Parents must strain every nerve to strive manfully to hold exclusive authority to direct the education of their offspring (Pope Leo XIII)

By John Smeaton

On 24 October 2015, 94 per cent of the bishops and cardinals attending the Ordinary Synod on the Family in Rome voted to approve a paragraph in the final report which rejects the right of parents to choose to be the sole educators of their children in sexual matters.

In paragraph 58 of the document we read:

“The family, while maintaining its primary space in education (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, 3), cannot be the only place for teaching sexuality.”

This is directly contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church.

In his Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae (10 January 1890), on the chief duties of Christians as citizens, Pope Leo XIII teaches:

“The family may be regarded as the cradle of civil society, and it is in great measure within the circle of family life that the destiny of the States is fostered. Whence it is that they who would break away from Christian discipline are working to corrupt family life, and to destroy it utterly, root and branch. From such an unholy purpose they allow not themselves to be turned aside by the reflection that it cannot, even in any degree, be carried out without inflicting cruel outrage on the parents. These hold from nature their right of training the children to whom they have given birth, with the obligation super-added of shaping and directing the education of their little ones to the end for which God vouchsafed the privilege of transmitting the gift of life. It is, then, incumbent on parents to strain every nerve to ward off such an outrage, and to strive manfully to have and to hold exclusive authority to direct the education of their offspring, as is fitting, in a Christian manner, and first and foremost to keep them away from schools where there is risk of their drinking in the poison of impiety. Where the right education of youth is concerned, no amount of trouble or labour can be undertaken, how greatsoever, but that even greater still may not be called for.” (no 42)

Pope Leo XIII’s words are given greater weight by virtue of their being cited by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Divini Illius Magistri on Christian Education (31 December 1929) who goes on to say:

“Another very grave danger is that naturalism which nowadays invades the field of education in that most delicate matter of purity of morals. Far too common is the error of those who with dangerous assurance and under an ugly term propagate a so-called sex-education, falsely imagining they can forearm youths against the dangers of sensuality by means purely natural, such as a foolhardy initiation and precautionary instruction for all indiscriminately, even in public; and, worse still, by exposing them at an early age to the occasions, in order to accustom them, so it is argued, and as it were to harden them against such dangers.” (no 65)

“Such persons grievously err in refusing to recognize the inborn weakness of human nature, and the law of which the Apostle speaks, fighting against the law of the mind; and also in ignoring the experience of facts, from which it is clear that, particularly in young people, evil practices are the effect not so much of ignorance of intellect as of weakness of a will exposed to dangerous occasions, and unsupported by the means of grace. (no 66)

“In this extremely delicate matter, if, all things considered, some private instruction is found necessary and opportune, from those who hold from God the commission to teach and who have the grace of state, every precaution must be taken. Such precautions are well known in traditional Christian education, and are adequately described by Antoniano [On the Christian Education of Youth, which St. Charles Borromeo ordered to be read in public to parents assembled in their churches] when he says: “Such is our misery and inclination to sin, that often in the very things considered to be remedies against sin, we find occasions for and inducements to sin itself. Hence it is of the highest importance that a good father, while discussing with his son a matter so delicate, should be well on his guard and not descend to details, nor refer to the various ways in which this infernal hydra destroys with its poison so large a portion of the world; otherwise it may happen that instead of extinguishing this fire, he unwittingly stirs or kindles it in the simple and tender heart of the child. Speaking generally, during the period of childhood it suffices to employ those remedies which produce the double effect of opening the door to the virtue of purity and closing the door upon vice.” (no 67)

The teaching of Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI was also upheld by Pope Pius XII in an address to French fathers on 18 September 1951. The words of these Popes are steeped in Divine Law, in apostolic teaching and the tradition of the Church, and steeped in a sensitive and holy knowledge of the reality of the constant battle between good and evil in the soul of every human being.

Compare this teaching to the position subsequently adopted by the Vatican and Pope Francis: A few months after the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia, an apostolic exhortation in which Pope Francis called for sex education in educational institutions,the Pontifical Council for the Family published a sex education programme called The Meeting Point at the World Youth Day in Poland in July 2016.

This programme, which is intended to be taught in schools, in mixed classrooms, adopts a secularised and secularising approach, and exposes children to obscene and pornographic images.

Compare these words to the current teaching of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) who in a training document for teachers, on the CBCEW website, say that an “exalted form of love exists just as powerfully in relationships between people of the same sex as it does in heterosexual relationships”. [Learning to Love, published by the Department of Catholic Education and Formation, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, March 2017]

We must also compare these three Popes to the following words from Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio, his apostolic exhortation on the family in 1981, which very much fail to convey the full teaching of the Church on the sacred obligations of parents to guard their children from temptation:

“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.” (no 37)

What do Catholic parents do when Popes disagree on sex education?

The answer must surely be that parents must reflect on Catholic doctrine on faith and morals, as revealed in the scriptures, particularly in the Gospel, and as revealed by sacred tradition, that is the teachings of the Apostles, as transmitted faithfully from one generation to the next, at times infallibly, from the time of Christ.

What a blessing it is for parents, then, to hear the words of Christ in St Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 11, 25-26): “At that time Jesus answered and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, because thou has hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father: for so hath it seemed good in thy sight.”

Parents today are not for the most part theological scholars – and they never have been since the time of Christ. However, countless unlearned, but faithful Catholic parents both know and can confidently affirm, without fear of being contradicted by any authority in this world or the next, that God’s commandment “Honour thy Father and thy Mother”, reaffirmed by God the Son during his life on earth, establishes for all time that parents are the primary educators and protectors of their children.

Faithful, unlearned, Catholic parents are also fully capable of understanding Christ’s words concerning giving scandal to children: “… he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea”. Catholic parents know, but must be reminded, that these words provide a terrible warning to those, including Catholic bishops, who promote the showing of pornographic images in the classroom to children young and old and who allow false ideas about human sexuality, including homosexuality, to be taught in the classroom.

We must pray for our bishops recalling once more the teaching of Pope Pius XI in Divini Illius Magistri:

“For the love of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, therefore, we implore pastors of souls, by every means in their power, by instructions and catechisms, by word of mouth and written articles widely distributed, to warn Christian parents of their grave obligations. And this should be done not in a merely theoretical and general way, but with practical and specific application to the various responsibilities of parents touching the religious, moral and civil training of their children, and with indication of the methods best adapted to make their training effective, supposing always the influence of their own exemplary lives.” (no. 74)