|Don't be too indulgent to them, says Pope Francis. Children at the Family Retreat.|
Pope Francis says he is in favour of Feminism and against Patriarchy, but liberal readers may beg to differ, having rather different ideas about what those terms mean. Pope Francis writes:
54. There are those who believe that many of today’s problems have arisen because of feminine emancipation. This argument, however, is not valid, “it is false, untrue, a form of male chauvinism”. The equal dignity of men and women makes us rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear, and within families there is a growing reciprocity.
The key word here is 'recoprocity': equal dignity does not, for Pope Francis, mean 'interchangable in function', it means equal in dignity, with distinct functions. And so he goes on - yes, I'm afraid so - to affirm traditional gender roles and traditional parenting.
You see, men and women just aren't the same:
136. Men and women, young people and adults, communicate differently. They speak different languages and they act in different ways.
173: I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities – motherhood in particular – also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all.
He has encouragement for 'stay-at-home' mothers.
49. The problems faced by poor households are often all the more trying. For example, if a single mother has to raise a child by herself and needs to leave the child alone at home while she goes to work, the child can grow up exposed to all kind of risks and obstacles to personal growth.
He also speaks of the essential role of fathers.
55. Men “play an equally decisive role in family life, particularly with regard to the protection and support of their wives and children… Many men are conscious of the importance of their role in the family and live their masculinity accordingly. The absence of a father gravely affects family life and the upbringing of children and their integration into society. This absence, which may be physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual, deprives children of a suitable father figure”.
Taking up one's gender role is actually a central part of spiritual growth in marriage.
221. Might we say that the greatest mission of two people in love is to help one another become, respectively, more a man and more a woman?
A traditional form of upbringing for children includes, naturally, discipline. Pope Francis devotes a whole sub-chapter to the 'The value of correction as an incentive'; it begins:
268. It is also essential to help children and adolescents to realize that misbehaviour has consequences. They need to be encouraged to put themselves in other people’s shoes and to acknowledge the hurt they have caused. Some punishments – those for aggressive, antisocial conduct - can partially serve this purpose.
Pope Francis does not want parents to be easy-going. On the contrary:
260: Parents need to consider what they want their children to be exposed to, and this necessarily means being concerned about who is providing their entertainment, who is entering their rooms through television and electronic devices, and with whom they are spending their free time. ...Vigilance is always necessary and neglect is never beneficial.
They should imbue their children with the virtue of modesty:
282. A sexual education that fosters a healthy sense of modesty has immense value, however much some people nowadays consider modesty a relic of a bygone era. Modesty is a natural means whereby we defend our personal privacy and prevent ourselves from being turned into objects to be used. Without a sense of modesty, affection and sexuality can be reduced to an obsession with genitality and unhealthy behaviours that distort our capacity for love, and with forms of sexual violence that lead to inhuman treatment or cause hurt to others.
Pope Francis goes on in the following sections to say that sex education should precisely not be what it is in progressive educational theory: an education in 'safe sex.'
He is equally emphatic about the role of parents as primary educators, and develops this point at some length. Parents should set out to form their children morally:
264. Parents are also responsible for shaping the will of their children, fostering good habits and a natural inclination to goodness. This entails presenting certain ways of thinking and acting as desirable and worthwhile, as part of a gradual process of growth.
This should include - indeed, start with - table manners.
266. Good habits need to be developed. Even childhood habits can help to translate important interiorized values into sound and steady ways of acting. A person may be sociable and open to others, but if over a long period of time he has not been trained by his elders to say “Please”, “Thank you”, and “Sorry”, his good interior disposition will not easily come to the fore.
All of this guidance and formation is to make possible a child's freedom, which is not conceived in a liberal fashion, which is to say in a negative fashion, as the ability to go in lots of different directions, but positively, as having as few impediments as possible in grasping the true and good.
267. Freedom is something magnificent, yet it can also be dissipated and lost. Moral education has to do with cultivating freedom through ideas, incentives, practical applications, stimuli, rewards, examples, models, symbols, reflections, encouragement, dialogue and a constant rethinking of our way of doing things; all these can help develop those stable interior principles that lead us spontaneously to do good.
A picture of the Bergoglian household emerges, which looks like something, I suppose, which would have been recognisable to Pope Francis' own childhood: he was born in 1936. A person of that generation, aware of the changes in attitudes which have taken place since then, has to make an assessment and decide what to reject and what to uphold of the way things used to be done. Pope Francis warns us against inflexibility, against legalism, and against coldness, but he wants to hand on to the future what was good about the traditional forms. He warns fiercly against the selfishness which often leads to divorce, against contraception (80), against abortion (83), against IVF (81), against gender theory (56), and against same-sex marriage (250: the only mention of homosexuality in the document).
In dealing with the aftermath of divorce, he may not speak as clearly as we would like, and he may not even be on the right track in stressing inclusiveness over the problems of bad example and infidelity. He does at least make it clear that these are matters of policy, and while passionately adhering to his own view, there is no question of doctrinal teaching at issue. On the contrary, things are left to bishops and priests - a burden which they may not always welcome. Nevertheless, the overall picture gives scant comfort to liberal Catholics, and absolutely none to liberals outside the Church.
I was struck, discussing Amoris laetitia on national television, how utterly irrelevant to the concerns of even Catholic progressives the apparent concessions made to them in the Exhortation are. There was a man from ACTA, who complained that the views gathered in the pre-Synod questionnaires had been ignored, and a lady from Women's Ordination Worldwide who wasn't going to be happy until the Pope was a woman. The presenter, Nicky Campbell, wanted to bring the conversation around to contraception, and a former News of the World editor wanted to rail about the Church's role in stopping the spread of abortion to Northern Ireland. This may be an argument that those apparent concessions were pointless. But it also shows that they aren't going to make as much difference as some people imagine.
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