transmitting the faith, in such a positive way that our children are enabled to stand up for truth against scrutiny?

Sorry but most parishes today, I include my own, are not cutting the mustard in this regard. Recognising then that the church has largely failed to hold onto the youth over the last half century- losing several generations of young adults in the process- what is it planning to do differently to ensure it doesn’t lose the next generation as well?

Will it be brave enough to acknowledge that young families seem most drawn to orthodox parishes today where emphasis is placed on apologetics and commitment not on dated models where teaching is dumbed down to accommodate the culture? Within this arena- what is to be done about the standards of many Catholic schools when it comes to transmitting an emboldened and firm faith? They seem to have lost their zeal.

2) How can I protect my children’s purity? The current culture is dangerously over sexualised and the proliferation of internet pornography is causing untold damage to marriages. It is corrupting and warping young minds. How can I shield my children from these vile images- given that they are shown on most every playground thanks to those clever phones? What work is being done, by the Church, to combat pornography head on and ensure governments censor content and stop it being so freely available? This is a big one.

3) How do I give my children a healthy understanding  of marriage?  How will my children accept Catholic teaching, that sex is intended for marriage between one man and one woman for life, given that the culture is itself redefining marriage to the detriment of children?

And why do some church leaders seem to echo the culture? What is the Church planning to do about high ranking clergy who openly dissent from the teaching of the church? For they are sowing terrible confusion at the peril of souls, that is if the historic voice of the church is to be believed. And if it isn’t to be believed anymore…then why not? And why should my children believe anything the church has to say? Will the church give us clarity of teaching as regards sex and family life? Because it is sorely lacking at present…despite all the noise.

3) Who will help us model family life? Given the attack on marriage and family life how will you truly support married people? Because at present the church only offers little to married couples save for a little pre marriage prep.

This is of no help when couples later encounter difficulties, when finances are mismanaged or serious arguments develop. Often it is too late when couples  access help – and they do so within a secular context which can even encourage the idea of divorce in certain cases. What then could the church do to better support and nurture families, holding them together?

4) Why haven’t you consulted married clergy? One might have assumed a largely celibate priesthood would look to its few married members for advice. Why haven’t dioceses consulted with priests who are actually married? Why hasn’t the vatican approached the married Ordinaries placing them on the panel drawn up to discuss family life? Surely they offer unique insight that might be of benefit being not only priests but fathers and husbands as well?

5) Why don’t you speak about children? I have listed a few questions and concerns I have. I would love the Synod to tackle them head on,  speaking powerfully and helpfully to parents like myself. So why is it that all we hear about is homosexuality and those in broken families due to divorce and separation? It leaves me scratching my head…

I don’t doubt the importance of reaching out to such people…but I seriously question why they seem to be at the heart of the Synod debates. Where are the needs of children being raised? Where are the needs of those holding onto marriage, often at great cost, addressed? Where are the needs of those with large families highlighted and praised?

Surely it is farcical that this Synod on the family, to date, has said nothing of value to..you know… er actual families??!

It is inexplicable and inexcusable. But what seems to be developing is not a Synod that places children and families at the centre but one in which indulgent in-house clerical spats are being fought along predictable and tired political divides. Someone needs to bang heads together and reminds all the Cardinals that such indulgence only plays into secular hands. As if the church is about left v right when it ought to be centred on right v wrong.

I hope that the Holy Father will yet surprise us. But I won’t hold my breath. Because, to date, this Synod has had nothing say to children or parents. Rather it seems constructed as an arena for the liberalising of church doctrine. I doubt many actual families are much interested in such games. They surely have better things to do. Like actually raising children and trying to put food on the table.

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12 thoughts on “As the father of young children…

  1. Fr. Ed.,

    The Catholic Church, unlike Anglicanism, is not a purely human institution established by a mere legislative assembly in the middle of the sixteenth century and subject to all manner of disasters and u turns. It may be that your experiences as an Anglican have given you an exaggerated fear of any kind of ecclesial change or doctrinal development.
    The Church is alive and develops and fine tunes its revelation over time, and there have always been blips throughout its history; over (and under)emphases, indeed all sorts of problems during and after synods and councils.
    Nevertheless Catholicism is not Anglicanism and debate and contention within the Church will not make it so.
    I understand that the Church has given you security and that you prize its strength and unity, but please remember the Church is alive and there will be tensions within it because it can not become rigid and frightened of what the Holy Spirit may do.
    Relax, have confidence in the Church of God, continue the lovely developments in your parish. Get rid of your Anglican angst! Believe me you don’t need it any more.

  2. Most of the anti-religious material appears on the media and it is there because we buy it. If we used the power of the purse the media would soon broadcast programmes that all the family could enjoy together.

  3. Congratulations Father, and father!

    Someone actually speaking up for the family, and NOT something that is a merely human construct, that is any combination of adults and children that the culture deems to be “in a relationship”, even when they could not possibly have produced children by ordinary biological means, but have been allowed to acquire them by the culture which so ignores the interests of the very children it claims to act for.

    Why, at a time when scientific evidence of the harm caused to children by artificially constructed or unfortunately damaged forms of family is becoming available, do we persist in imposing upon children those forms? Secular society may have its own reasons for doing so (although their chickens will inevitably come home to roost, and what will they do then?) but the Church should, indeed must, stand against this harm done to children (and to families). As you so rightly say, we need a strong voice all the more in the face of the blatant opposition to what were once generally understood principles by which we lived, whether churchgoer or not.

    The crux of the question for me lies in the fact that we seem to have lost any idealism we once had, and make no call to any values higher than self-interest. I am so old that I was brought up by the generation that had sacrificed self-interest in pursuit of the ideals of freedom and humanity which were being threatened by an evil regime and was taught the same ideals. My heroes were people who had fought that battle to save our civilization or had done something to make the world a better place – Churchill, Douglas Bader, Elizabeth Fry, William Wilberforce and many others. Today, there seems to be no attempt to inspire our young people with ideals to live by; the culture does not even impose what few laws we have to restrain them – rather than enforce the age of consent or work with parents in their children’s interests, it assumes teenagers have a right to a sex life (heaven help us) and prescribes them contraceptives without their parents’ consent, and worse.

    If the Church does not stand against this demeaning of our young people (for that is what it is; they are being deprived of the dignity of being able to make moral choices) how are they to aspire to, let alone attain, the dignity which they have as human beings? Surely we want for them that they should have the richest possible future and be enabled to be what God created them to be? True, they will likely stumble and need to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again, but isn’t that just what an ideal is? Something good and positive and challenging that you try your hardest to achieve even if you suffer in the process, that’s worth all the blood, toil, tears and sweat? You may not achieve it every time, but if you do, you will be rewarded and if you didn’t this time, next time you might. It is an insult to assume it is not worth holding ideals before our young people because they are incapable of achieving them. I, and my mother before me, both waited until marriage to have sex. It is possible (and, as I have not married, it is even possible to live entirely without it – though no-one seems to think so!). Surely we can at least retain the ideal? What we maybe should abandon is the lack of support for those that found it hard: along with the ideal went an assumption that those were the rules and if you found them hard and came a cropper – tough! On your head be it. I would want to present the Faith (and the moral laws that go along with the practice of it) as: “The Challenge: but go for it!” That gives due recognition to the hard bit without abandoning the principles.

  4. The attack on marriage ? Whose marriage is being attacked ? Whose freedom to marry is to be restricted ? Who are the people who face attacks on account of their marriage ?

    1. Does counterfeit money harm real money? Yes because it devalues the authentic currency, furthermore the more widespread counterfeiting is the greater harm to the economy.

      All cultures have historically shared a view on marriage. That which the Bible explains thus: It requires a man to forsake his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. In a nutshell:

      1) The transaction involves one man, one woman.
      2) The man severs his ties to his previous family unit of father and mother (“forsake”)
      3) A covenant creates a new family unit (“shall cleave”)
      4) This new covenant is sealed with sexual union (“shall become one flesh”)

      Where this transaction is changed then whatever the result is, it is not what is written above. Ergo the very word has been redefined- a SERIOUS AND PROFOUND ATTACK on what is written there and was understood by all people in all places. An attack on EVERY marriage therefore.

      So if we accept the new definition, the old is weakened and even threatened with extinction. Marriage is no longer about the different sexes cleaving to each other, meaning the terms bride and groom are robbed of their intended implication. No longer can we talk of unity in diversity or of a reflection of natural law. No longer are children at the centre of the unit- they become an add on- even a commodity where such unions are not ordered towards life.

      I could go on…

      1. Oh dear Fr Ed, this really won’t do! I might want to argue that the reason the RC church won’t ask its married clergy for advice is because its governance is predicated on celibacy; the reasons for that can be found in the Gregorian reforms of the 11th Century or can, with some special pleading be seen in outline earlier [Cholij, 1989]. However your offensive comments about same-sex ‘counterfeit’ marriages are inaccurate and therefore doubly misleading.

        Historically it cannot be argued that ‘1) The transaction involves one man, one woman’.’ In most of the ancient world it did not and whilst arguably it’s an opportunity for Christianity to present new teaching about the marital unit the use of ‘transaction’ roots your comment in a view of the marriage contract dominated by male privilege and its property rights over women. Perhaps understandably in a Roman Catholic theology this Latin vision of the marriage bond predominates; but this version of marriage isn’t the one that has been normative in Northern and Western Europe for over a thousand years.

        Whilst anyone who works with relationships recognises the psychological truth of this statement (2) The man severs his ties to his previous family unit of father and mother (“forsake”)); a human must ‘leave’ their relationships with parent figures in order to properly bond and achieve maturity with a partner I fail to see how this can be excluding of same-sex realtionships?

        Covenants were in ancient Judaism solemn promises sealed by blood. For clarity I’m not quite sure how you move from ‘transaction’ in 1) to ‘covenant’ in 3) (‘3) A covenant creates a new family unit (“shall cleave”)’). But Jesus recognised that this older family unit was an extended one with a different understanding of the implications of breaking the covenant; unlike the implications inherent in the model of romantic, companionate marriage that we recognise from the last thousand years in North and Western Europe.

        So with 4) the existence of the companionate romantic love relationship and the ability of the partners in this solemn promise to form psychologically healthy bonds begs the question of why is some sort of sexual activity ‘seal’-ing? (4) This new covenant is sealed with sexual union (“shall become one flesh”).) Again it is not clear why this should be limited to a hetero-sexual pair.

        The irony of this post strikes me hard. Whilst I am concerned with the health of families and the flourishing of children in my own parish and would want to support the practical points you raise (pornography/’purity’ and the need for practical support of ‘family life’ and would want to raise more trenchant critiques of the commodification of time and relationships) I find it hard to line up with you. It’s often easier to find common cause with same-sex families who are trying to raise their children even while they are being excluded and demeaned by the mainline denominations. But maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m not a Roman Catholic!

  5. Undermining of establish moral sensitivities,’ in the interests of public good’, would, it seems to me, to always have been a major attck vector used by those who would seek to incerase their control of society. Even Thucydides complained about such manipulations. I’m sure I don’t need to point to more recent/current examples.

  6. If I were asked which Christian leader right now was doing most to defend families, I would unhesitatingly reply: ‘Angela Merkel’ (daughter of a Lutheran pastor, incidentally). Beside her, all European and UK official Christian leaders, of whatever church/sect/denomination, are pygmies.

  7. Same old, same old.
    The Church is not an ecclesiastical SAS!
    So much aggression from those who are who are so threatened by equal marriage.
    The majority of harm to families is caused by the behaviour of heterosexuals and has been for the past fifty years.
    My (traditional) marriage is only strengthened by the commitment of any two people who love each other regardless of sexuality.
    Equal marriage harms no one.

    1. “The majority of harm to families is caused by the behaviour of heterosexuals…”
      So is the majority of good, and so is the majority of everything, because almost every one, by divine ordinance, is heterosexual. Heterosexuality is and must necessarily always be, the norm; get over it.

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