What People Are Asking
Divorced Parents; Unwed Mothers
Fr. Paul Sretenovic
1. Question: How should a son or daughter act toward a mother or father who is in a morally condemned situation? For example, one of them is divorced and “re-married.” Should the children receive the father and his new “wife” or the mother and her new “husband” in their home?
Answer: In such cases there is a conflict between one's Natural Law duty to one's parents and one's Divine Law duty to God. In face of this dilemma, Divine Law should prevail. Morally speaking, a child could still allow his or her own parent into the house, but not their new "spouse."
The first reason for this regards the rights of God and His Church. The son or daughter of the person in question has a duty to reject a moral situation that is wrong before the eyes of God and illegitimate according to the law of the Church. If they receive this couple they admit per viam facti – by the way of the facts – that nothing is morally wrong, which is not permitted, since two Commandments – the 6th and the 9th – were broken.
The second reason is for the spiritual good of the persons involved. Actually, the spiritual life of the son and daughter will be weakened by the bad example of his or her father or mother. And everything that propitiates a weakening of one’s morals should be avoided. The parent who is in the wrong will also benefit spiritually from this rejection, which will give him/her an idea of the justice of God that the person will face in his or her private judgment. Finally, it will also be advantageous for the “wife” or “husband” who will feel a salutary pressure to be morally upright. Without rejections like this, he/she will never convert to the right position.
The third reason is for the Catholic formation of the children. This rejection is even more necessary when the son or the daughter is married and raising a family, so as not to scandalize the children by allowing their grandfather with his new “wife,” or vice-versa, to visit together. Parents must protect the innocence of their children as a duty incumbent upon them in the first end of the Sacrament of Matrimony, the procreation and education of children for Heaven. To act thus is to develop the character of the children and to show them that God and Catholic Morals come first, even when those we love are concerned. In this way, we teach children the true nature of love. "Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me," (Matt 10:37) said Jesus to His disciples.
The fourth reason is the common good of society. The Sacrament of Matrimony is a foundation stone of a Catholic society, and anyone who gives right of citizenship to concubinage – a couple living together in an irregular situation – becomes morally guilty of sabotaging the institution of marriage.
For these reasons one would also be permitted to forbid the parent from entering the house, although it is certainly understandable if one does not do this.
2. Question: Regarding an unwed mother, the following case happened in our parish. The mother had her child. The father abandoned her. She repented of her sin, confessed, and now wants to lead a normal life. At least she didn't have an abortion. Should we admit her in the normal life of the parish and our social life? Should we shun her? Should she be admitted to the Sacraments? Should she give her child for adoption?
Answer: There are several questions together, let me divide them and answer them one at a time.
• Should the unwed mother be admitted to the Sacraments?
Yes, it would be fine for the woman to receive the Sacraments at the chapel because since everyone knows that she repented and is no longer living in sin. The Sacraments will help her to carry her cross. As long as the conditions required for each of Sacraments would be fulfilled – contrition and the intent not to sin again for Confession; the state of grace for Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage – she should be admitted to them.
The sanctions mentioned below do not imply excommunication, which is a very precise situation in which a person is not admitted to the Sacraments. The unwed mother per se is not excommunicated.
• Should she be admitted to the normal life of our parish and our normal social life?
It is a good tradition of the Church not to admit the unwed mother to a normal social life. Otherwise, the same status would be given to the honest wife and mother who maintained an upright life accomplishing all her moral duties in marriage, and the adventurous woman who gave free reigns to her caprices and passions. This would be an injustice toward the honest mother and a discouragement for her to continue her life of virtue. It would also be a stimulus for other young women to follow the bad example. The Church cannot favor this. To admit the unwed mother to a normal social life or a normal parish life is to implicitly attack the morality of the well-constituted family.
This sanction, therefore, is a salutary one. Mothers may take advantage of it to teach their daughters not to follow the same path, but instead be chaste until marriage. Young unmarried women may criticize the unwed mother, encouraging one another to be faithful to Catholic Morals. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a normal reaction of the instinct of conservation of virtuous women who are struggling to preserve themselves and not fall into sin.
This does not mean, however, that the unwed mother should be left unassisted. As long as the morality of the family is prudently guaranteed, the unwed mother should be treated with all possible charity. She should be privately assisted in her needs either by the parish priest or older parish members. It is also a part of a Catholic life to forgive others who have made these mistakes and not turn our backs on those who have thus sinned, provided they take responsibility for their actions. It is advisable that some more mature ladies or nuns visit her or invite her to their places to provide her a certain moderate social life marked by virtue and good customs.
Granted, it is a small social life, but it is a part of the cross that she has placed upon herself when she decided to commit the sin. In life we must learn to deal with our past private and public mistakes and not to run away from them.
It is part of the progressivist mentality to oppose this treatment, and label it as uncharitable. Here also Progressivism is wrong, because it does not believe in Hell or Purgatory. The unwed mother should accept this treatment without bitterness, understanding that it is better for her to expiate her fault in this life rather than live an unpunished life on earth and then have to suffer forever in Hell or for a long time in Purgatory. If she offers her sufferings in union with Our Lord and Our Lady, she will not only earn merits for her eternal salvation, but can earn the respect of the parish members.
• But at least she took the responsibility of bringing the child to birth and did not commit the sin of killing her child - she didn’t have an abortion. Doesn’t this attenuate the sanction we should have toward her?
This is no excuse for the first sinful action. The omission of one crime does not attenuate the guilt for the other crime that was committed. This argument is similar to that of someone who would say: “This person is being punished for robbery, but at least he didn’t kill the witness. Doesn’t this attenuate his guilt?” No, it does not. Each crime is judged for itself, not in relation to the other possible crimes that were omitted.
The woman who has an abortion commits a murder against a defenseless innocent person, which in Morals is called a “voluntary homicide,” and constitutes a sin that calls to Heaven for vengeance. It is a crime that will have a much more severe punishment from God than the punishment reserved to the sin of the flesh of an unwed mother.
• Should the child be given up for adoption?
This decision depends on the mother. She has full rights over the child until he/she reaches the age of adulthood. Let me consider both possibilities: to give and not to give up the child for adoption.
In times past, grandparents or relatives would tactfully arrange to have the child adopted soon after the baby’s birth, without mentioning who the mother was in order to save the reputation of the family. Or married friends without children might adopt the child to save the reputation of the mother and raise the child well. The advantages are clear: The mother would still have access to the child, and the latter would be allowed to be reared normally in society. It is certainly a protection for the child. I don’t know any sanction of the Church against this procedure.
A similar procedure was offered for poor mothers without families or resources by this or that Religious Order. The mother would give the child to the Convent or Monastery so that he could receive a good formation and have a better chance to save his soul. This procedure was far from rare in past times. These donations of children to God were very common in Religious Orders. Today this solution is quite unusual since most of the Religious Institutions are Progressivist, and no longer have the same primary care for the salvation of souls.
Another possibility for the mother is to keep her child. It is her right to do so, understanding that the child will probably also suffer social sanctions that will affect his personality. If she decides to do so, the godparents, the parish priest, and older members of her parish should help her as much as they can to raise her child well.
Related Topics of Interest
Problems of Conscience on Marriages, Live-ins, Baby Showers
A Refrescher on Catholic Teaching about Marriage
Natural and Civil Marriages - Problems and Solutions
Addressing Priests and Religious
The Era of the Child
Styles Reflect the Moral Profile of Peoples and Epochs
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