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How Grown Children Should Receive
Scandalous Parents

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Dear Tradition in Action,

I read with interest the comments on how Catholics ought to respond to certain moral problems not infrequently encountered today.

Permit me, if I may, to request clarification of one point:

Does the duty not to permit one’s son or daughter living in sin to enter ones home, also apply to ones parent in such a situation? I admit it is far more frequently the other way, but in this day, a young married couple with "Baby Boomer" generation parents, for instance, could also find a parent who has divorced and remarried. What is a young person to do?

Your early response would be appreciated.

     In JMJ

     N.M.

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Fr. Sretenovic responds:

Dear N.M.,

Thank you for your question.

There are some clarifications that need to be made before responding.

I suppose that you are asking about sons and daughters who are over age 18 and do not rely on their parents financially. I also suppose that the parents are not invalids, in bad health, or financially dependent on the children for their living.

I presume as well that when you say that the parent is living in sin, you mean in public sin, which according to Catholic Morals is called grave scandal, that is, a public action which induces others to sin (Henry Davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology, I, p. 333). A public scandal would be when a father or a mother live in a situation of concubinage, having a marital life with someone without being married, or get remarried after a divorce. Essentially these two situations don’t differ since Our Lord said: “Everyone that putteth away his wife and married another committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (Lk 16:18). Therefore, marriage after divorce is a public adultery, as is concubinage. Both are grave scandals that should be avoided.

With this said, let me note that the principles set out below do not apply straightforwardly to children who are minors or dependent on their parents, to invalid parents or those dependent on their children, or to parents whose sin is not a scandal.

So, your question becomes:

When and how should a son or daughter of legal age, and financially independent, receive or visit able parents who live in public sin?

Here, there are two cases that can be considered:
A. The young man or woman owns or rents a house and has to decide whether to receive a scandalous parent there;

B. The person does not live nearby, and has to decide whether he or she should visit a scandalous parent and the person he lives with in their house.
In the first case, the son or daughter should receive only his natural mother or father, and not the other party who lives with her or him. A son or daughter can do this because of the natural link that unites them to a parent, and with the aim of helping the parent return to the practice of the Commandments, which he should encourage as much as possible. During that visit, however, he must maintain some distance so that his behavior is not understood by his children and relatives as complacence toward the parent’s public sin.

A son or daughter can meet the parent with the other party with whom they are living at a public place – a club, restaurant or hospital – not socially, but for some precise reason that involves a mutual interest.

In the second case, there are still different possibilities:

If the mother or father owns the house and the son or daughter will inherit the property, the latter can visit the house when necessary to make sure that the common goods are being well maintained.

If the son or daughter is not an heir, he or she should visit the house of his parent only when it is strictly indispensable, and he should arrange that the other party is not present.

If the father or mother lives in a place that belongs to the party he or she is living with, the son and daughter should avoid visiting that house. Any contact with one of the parents should be made in a public place.

These are the distinctions that should be made in response to your question. I hope I interpreted well the mind of the Catholic Church in this matter.

     In Jesu et Maria,

     Fr. Paul Sretenovic
Posted August 16, 2007

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