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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.

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