A Statement Issued by the Catholic Bishops of the United States
November 17, 1950
1. In the present grim international struggle, the American people have resolutely championed the cause of human freedom. We have committed ourselves to oppose relentlessly the aggressions of those who deny to man his God-given rights and who aim to enslave all mankind under the rules of godless materialism. The responsibilities which we have thereby assumed are both grave and continuing. They deserve conscientious consideration.
2. It is of primary importance for our people to realize that human freedom derives from the spiritual nature of man and can flourish only when things of the spirit are held in reverence. Our present principles of action need to be evaluated in the light of the truth. But we must go even further. Small comfort to be successful today if tomorrow the world finds us unworthy of the trust reposed in us. We need, therefore, to examine carefully what spiritual direction we are giving to our children to prepare them to fulfill their future moral responsibilities to God and to their fellow man.
3. In recent decades, striking advances have been made in meeting the child's physical, emotional, and social needs; but his moral and religious needs have not been met with the same solicitude and understanding. As a result, many of our children today betray confusion and insecurity because these unmet needs are fundamental to the harmonious development of their whole nature.
4. The child must be seen whole and entire. He must be seen as a citizen of two worlds. He belongs to this world surely, but his first and highest allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. From his earliest years he must be taught that his chief significance comes from the fact that he is created by God and is destined for life with God in eternity.
5. The child's prospects for fulfilling this great hope which God has reposed in him must be viewed realistically. He will come to maturity in a society where social, moral, intellectual, and spiritual values are everywhere disintegrating. In such a society, he will urgently need the integrating force of religion as taught by Christ. Such a force will give him a complete and rational meaning for his existence.
6. First of all, it will arouse in him a consciousness of God and of eternity. His vision will be
opened out upon a supernatural world revealed by faith which differs from the world of nature
his senses reveal. Thus he will discover a higher life than this daily one and a brighter world than
he sees. Second, it will give him a continuing purpose in life, for it will teach him that he was
made to know, love, and serve God in this world as the condition for meriting eternal happiness.
Third, it will induce in him a deep sense of responsibility for those rights and obligations he
possesses by reason of his citizenship in Heaven as well as on earth. Finally, religion will challenge
him to sanctify whatever walk of life he chooses and to seek and accept the will of God in whatever way it may be manifested. Thus, as a principle of integration, religion will help the children to develop a sense of God, a sense of direction, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of
mission in this life.
I. Sense of God
7. The child is not complete in himself. He will find his completion only in life with God;
and that life must begin here upon earth. Parents, therefore, should make early provision for their
f:hild's growth in God. This is not something to be postponed for nurture by school authorities. It
must begin in the home through simple and prayerful practices. Morning and evening prayers,
grace before and after meals, the family rosary, the saying of a short prayer each time the
striking clock marks the passage of another hour nearer eternity, the reverential making of the
sign of the cross, the inculcation of respect for the crucifix and other religious objects-all these
practices which should be encouraged in the religious formation of the child. No one can doubt
that there is a readiness on his part to receive such formation, and if parents are remiss in giving
it they will lose a splendid opportunity to develop in their child that habitual awareness of God which
is vital to his full growth.
8. Only two courses are open to the child: either he will be God- centered or self-centered. He is made and destined for God, but he bears in his nature the lingering effects of original sin which incline him to seek the satisfaction of every selfish whim. To correct this....bend in his will so that God, rather than self, will occupy the center of his life is one of the most challenging tasks facing parents.
9. In meeting this challenge, let parents make use of the strong, supernatural motivation which can be drawn from the life of Christ. Let them encourage the imitation of Him, particularly in His obedience, patience, and thoughtfulness of others; and let them foster the emulation of that spirit of unselfish giving so characteristic of Christ. This can be done in many practical ways, particularly through providing the child with frequent opportunities for making acts of self-denial in the home. If he is taught to deny his selfish whims for the sake of Christ, he will not only discover a supernatural motive for his actions, but he will learn to give God that central place in his affections which God must occupy if the child is to come to his full spiritual stature.
10. Little point would be served in intensifying the child's awareness of God during his
preschool years, if later his schooling were to rob him of that. The child's education during
school years should be of a piece with his education at home. Catholic parents, clearly grasping
this essential truth, have undergone great sacrifice and enormous expense to establish and maintain schools which will continue and enlarge the spiritual development of the child that was begun at home. In doing this, parents have acted within their competence, because it is they, and not the state, who possess the primary right to educate. This natural right of parents is one which has ever been recognized in our American traditions. As recently as 1944, the highest court in our land confirmed it in these words:
It is cardinal with us that the custody, care, and nurture of the child reside first in the parents whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder.
11. In helping parents to exercise this right, the Church stands ready at hand with all her material and spiritual resources. At infancy she initiates the child into the life of grace and for the rest of his days she stands by his side ready to minister to his needs. She recognizes his preeminent need for God and she meets it by providing Catholic schools for each stage of his educational development. She does this in virtue of the sublime teaching office conferred upon her by Jesus Christ.
12. When it is impossible for parents to take advantage of the God- centered education which Catholic schools offer, they have a grave obligation to provide for their child's religious instruction in some other way. At least they must see that their children attend catechism classes and vacation schools and receive the benefit of other activities of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
13. Nor should the state, which has demonstrated a genuine interest in so many aspects of the child's welfare, be indifferent to the inherent value of religious instruction and training for the child attending tax- supported schools. The continuance and well-being of a state based on democratic principles require that it show a lively concern for moral principles and practices which are firmly grounded only in religion. For the child who is not receiving thorough religious education, the state should look with favor on released-time programs for his religious instruction.
14. Many important services have been rendered by the governmental agencies to the child
who has been deprived of the care and support of his parents by death, illness, or misfortune.
However, it is a source of growing concern to us that in certain parts of our country there is a
trend to regard this whole field of foster care as falling within the exclusive province of
governmental authorities. It surely lies within their province to set up and enforce legitimate
minimum standards of care for the dependent child; but the responsibility for his care should not
be entirely assumed by them. There is a definite place in America for the voluntary agencies of
mercy-particularly those operating under religious auspices, which are equipped to safeguard and
develop the religious life of the dependent child. Certainly the child bereft of the immediate care
of his parents is entitled to those opportunities for a religious upbringing which his parents were
obligated to give him. These opportunities can be best supplied by an agency operating under religious auspices.
II. Sense of Direction
15. The child whose eyes have been opened to the vision of God must be encouraged to walk by the steady light of that vision; otherwise he will follow wandering fires. He is too young and immature to be left to himself. His impulses and desires, so largely unregulated because of his tender years, need to be given a sure direction by religious training, if he is to achieve that great purpose for which he was made: to know, to love, and to serve God.
16. The child must know God. There is a vast difference between knowing about God and
knowing God. The difference is made by personal experience. It is not enough that the child be
given the necessary truths about God. They ought to be given in such a way that he will
assimilate them and make them a part of himself. God must become as real to him as his own father or mother. God must not remain an abstraction. If He does, He will not be loved; and if He is not loved, then all the child's knowledge about Him will be sterile. Where love is, there too is service. "If you love me, keep my commandments." That is Christ's test and it must be applied to the child. He should be brought to, see God's commandments and precepts as guideposts
which give an unerring direction to his steps. In this work, the Church, the family, and the school all have a part to play.
17. From the time that the Church pours the waters of baptism over his forehead, until she
surrenders him at death to God, there is no period when she does not provide the child, through
her sacraments and teachings, with a steady inspiration to serve God. The inculcation of virtues,
both natural and supernatural, the repeated warnings against succumbing to the demands of his
lower nature, the balm with which she alleviates the wounds caused by sin in his life, and the channels
of grace she holds constantly open for him-all these are aids which the Church gives the child in directing his steps toward God.
18. Parents are obligated to see that he makes ample use of these helps; and in addition they must inspire him to love and service of God by their own daily actions. The home will be his first school. He will be quick to imitate what he sees and hears there. Let them turn this impulse to imitate, which can be the source of much mischief and lasting harm, to the child's advantage by giving him at home a good example of Christian living.
19. If this example is not forthcoming, the child will become confused by the contradiction between what he is taught and what he sees practiced. This confusion will be compounded when he goes to a school where religion is taught. There he will be taught to reverence the name of God, but at home he will hear God's name used irreverently in petulance and anger. At school he will learn to cooperate and get along with his fellow pupils, but at home he will be allowed to offend and wrangle with his brothers and sisters. At school he will be taught strict precepts of honesty and justice, while at home he will hear his parents boast of sharp business practices and clever evasions of the truth. Disturbed by these contradictions and torn by conflicting loyalties to home and school, the child will lose confidence in his parents' and teachers' powers to g-ive him effective direction.
20. A close association between home and school should be maintained by parents and school authorities so as to facilitate an exchange of views and confidences regarding the child. In this way, home and school life can be better integrated and there will be a reduction of those conflicts which very often are at work in his life, and which do not receive the understanding and attention they deserve.
21. When we speak of parents' responsibilities, it should be remembered that they do not devolve entirely upon the mother. The father has his responsibilities, too, and he must not shirk them. It is' not enough for him to provide the material means of support for the family. He also has the obligation to identify himself with the interests and activities of his child. If the full benefits of parental direction are to be reaped by the child, such direction should include that steadying and stabilizing influence which it is the father's duty to exert.
22. Fathers and mothers have a natural competence to instruct their children with regard to sex. False modesty should not deter them from doing their duty in this regard. Sex is one of God's endowments. It should not be ignored or treated as something bad. If sex education is properly carried on in the home, a deep reverence will be developed in the child and he will be spared the shameful inferences which he often makes when he is left to himself to find out about sex. We protest in the strongest possible terms against the introduction of sex instruction into the schools. To be of benefit such instruction must be far broader than the imparting of information, and must be given individually. Sex is more than a biological function. It is bound up with the sacredness and uniqueness of the human personality. It can be fully and properly appreciated only within a religious and moral context. If treated otherwise, the child will see it apart from the con- trolling purpose of his life, which is service to God.
23. Many unsalutary influences are at work in modern society which must not be allowed
free play upon the personality of the growing child. Parents should carefully regulate the
company and the hours which their child keeps. They should not treat him as an adult. He
needs to be warned against, even forbidden, certain associations. Particularly during adolescence, this is extremely important. A vigilant watch should be kept over the type of entertainment in which he indulges, the motion pictures he attends, the books he reads, the radio and television programs to which he is exposed in the home.
III. Sense of Responsibility
24. A common complaint registered against the home and the school today is that they do not sharpen the child's sense of responsibility. He is made conscious of his rights, to be sure; but he also has obligations which are correlates of those rights. His education and training are defective in the proportion that those obligations are not impressed on his young mind.
25. No point is urged with greater insistency by religion than the accountability of each individual before God. It is the duty of parents to see to it that their child develops a deep sense of personal responsibility; learning at the earliest possible period that he is accountable to God for his thoughts, his words, and his actions. His home training must reinforce this teaching in every practical way. He should be held to strict account for the performance of chores and tasks which are given to him by his parents. He must be made to see that each member of the family has a part to play in the service of God by carrying out an assigned role. The child, thus enlightened, will be enabled to see in later life how the faithful discharge of his duties as a citizen can be related to the service of God.
26. Part of the boredom affecting our society today is due to the unsound separation which has developed between work and spiritual growth. The concept of work as a means of furthering sanctification has largely been lost. It remains for parents to recover that concept and apply it to the child's daily experience. From the consciousness that even the smallest household task when faithfully carried out draws him closer to God, the child will derive a continuing motivation for relating all that he does to God. And thus every task, no matter how trivial or menial, can take on a significance which will yield rich spiritual returns.
27 . In this way the child will have learned at home a great lesson which will make it easier for him to adjust to the demands of school life. As he takes his place in that larger community, he will do so as a responsible individual. He will see his homework, his attention in class, and his participation in school activities as part of the same divine plan learned in the home, whereby each action has its significance in God's eyes. This mindfulness throughout his daily life of the supernatural value of his actions will be a safeguard against the careless performance of any duty. The greater his talent, the more he will be conscious of his obligation to serve God by a rightful exercise of that talent.
28. If the child is constantly aware that his time and his talents belong to God he will want to use them properly and will avoid those harmful associations and pastimes which frequently lead to juvenile delinquency. This implies however that adequate recreational facilities and opportunities for the development of his interest in hobbies, games, and other activities are available so that his abounding energy can find wholesome channels for expression.
29. The spiritual helps which the child has for deepening his sense of responsibility must not be neglected. Parents should encourage the practice of nightly examination of conscience and weekly confession. The child who goes over his thoughts, speech, and actions at the end of each day, seeking out what has been displeasing to God, will gradually develop a sensitivity to God's claims upon his life. The practice of weekly confession will make him conscious of the manner in which he has misused his time and talents. It will heighten in him that sense of accountability to God which is necessary if he is to show proper contrition for his failings and proper amendment of them.
IV. Sense of Mission
30. In learning the valuable lesson that he is accountable to God for the use of his time and talents the child will acquire not only a sense of responsibility, but a sense of mission as well. For his religious training will remind him that his future happiness lies not in the indulgence of selfish desires, but in the complete dedication of his whole personality to God's service. "I am come to do the will of Him who sent me." This must be the keynote of the child's mission in this world. For him the will of God must come to be more important than any personal consideration. Only when he masters this truth will he be given to see how all things, even disappointments and setbacks, can be turned to good account in the service of God.
31. Since everyone is not called to serve God in the same way or in the same capacity, great care should be exercised in the child's vocational guidance. Otherwise, aimlessness in his training will leave him without permanent direction for his talents and aptitudes. Parents and teachers must help him to choose and to follow a calling for which he is fitted and in which he can best serve God. A deeper awareness in the child of his mission in life will do much to reduce the shocking waste of time and energy which in so many instances characterizes his formative years today, and later prevents him from taking his full place in civic life.
32. Among the boys and girls of our land, God has destined some to carry on the work of His Church for the salvation of souls. To these He has given a religious vocation. Here indeed is a challenge to the generosity of American parents. If in all sincerity they have impressed upon their child that he has a mission in life to do God's will, they in turn will want to cooperate with that will and aid in its fulfillment. God's claims are prior to every human consideration. If He calls the child to His special service, parents should not shrink from the sacrifice often entailed by such a call. The pain of severing home ties will be more than offset by the spiritual joy given to those who labor in the vineyard of the Lord.
33. In emphasizing the supreme importance of religion in the spiritual development of the child, we are but applying to the circumstances of today the eternal principle which the Church received from her divine founder. For nineteen centuries, the Church has lingered lovingly over Christ's tribute to the child: "Suffer little children to come unto Me and forbid them not; for of such is the Kingdom of God." The implications of that tribute should be recognized by all who have care of the child. Theirs is the great vocation to show him that he is a citizen, not only of this world, but of that other world which lies beyond with God whose Kingdom is the kingdom of children.
Statement issued November 17,1950, by the bishops of the United States and signed in their names by the Administrative Board of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, whose members are:
Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia
Edward Cardinal Mooney, Archbishop of Detroit
Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago
Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York
Francis P. Keough, Archbishop of Baltimore
Robert E. Lucey, Archbishop of San Antonio
Richard I. Cushing, Archbishop of Boston
Joseph E. Ritter, Archbishop of St. Louis
Patrick A. O'Boyle, Archbishop of Washington
John M. Cannon, Bishop of Erie
John F. Noll, Bishop of Fort Wayne
Michael I. Ready, Bishop of Columbus
Emmet M. Walsh, Coadjutor Bishop of Youngstown