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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Question 6 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

a) What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?

This is essentially a census question. “Married straight couples with families now make up less than half of U.S. households, marking the first time the group has dropped below 50 percent since census data on families was first collected in 1940.” This is quite a jump. Out of the additional 11 million households since 2000, traditional husband-wife family households now comprise just 48 percent. The majority of homes have a single head, nonrelated persons and solitary residents. While other groupings have gone up, husband-wife homes went down by 5 percent.

Women are increasing leading households and/or living alone. The number of unmarried women heads among black Americans was 30 percent, three times higher than other ethnic groups. “Unmarried straight couples living together increased by 40.2 percent between 2000 and 2010, four times the national average. That’s still no comparison to the rise in the number of same-sex couples living together, which grew 80.4 percent over the same period.”

Today more couples cohabitate than are married and over 40 percent of all births are illegitimate. Many children are also being raised by one parent. The incidence of single African-American mothers is so high it has become a stereotype.

b) How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?

There are many children not receiving the sacraments or catechesis. Priests are not always receptive to such families when they request the sacraments for their children. I know priests who refuse to baptize babies if the parents are not married in the Church. It has angered them that I will do so. I admonish the family to get married and to live a Christian life. I tell them that baptism is not the end of something but the beginning. They are urged to witness and to share the faith. If they promise to try, and only God knows if they lie, then I will baptize the child. However, I will not baptize an illegitimate child at Mass, only in a separate service. Sometimes there is a residual faith that moves them to make the request. There might also be guilt. Grandparents might also be exerting pressure. This can become complicated when parents do not share the Catholic faith. What do you do when a Jewish or Moslem father threatens legal action should the mother get the child baptized or bring him to Mass for first communion? I took some heat a few years ago for baptizing a child who belonged to a lesbian couple. A homosexual neighbour donated the semen for one of the party’s insemination. This little girl was being raised with “two mommies.” The grandparents begged me to help. I talked to the ladies and made it clear that the Church could not and would not recognize their lifestyle. I then asked if they would pledge themselves to regular Sunday Mass attendance (without taking Holy Communion) and to raising their little girl in the Catholic faith? They said YES and the grandparents assisted. I did not want to punish the child for the parents’ sins. I baptized her. She has since attended Catholic schools, although the grandfather has passed away.

There are way too many cases where children attend catechesis simply so that they might get the sacraments. There is even a joke about it. “Confirmation is the sacrament you receive before leaving the Church.” The kids can be blunt about it. They want to get over with it. How do we set parents and youth afire with love for Christ?

c) How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

Like so many questions in this survey, any answer given must stretch or correct the question. First, many parents are no longer even asking the basic questions of meaning, do not identify with any institutional church and are not concerned about the religious instruction of children. Second, those who are interested frequently want to minimize the impact and time involved with any religious formation. Everything else takes priority. Third, since only a very few Catholic students might be given entry into parochial schools, one would think that the emphasis would be upon parish catechesis. However, the opposite is true. Catholic school children are treated as the elite and the rest are the poor step-children. Millions of dollars go to the schools and scraps are given to parish programs. The Church does not invest proportional time, money or resources to children outside our parochial schools. Sacramental schedules follow the school year regardless of children who must get along with an hour a week of religion. We confirm children in eighth grade because that is when they leave Catholic grammar schools; and yet, the process is mostly mechanical regardless of preparedness. Efforts to raise the age for confirmation to tenth grade are struck down because such would take jurisdiction away from the Catholic school system and place it back in parish programs open to all children. Catholic schools are valuable but are becoming too expensive for many poor and immigrant Catholic families. This is causing an irony where well-to-do non-Catholics are attending parochial schools to bypass a failing public school system while Catholic children are excluded for financial reasons. This compromises the basic mission of our parishes and schools.

d) What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?

Children from school and parish-based programs are lumped together for sacraments. No reconciliation is made of the fact that some get religion five days a week and the rest only once a week for an hour. As soon as the child reaches a certain age and grade they are given first communion or confirmation. Children get first confession and Holy Communion but then drop from religious education programs until junior high years. Young teens get confirmed and then, along with parents, disappear from the pews. I know this sounds terribly cynical but it is the common experience to which many pastors and catechists can attest.

Efforts that focus upon collaboration with parents suffer from the poor formation of adults who are neither informed nor motivated to assist with religious studies and homework.

Question 7 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?

When was the last time the average Catholic heard a homily on Humanae vitae? We had a Dominican priest speak about it here at Holy Family Parish a few years ago and I got a letter of complaint and another one went to the Archdiocese. The dissenters count on silence and threaten to hold back financial support otherwise. Many priests also dissent (although they are an aging group) and one told me to my face that he assured penitents that taking the pill was responsible parenthood and not a sin. I chastised him in private and when he refused to change his errant ways I reported him to the Archdiocese. What happened? Nothing, he remained in place with a good size parish and school until he died a year ago. All most people know about the teaching is what the news media and biased family and friends tell them. Kids often stop taking catechesis in eighth grade and the more complicated topics like birth control are not age appropriate. Do our marriage preparation efforts bring it up? Humanae vitae requires a basic shared appreciation of Christian anthropology: the nature and purpose of the conjugal act, a respect for the dignity of persons, acknowledgment for the design of the Creator and his providence, and the inseparability of union and an openness to procreation. A general shallowness makes it difficult or impossible for many people to comprehend the Church’s argument. While fidelity was once procured because of a profound sense of duty and obedience; such comes across today as arbitrary and overly complicated. We cannot blindly trust in a deontology toward authority when Church leadership has been compromised and maligned. High school and young adult catechesis has to be broadened and made attractive. There is just no way to communicate a cohesive understanding of human personhood and values to children and disinterested adolescents. A grade-school catechesis does not prepare Catholic adults for responding as people of faith in the modern world.

b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?

Do we even have to ask this question? The teaching is broadly rejected. Contraception is the easy way out and now with the HHS Mandate, it is free. Ours society takes pills for everything. We are conditioned to be pill takers. NFP would demand a degree of responsibility and abstinence that some find difficult. Not only are we dealing with sexual addiction, but there is a basic disconnect between the marital act and having babies. Fertility is increasing looked upon as a disease and pregnancy is the expensive curse that results. Contraception permits irresponsibility and the treatment of bodies as toys for recreation. The dignity of the human person is undermined.

c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?

Various forms of NFP are promoted. Critics often confuse them with the older form of Rhythm which often failed because it wrongly treated all female cycles as the same.

d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

Some would throw in my face that Father So-&-So said it was okay. At one time there was some debate. However, now it is almost never mentioned. They have been told that it is all up to their consciences. Of course, the clergy who told them this neglected to mention the need for a properly formed conscience. I doubt that many would even understand the meaning of a dynamic Christian conscience. It needs to be formed in such a way that any judgment made conforms to the truth and respects the Church. The same can be said about the Eucharist. Almost everyone receives, even those in bad marriages and in serious sin.

e) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

The Church still generally teaches the orthodox position, but not everywhere. I know one girls’ high school where the religious sister said that she could not formally teach them about contraception but she could pass around a picture book (for educational purposes) with all the available forms of birth control imaged. Civic education is at least more honest, even if more hostile to the faith. Not only is artificial contraception taught, but condoms and similar services are rendered to students. Indeed, my public high school (Suitland, MD) regularly had the school nurse walking kids down to the local abortion clinic during our one hour lunch break. There is also disagreement on other topics like homosexuality and what constitutes tolerance.

f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

Such can only be promoted if Catholics themselves are willing to be a real sign of contradiction. I know one couple with five or six children who are even harassed by parents and siblings for having “too many children.” They argue the economic issue and a lifestyle they are sacrificing. They speak about the environment and accuse them of being selfish for placing such an increased burden upon an already crowded world. Instead of converting the world, Catholics are increasingly trying to live traditional values within a self-imposed ghetto of like-minded “home-schooling” friends. Meanwhile, pressure is building to force them and others to conform to the contemporary hedonism. Benefits are being stripped from those who refuse to attend traditional schools. This has often landed families and home-schooling organizations in the courts. Some jurisdictions have attempted to outlaw home-schooling or to interfere with the curriculum. Is there a way to encourage larger and more faithful families without resorting to an isolation that might later make us more vulnerable to a hostile society? It seems to me that proper formation must come along with an aggressive evangelization. The Catholic/Christian message must be given its place in the public forum. That would also include the usage of all the modern technological ways that people communicate, today.