Catholicism for children on non-practicing parents


I am troubled by the obstacles the Church imposes that prohibit children of non-practicing parents to enter the Church, receive sacraments and attend Catholic school. As a grandmother, I encountered that difficulty 20 years ago with my granddaughter, but was persuasive with the parish priest, arguing that I as a practicing Catholic would oversee, with the parents’ permission, my granddaughter’s practicing of Catholicism. Isn’t it part of Evangelism to bring souls to Christ no matter what the circumstances? I look forward to comments.


let us talk about today
what difficulties are parishes today putting in the way of children of Catholic parents receiving religious education and sacramental preparation?
real life stories, not third party anecdotes, please

me and all of my colleagues in this diocese with the backing of our pastors go out of our way to invite Catholic children into our parish programs and to involve their parents, and especially grandparents and other supportive family members, to assist their child’s RE and bring them to the sacraments. So you will have to be more specific.

If you are speaking of baptism, the pastor must in canon law delay (not deny) baptism to the child whose parents give no evidence of intention to raise him in the faith.


What obstacles did you encounter? Would you be able to provide details? I would imagine the priest was concerned that the sacrements would not be taken seriously. Sacraments are not friviolous awards to be accumulated. I’m sure he would be willing to adminster them but he would want to know there would be a sincere effort on the part of the practioner. Baptism, however, should never be denied.


A 1994 study done in Switzerland about parental involvement (or noninvolvement) on their children's later (adult) church attendance.

The Critical Factor

In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not.

The result is dynamite.

There is one critical factor.

It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.

If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing?

Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

Before mothers despair, there is some consolation for faithful moms. Where the mother is less regular than the father but attends occasionally, her presence ensures that only a quarter of her children will never attend at all.

Even when the father is an irregular attender there are some extraordinary effects.

An irregular father and a non-practicing mother will yield 25 percent of their children as regular attenders in their future life and a further 23 percent as irregulars. This is twelve times the yield where the roles are reversed.

Where neither parent practices, to nobody’s very great surprise, only 4 percent of children will become regular attenders and 15 percent irregulars. Eighty percent will be lost to the faith.

While mother’s regularity, on its own, has scarcely any long-term effect on children’s regularity (except the marginally negative one it has in some circumstances), it does help prevent children from drifting away entirely. Faithful mothers produce irregular attenders. Non-practicing mothers change the irregulars into non-attenders. But mothers have even their beneficial influence only in complementarity with the practice of the father.

Father’s Influence

In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper.

If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular).

If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church.

In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door.

If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates that going to church is not really a "grown-up" activity. In terms of commitment, a mother’s role may be to encourage and confirm, but it is not primary to her adult offspring’s decision. Mothers’ choices have dramatically less effect upon children than their fathers’, and without him she has little effect on the primary lifestyle choices her offspring make in their religious observances.

Her major influence is not on regular attendance at all but on keeping her irregular children from lapsing altogether. This is, needless to say, a vital work, but even then, without the input of the father (regular or irregular), the proportion of regulars to lapsed goes from 60/40 to 40/60.

Of Huge Import

The findings may be for Switzerland, but from conversations with English clergy and American friends, I doubt we would get very different findings from similar surveys here or in the United States. Indeed, I believe some English studies have found much the same thing. The figures are of huge import to our evangelization and its underlying theology.

First, we (English and Americans both) are ministering in a society that is increasingly unfaithful in spiritual and physical relationships. There is a huge number of single-parent families and a complexity of step-relationships or, worse, itinerant male figures in the household, whose primary interest can almost never be someone else’s child.


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