Rights and Obligations of Parents to Educate Their Children


Recently my wife and I attended a home schooling conference. To be honest, half the reason we went was because we had managed to talk my parents into staying with the kids so that we could get out of the house without the kids for the weekend. I think we have managed that twice since we have been married. Not that we don’t like taking the kids with us you understand, but sometimes you just need some adult time.

Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised by the conference. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking over the program before we went, and the first day we really just kind of wandered to whatever talk was going on at the moment, at random, still I learned a lot and was happy to be able to catch a talk by Patrick Madrid. I have enough other experiences to fill probably two other blog posts, but I mostly want to talk about the last talk that we attended. This talk was given by Mr. Phillip Gray a Canon Lawyer and member of the St. Joseph Foundation.

Much of this post is directly from the talk Mr. Gray gave on the last day of the conference. I did a good deal of digging once I got home, but without him, this post would not have been possible.

I really want to talk about this, because I think it is something a lot of parents, home schooling or not, face when dealing with sacramental preparation for their kids.

There are a lot of important documents here, most of which I will link in the text and at the bottom, but also two that I want to mention up front because they have special significance here and are very helpful, The Charter of the rights of the family (which is right on the Vatican’s website) and Responsibilities and rights of parents in religious education (which you can get from Seton for about $2)

So here are the basics:

It is the obligation of parents to educate their children. Not only in their faith, but also over all. You might remember saying so when your child was baptized. Something along the lines of:

You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

It is the obligation of society (that includes, but is not limited to The Church) to provide support, and not hinder in any way that education. (See the Charter of the rights of the family.)

And it is the right of the parents to determine what societal support (again including but not limited to The Church) is right for them and their family and their children.

So what does all of this mean? I am going to limit my discussion to sacramental prep because with general education there are country/ state / county / and other governmental laws and regulations that come into play. You can learn more about that on the HSLDA website, and that is a whole other can of worms that I don’t want to get into. Since Sacramental Preparation is only regulated by The Church we can talk about that here.

As the parent you have the obligation to train your children in preparation for the sacraments. You, as the parent, have the right (not the obligation) to use whatever sacramental preparation program that your parish, diocese or even archdiocese offers.
The wording of that is important. That means that it is not the director of religious Ed, the deacon, the priest, the pastor, the bishop or even the Arch Bishop who gets to determine what religious Ed program, or sacramental preparation program you use for your child(ren).
They cannot make it a requirement that you use their program, no matter how great it is, how much work they have put into it, or how much they really want you too. More than that, they cannot have higher standards for your child, because your child didn’t use the program they recommended, than they would for a child who did use their program.

It also means that the director of religious Ed, the deacon, the priest, the pastor, the bishop or even the Arch Bishop does not have the authority, again going back to the Charter of Rights of the Family, over how your child is to be catechized, and in no way may any of them usurp the primacy of the authority of the family.

I do want to make it clear. It is the job of the Priest or in the case of Confirmation the Bishop to make sure that your child is in fact, prepared for the sacrament, but that does not mean that they can make it mandatory that you use their program, or that they hold your child to a higher standard because you didn’t use their program.

Pope Saint Pius X said that in order for a child to be prepared for Holy Communion they must ONLY be above the age of reason, and be able to tell the difference between regular bread and the Body of Christ. This right to salvation, supersedes the knowledge we like to impart.

See theCongregation for Catholic Education where they talk about the parents as the primary educators and these programs the teachers in the schools the pastor or whoever else, are secondary to the parents. This is also backed up by Charter of the rights of the family and further backed up by Can. 793 §1 – §2
Having said that I want to repeat that it is the priest’s responsibility to make sure that a candidate is prepared for the sacrament. For example:

Can. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise.

“Or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise” Otherwise the candidate needs to meet the three other requirements. But note that one of those requirements is not that the candidate used the parishes program. Priests do need to be a filter to make sure that candidates are properly catechized, but they and as parents you also need to know what that means. Remember that it is the Church’s role is to assist parents in the education of their children. That is by divine law. Because the family is the primal unit of society, and it is The Church’s role support the family.

Alright, so that argument might get you past Reconciliation and First Holy Communion, but what about Confirmation. In the United states under the USCCB there is complimentary legislation that states that the bishop can determine an age for receiving confirmation.

USCCB: Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 891, hereby decrees that the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Rite shall be conferred between the age of discretion and about sixteen years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop and with regard for the legitimate exceptions given in canon 891.

It might surprise you to know, that the above arguments also apply to these age requirements.

The Congregation for Catholic Education in the 1998 case said, “Such complimentary legislation must be interpreted with respect to the general laws of The Church, (Reference 889 §2.) This making the Diocesan norm is subordinate to the general norms governing the reception of the sacraments.”

In this case, and according to Mr. Gray, and the majority of the others the Vatican sided with parents, and the Bishop was told he needed to confer the Sacrament on the child.

The Congregation for Catholic Education also said in the same 1998 case,

“Sacred ministers may not deny the Sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them are properly disposed and not prohibited from receiving them.
… Indeed, the longer the conferral of the sacrament is delayed after the age of reason, the greater will be the number of candidates who are prepared for it’s reception but deprived of its Grace for a considerable period of time.

and in the Council of Trent:

[Page 58]

ON CONFIRMATION
CANON I.-If any one saith, that the confirmation of those who have been baptized is an idle ceremony, and not rather a true and proper sacrament; or that of old it was nothing more than a kind of catechism, whereby they who were near adolescence gave an account of their faith in the face of the Church; let him be anathema.

It is clear from these two that if you present your child for confirmation and you have properly catechized them and they are above the age of reason then they should be able to receive the sacrament. But what does Canon Law say about this?

Can. 843 §1. Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.

Can. 889 §1. Every baptized person not yet confirmed and only such a person is capable of receiving confirmation.

§2. To receive confirmation licitly outside the danger of death requires that a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises.

You can clearly see that Canon Law confirms both what the Congregation for Catholic Education and what the Council of Trent has said.

Did you know that Confirmation is supposed to come before Communion? If you have ever been to a Easter Vigil Mass when they bring in RCIA candidates and they do the confirmation before the holy communion. Believe it or not, that is the way it is supposed to happen. The doctrine of The Church states that the order of the Sacraments should be Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Communion. That is because confirmation completes baptismal Grace. Take a look at The Council of Trent.

ON THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERAL
CANON I.-If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.

And again quoting the Congregation for Catholic Education said in the 1998 case,

“Sacred ministers may not deny the Sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them are properly disposed and not prohibited from receiving them.
… Indeed, the longer the conferral of the sacrament is delayed after the age of reason, the greater will be the number of candidates who are prepared for it’s reception but deprived of its Grace for a considerable period of time.”

In conclusion, If you have instructed your child in the sacraments and they are properly prepared, then they can receive the sacraments. But what do you do if the religious Ed director, the deacon, the priest, the pastor, the bishop or even the Arch Bishop says no? It is laid out in canon law and is based on Mathew 18. If you have a problem with your brother, go to him. If he does not listen, take witnesses, if he still does not listen take him to The Church. That last step is where the St. Joseph Foundation comes in and can help you appeal your case.

You can learn more about the St. Joseph Foundation and how to contact them through their website

Lest you think that I am just reading into this what I want, here are most of the references to the original documents I have referenced above. I have linked to most of them in the text but in case you missed them or just want to get to them faster, here they are again:

The Code of Canon Law
The USCCB
Congregation for Catholic Education
Council of Trent
Council of Trent – The 7th session (where I pulled most of my information
Charter of the rights of the family (which is right on the Vatican’s website)
Responsibilities and rights of parents in religious education
St. Joseph Foundation
and the HSLDA website

 

Can. 793 §1. Parents and those who take their place are bound by the obligation and possess the right of educating their offspring. Catholic parents also have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances.

§2. Parents also have the right to that assistance, to be furnished by civil society, which they need to secure the Catholic education of their children.

Can. 794 §1. The duty and right of educating belongs in a special way to the Church, to which has been divinely entrusted the mission of assisting persons so that they are able to reach the fullness of the Christian life.

§2. Pastors of souls have the duty of arranging everything so that all the faithful have a Catholic education.

Can. 795 Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life.

And

Pope Saint Pius X said that in order for a child to be prepared for Holy Communion they must ONLY be above the age of reason, and be able to tell the difference between regular bread and the Body of Christ. This right to salvation, supersedes the knowledge we like to impart.

And

Can. 843 §1. Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.

Can. 889 §1. Every baptized person not yet confirmed and only such a person is capable of receiving confirmation.
§2. To receive confirmation licitly outside the danger of death requires that a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises.

Can. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise.

USCCB:
Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 891, hereby decrees that the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Rite shall be conferred between the age of discretion and about sixteen years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop and with regard for the legitimate exceptions given in canon 891.

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