Parents are the primary educators of their children

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Introduction

The Church has consistently taught that parents are the first and foremost educators of their children. They have the right and duty, given by God, to educate their children in such a way as to best ensure their healthy physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual development. They have a right and a duty to bring their children up in the Catholic faith. These rights are inviolable and inalienable.

Parental rights are under threat as never before, especially through the imposition of anti-life, anti-family sex education in schools and through the provision of abortion and contraception without parental knowledge.

It will be impossible to engage in a ‘New Evangelisation’ or build a new ‘culture of life’ if parents are no longer free to educate their children according to the natural moral law and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Key quotations

“For a child is by nature part of its father: thus, at first, it is not distinct from its parents as to its body, so long as it is enfolded within its mother’s womb; and later on after birth, and before it has the use of its free-will, it is enfolded in the care of its parents, which is like a spiritual womb… Hence it would be contrary to natural justice, if a child, before coming to the use of reason, were to be taken away from its parents’ custody, or anything done to it against its parents’ wish.”

– St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (II-II Q.10 Art 12.)

“…inasmuch as the domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of the community, and founded more immediately in nature… The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error…

“Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself.”

– Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 15 May 1891

“Parents… have a primary right to the education of the children God has given them in the spirit of their Faith, and according to its prescriptions. Laws and measures which in school questions fail to respect this freedom of the parents go against natural law and are immoral.”

– Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, 14 March 1937

Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking. Parents are the ones who must create a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man, in which the well-rounded personal and social education of children is fostered. Hence the family is the first school of the social virtues that every society needs. It is particularly in the Christian family, enriched by the grace and office of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught from their early years to have a knowledge of God according to the faith received in Baptism, to worship Him, and to love their neighbour. Here, too, they find their first experience of a wholesome human society and of the Church. Finally, it is through the family that they are gradually led to a companionship with their fellowmen and with the people of God. Let parents, then, recognize the inestimable importance a truly Christian family has for the life and progress of God’s own people.”

– Second Vatican Council, Gravissum Educationis, 28 October 1965

“The task of giving education is rooted in the primary vocation of married couples to participate in God’s creative activity: by begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself or herself the vocation to growth and development, parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life…

“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…

“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”.

– John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 22 November 1981

“Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children.

a) Parents have the right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions, taking into account the cultural traditions of the family which favour the good and the dignity of the child; they should also receive from society the necessary aid and assistance to perform their educational role properly.

b) Parents have the right to freely choose schools or other means necessary to educate their children in keeping with their convictions…

c) Parents have the right to ensure that their children are not compelled to attend classes which are not in agreement with their own moral and religious convictions. In particular, sex education is a basic right of the parents and must always be carried out under their close supervision, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them.

d) The rights of parents are violated when a compulsory system of education is imposed by the State from which all religious formation is excluded.

e) The primary right of parents to educate their children must be upheld in all forms of collaboration between parents, teachers and school authorities, and particularly in forms of participation designed to give citizens a voice in the functioning of schools and in the formulation and implementation of educational policies.”

– Pontifical Council for the Family, Charter of the Rights of the Family, 22 October 1983

“Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit.”

– John Paul II, Letter to Families, 2 February 1994

“…based on the teaching of the Church and with her support, parents must reclaim their own task. By associating together, wherever this is necessary or useful, they should put into action an educational project marked by the true values of the person and Christian love and taking a clear position that surpasses ethical utilitarianism. For education to correspond to the objective needs of true love, parents should provide this education within their own autonomous responsibility…

“Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individualized formation. Since parents know, understand and love each of their children in their uniqueness, they are in the best position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of information, according to their children’s physical and spiritual growth. No one can take this capacity for discernment away from conscientious parents…

“The Pontifical Council for the Family therefore urges parents to have confidence in their rights and duties regarding the education of their children, so as to go forward with wisdom and knowledge, knowing that they are sustained by God’s gift.”

– Alfonso Cardinal LópezTrujillo, Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, 8 December 1995