Cardinal Burke: Parents have a moral obligation to oppose school curriculum contrary to moral law
Editor’s note: The following talk was given as part of an online conference title “Fathers’ Call to Bishops: Help us to defend our children’s purity.” The virtual event was organized by Voice of the Family and made available via LifeSiteNews on October 9, 2020.
October 9, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – It pleases me very much to assist Voice of the Family in its noble work of promoting the sound doctrine and discipline of the Church regarding marriage and its incomparable fruit: the family. In particular, I am pleased to address the critical issue of education which is the essential mission of the family and a fundamental expression of our culture.
It cannot escape the attention of any thoughtful person that education today is under a ferocious attack. In both education and law, as fundamental expressions of our culture, we witness the abandonment of the understanding of human nature and of conscience by which God calls us to respect the truth of nature and to live in accord with that truth in pure and selfless love.
Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, referring to the alienation of man from God and, therefore, from the world, declared:
But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (1)
It is Christ alone Who opens the understanding and animates the heart to embrace the truth and to live it in love. Educators, therefore, cooperating with parents, lead children to know Christ and to follow Him in all things, and thus lead them to the peace which is the desire of every human heart. Education, both in the home and in the school, opens the eyes of the child to contemplate the mystery of God’s love for us in the sending of His only-begotten Son in our human flesh and in the sending of His Holy Spirit into our souls, the great fruit of the Redemptive Incarnation.
Parents who in the past have depended upon schools to assist them in raising their children to be true citizens of heaven and earth, good members of the Church and good members of civil society, find some schools to be places of indoctrination in atheistic materialism with its concurrent relativism. Such schools, in fact, attempt to destroy the education received in the home regarding the most fundamental truths: the truth regarding the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, the integrity of human sexuality and of marriage, and the irreplaceability of the relationship of man with God or of holy religion. What is more, when parents rightly try to safeguard their children from such a nihilistic ideology, these schools attempt to force the indoctrination upon their children in a totalitarian manner.
Sadly, some Catholic schools, for a variety of reasons, mimic the situation in non-Catholic schools by insisting upon the anti-life, anti-family, and anti-religion ideology which marks education, in general. The latter situation is particularly pernicious, for parents send their children to a Catholic school, trusting that it will be truly Catholic, when, in fact, it is nothing of the sort. The operation of such schools under the name of Catholic is a profound injustice to families.
At the root of the deplorable cultural situation in which we find ourselves is the loss of a sense of nature and of conscience. Pope Benedict XVI addressed this loss, in respect of the foundations of law, in his address to the German Parliament, the Bundestag, during his Pastoral Visit to Germany in September of 2011. Taking leave from the story of the young King Solomon on his accession to the throne, he recalled to political leaders the teaching of the Holy Scriptures regarding the work of politics. God asked King Solomon what request he wished to make as he began to rule God’s holy people. The Holy Father commented:
What will the young ruler ask for at this important moment? Success – wealth – long life – destruction of his enemies? He chooses none of these things. Instead, he asks for a listening heart so that he may govern God’s people, and discern between good and evil (cf. 1 Kg 3:9). (2)
The story of King Solomon, as Pope Benedict XVI observed, teaches what must be the end of political activity and, therefore, of government. He declared: “Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace…. To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician.” (3)
Pope Benedict XVI then asked how we know the good and right which the political order and specifically the law are to safeguard and promote. While he acknowledged that in many matters “the support of the majority can serve as a sufficient criterion,” (4) he observed that such a principle is not sufficient “for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake.” (5) Regarding the very foundations of the life of society, positive civil law must respect “nature and reason as the true sources of law.” (6) In other words, one must have recourse to the natural moral law which God has inscribed upon every human heart. I think of my own homeland, the United States of America, in which the Supreme Court of the nation has presumed to define the beginning of human life, the partnership of marriage, and human sexuality itself according to materialistic and relativistic, sentimental considerations, in defiance of the law written by God on the human heart. (7)
What Pope Benedict XVI observed regarding the foundations of law in nature and conscience points to the fundamental work of education, namely, the work of fostering in students “a listening heart” which strives to know the law of God and to respect it by development in the life of the virtues. True education aims to bring the human person “to full human and Christian maturity.” (8) Suffice it to say that parents must be vigilant that the education given to their children be coherent with the Christian education and upbringing in the home. Even as the family is essential to the transformation of culture, so also is education because of its intrinsic connection with the growth and development of the child.
The thoroughly galvanized anti-life, anti-family, and anti-religion agenda of our time advances, in large part, because of a lack of attention and information among the general public. The pervasive mass media, the powerful promoter of the agenda, confuse and corrupt minds and hearts, and dull consciences to the law written by God in nature and upon every human heart. In his Encyclical Letter on the Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II declared:
What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life: new, because it will be able to confront and solve today’s unprecedented problems affecting human life; new, because it will be adopted with deeper and more dynamic conviction by all Christians; new, because it will be capable of bringing about a serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties. While the urgent need for such a cultural transformation is linked to the present historical situation, it is also rooted in the Church’s mission of evangelization. The purpose of the Gospel, in fact, is “to transform humanity from within and to make it new.” Like the yeast which leavens the whole measure of dough (cf. Mt 13:33), the Gospel is meant to permeate all cultures and give them life from within, so that they may express the full truth about the human person and about human life. (9)
What Pope John Paul II affirmed about the mobilization of consciences regarding the inviolability of innocent human life surely applies as well and as strongly to the mobilization of consciences regarding the integrity of marriage and family life, and regarding the irreplaceable relationship with God, which is holy religion.
Pope John Paul II did not fail to note that such efforts must begin with “the renewal of a culture of life within Christian communities themselves.” (10) The Church herself must address the situation of so many of her members who, even though they may be active in Church activities, “end up by separating their Christian faith from its ethical requirements regarding life, and thus fall into moral subjectivism and certain objectionable ways of acting.” (11) This separation of faith from practical life is particularly devastating when it influences education. The child, who is taught to have a “listening heart,” who is naturally attuned to his conscience, to God’s law written upon his heart, is corrupted by those in whom he is led to put his trust. One only thinks of the corruption wrought by a pervasively false education in human sexuality. Parents cannot be attentive enough to the possibility of such corruption entering into what should be the education of their children.
Catholic education of children and youth is a complete education, that is, the development of reason through the competent imparting of knowledge and skills within the context of the faith through the study of God and of His plan for us and our world, as He has revealed Himself and His plan to us. Pope Pius XI, in his Encyclical Letter Divini Illius Magistri, described a Catholic or Christian education with these words:
The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ Himself in those regenerated by baptism, according to the emphatic expression of the Apostle: “My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you.” For the true Christian must live a supernatural life in Christ: “Christ who is your life,” and display it in all his actions: “That the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”
For precisely this reason, Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accord with the example and teaching of Christ.
Hence the true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character. For, it is not every kind of consistency and firmness of conduct based on subjective principles that makes true character, but only constancy in following the eternal principles of justice, as it is admitted even by the pagan poet when he praises as one and the same “the man who is just and firm of purpose.” And on the other hand, there cannot be full justice except in giving to God what is due to God, as the true Christian does. (12)
It is only such a complete education which can guide our children and young people on the way of the happiness for which God has created each of us. With the help of a sound education at home and in school, children know happiness both during the days of their earthly pilgrimage and eternally at the goal of their pilgrimage which is Heaven. It is only such an education which can transform our culture.
The family is the first place of education, a truth which defines essentially the mission of the school. The school serves the family and, therefore, works intimately with the family in bringing children to ever greater maturity, to the fullness of life in Christ. Regarding Christian marriage and the family, and the mission of education, Pope Saint John Paul, in his 1981 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Familiaris Consortio, declared that “the Christian family, in fact, is the first community called to announce the Gospel to the human person during growth and to bring him or her, through a progressive education and catechesis, to full human and Christian maturity.” (13) Christian education in the family and in the school introduces children and young people, in an ever more profound way, into the Tradition, into the great gift of our life in Christ in the Church handed down to us faithfully, in an unbroken line, through the Apostles and their successors.
Education, if it is to be sound, that is, for the good of the individual and society, must be especially attentive to arm itself against the errors of secularism and relativism, lest it fail to communicate to the succeeding generations the truth, beauty and goodness of our life and of our world, as they are expressed in the unchanging teaching of the faith, in its highest expression through prayer, devotion and divine worship, and in the holiness of life of those who profess the faith and worship God “in spirit and in truth.” (14)
The Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, made clear that the primary responsibility for the education of children belongs to parents who rely upon sound schools to assist them in providing any part of the total education of their children, which they are not able to impart in the home. The essential good of marriage which is the gift of children includes both the procreation and the education of the child. I quote from Gravissimum Educationis:
As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family. They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute. It is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated, personal and social education of their children. The family is therefore the principal school of the social virtues which are necessary to every society. It is therefore above all in the Christian family, inspired by the grace and the responsibility of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught to know and worship God and to love their neighbor, in accordance with the faith which they have received in earliest infancy in the sacrament of Baptism. (15)
Certainly, society, in general, and the Church, in a particular way, also have a responsibility for the education of children and young people, but that responsibility must always be exercised with respect for the primary responsibility of parents.
Parents, for their part, should be fully engaged in whatever service of education is provided by society and the Church. Children and young people should not be confused or led into error by an education outside of the home which conflicts with the education given in the home. Today, parents must be especially vigilant, for some schools have become the tools of a secular agenda inimical to the Christian life. One thinks, for example, of the compulsory so-called “gender education” in some schools, which is a direct attack on human sexuality and on marriage and, therefore, on the family.
For the sake of our young people, we all must give particular attention to the fundamental expression of our culture which is education. Good parents and good citizens must be attentive to the curriculum which schools are following and to the life in the schools, in order to assure that our children are being formed in the human and Christian virtues and are not being deformed by indoctrination in the confusion and error concerning the most fundamental truths of human life, of the family, and of religion, which will lead to their slavery to sin and, therefore, profound unhappiness, and to the destruction of culture.
At the heart of a solid curriculum is both respect for the dignity of the human person and for the tradition of beauty, truth and goodness in the arts and the sciences. So often, today, a notion of tolerance of ways of thinking and acting contrary to the moral law seems to be the interpretative key for many Christians. According to this approach, one can no longer distinguish between the beautiful and the ugly, the true and the false, and the good and the evil. The approach is not securely grounded in the moral tradition, yet it tends to dominate our approach to the extent that we end up claiming to be Christian while tolerating ways of thinking and acting which are diametrically opposed to the moral law revealed to us in nature and in the Sacred Scriptures. The approach, at times, becomes so relativistic and subjective that we do not even observe the fundamental logical principle of non-contradiction, that is, that a thing cannot both be and not be in the same respect at the same time. In other words, certain actions cannot at the same time be both true to the moral law and not true to it.
In fact, charity alone must be the interpretative key of our thoughts and actions. In the context of charity, tolerance means unconditional love of the person who is involved in evil but firm abhorrence of the evil into which the person has fallen. All education should be directed to forming the students in the charity by which the mind and heart respond to the beautiful, the true, and the good, as God has created us to do.
Education which takes place first in the home and is enriched and supplemented by schools and, above all, by truly Catholic schools is directed fundamentally to the formation of good citizens and good members of the Church. Ultimately it is directed to the happiness of the individual which is found in right relationships and has its fulfilment in eternal life. It presupposes the objective nature of things to which the human heart is directed, if it is trained to be a “listening heart,” (16) that is, to follow a correctly formed conscience. It seeks an ever deeper knowledge and love of the true, the good, and the beautiful. It forms the individual to this fundamental pursuit throughout his or her lifetime.
May God inspire and strengthen parents and all of us in the work of forming “listening hearts” in our children and young people for their salvation and for the transformation of our culture. Under the maternal care of the Virgin Mother of God, may we seek and find in the Heart of Jesus the wisdom and strength to safeguard and promote the constant teaching and practice of the Church regarding human life, regarding human sexuality, marriage and the family, and regarding holy religion.
Thank you for your kind attention. May God bless you.
1 Eph. 2, 13-22.
2 “Was wird sich der junge Herrscher in diesem Augenblick erbitten? Erfolg – Reichtum – langes Leben – Vernictung der Feinde? Nicht um diese Dinge bittet er. Er bittet: „Verleih deinem Knecht ein hörendes Herz, damit er dein Volk zu regieren und das Gute vom Bösen zu unterscheiden versteht“ (1 Kön 3,9).” Benedictus PP. XVI, Allocutio “Iter apostolicum in Germaniam: ad Berolinensem foederatum coetum oratorum,” 22 Septembris 2011, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 103 (2011), p. 663. [Hereafter, Bundestag]. English translation: L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, 28 September 2011, p. 6. [Hereafter, BundestagEng].
3 “Politik muss Mühen um Gerechtigkeit sein und so die Grundvoraussetzung für Frieden schaffen.… Dem Recht zu dienen und der Herrschaft des Unrechts zu wehren ist und bleibt die grundlegend Aufgabe des Politikers.” Bundestag, p. 664. English translation: BundestagEng, p. 6.
4 “...kann die Mehrheit ein genügendes Kriterium sein.” Bundestag, p. 664. English translation: BundestagEng, p. 6.
5 “...in den Grundfragen des Rechts, in denen es um die Würde des Menschen und der Menschheit geht.” Bundestag, p. 664. English translation: BundestagEng, p. 6.
6 “...Natur und Vernunft als die wahren Rechtsquellen.” Bundestag, p. 665. English translation: BundestagEng, p. 6.
7 Cf. Roe v. Wade :: 410 U.S. 113 (1973); Obergefell v. Hodges :: 576 U.S. 644 (2015); and Bostock v. Clayton County :: 590 U.S. ___ (2020).
8 “… ad plenam maturitatem humanam et christianam ....” Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Adhortatio Apostolica Familiaris Consortio, “De Familiae Christianae muneribus in mundo huius temporis,” 22 Novembris 1981, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 74 (1982), 823, n. 2. [Hereafter, FC]. English translation: Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familaris Consortio, “Regarding the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” 22 November 1981 (Vatican City State: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1981), p. 4, no. 2. [Hereafter, FCEng].
9 “Quam primum inducantur necesse est generalis conscientiarum motus moralisque communis nisus, qui excitare valeant validum sane opus ad vitam tuendam: omnibus nobis simul coniunctis nova exstuenda est vitae cultura: nova, quae scilicet possit hodiernas de vita hominis ineditas quaestiones suscipere atque solvere; nova, utpote quae acriore et alacriore ratione omnium christianorum conscientiam permoveat; nova demum, quae accommodata sit ad gravem animosamque culturalem suscitandam comparationem cum omnibus. Huius culturalis conversionis necessitas coniungitur cum aetatis nostrae historica rerum condicione, at praesertim inhaeret in ipso evangelizandi munere quod proprium est Ecclesiae. Evangelium enim eo spectat «ut perficiat interiorem mutationem» et «humanitatem novam efficiat»; est velut fermentum quo pasta tota fermentatur (cfr Mt 13, 33), atque, qua tale, perfundere debet omnes culturas easque intus pervadere, ut integram declarent de homine deque eius vita veritatem.” Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Litterae encyclicae Evangelium vitae, “De vitae humanae inviolabili bono”, 25 Martii 1995, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 87 (1995), 509, n. 95. [Hereafter, EV] English translation: Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, “On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life,” 25 March 1995 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), pp. 168-169, no. 95. [Hereafter, EVEng].
10 “… vitae cultura renovanda intra ipsas christianas communitates.” EV, 509, n. 95. English translation: EVEng, p. 169, no. 95.
11 “… seiunctionem quandam inferunt inter christianam fidem eiusque moralia circa vitam postulata, progredientes hac ratione ad moralem quendam subiectivismum adque vivendi mores qui probari non possunt.” EV, 509-510, n. 95. English translation: EVEng, p. 169, no. 95.
12 “Eo proprie ac proxime intendit christiana educatio, ut, divina cum gratia conspirando, germanum atque perfectum christianum efficiat hominem: ut Christum scilicet ipsum exprimat atque effingat in illis qui sint Baptismate renati, ad illud Apostoli vividum: «Filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur Christus in vobis». Vitam enim supernaturalem germanus christianus vivere debet in Christo: «Christus, vita vestra», eandemque in omnibus rebus gerendis manifestare «ut et vita Iesu manifestetur in carne nostra mortali».
Quae cum ita sint, summam ipsam humanorum actuum, quod attinet ad efficentiam sensuum et spiritus, ad intellectum et ad mores, ad singulos et ad societatem domesticam atque civilem, christiana educatio totam complectitur, non autem ut vel minime exenuet, verum ut secundum Iesu Christi exempla et doctrinam extollat, regat, perficiat.
Itaque verus christianus, christiana educatione conformatus, alius non est ac supernaturalis homo, qui sentit, iudicat, constanter sibique congruenter operatur, ad rectam rationem, exemplis doctrinaque Iesu Christi supernaturaliter collustratam: scilicet, homo germana animi firmitate insignis. Neque enim quisquis sibi consentit et sui propriique tenax propositi agit, is solido ingenio est, sed unus ille qui aeternas iustitiae rationes sequitur, ut agnovit ethnicus ipse poëta, «iustum» una simul «et tenacem propositi virum» extollens; quae, ceterum, iustitiae rationes integre servari nequeunt, nisi Deo tribuatur – ut fit a vero christiano – quidquid Deo debetur.” Pius PP. XI, Litterae Encyclicae Divini Illius Magistri, “De Christiana iuventutis educatione,” 31 Decembris 1929, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 22 (1930), 83. English translation: Five Great Encyclicals, ed. Gerald G. Treacy (New York: The Paulist Press, 1939), pp. 64-65.
13 “… christiana enim familia est prima communitas, cuius est Evangelium personae humanae crescent annuntiare eamque progrediente educatione et catechesi ad plenam maturitatem humanam et christianam perducere.” FC, 823, n. 2. English translation: FCEng, p. 4, no. 2.
14 Jn 4, 24.
15 “Parentes, cum vitam filiis contulerint, prolem educandi gravissima obligatione tenentur et ideo primi et praecipui eorum educatores agnoscendi sunt. Quod munus educationis tanti ponderis est ut, ubi desit, aegre suppleri possit. Parentum enim est talem familiae ambitum amore, pietate erga Deum et homines animatum creare qui integrae filiorum educationi personali et sociali faveat. Familia proinde est prima schola virtutum socialium quibus indigent omnes societates. Maxime vero in christiana familia, matrimonii sacramenti gratia et officio ditata, filii iam a prima aetate secundum fidem in baptismo receptam Deum percipere et colere atque proximum diligere doceantur oportet; ...” Sacrosanctum Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum II, Declarato Gravissimum educationis, “De Educatione Christiana,” 28 Octobris 1965, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 58 (1966), 731, n. 3. English translation: Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, new rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1992), pp. 728-729, no. 3.
16 1 Kgs 3, 9.