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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

The "Parental Prerogative" a Mere Stalking-Horse of the Pope

page 83

The "Parental Prerogative" a Mere Stalking-Horse of the Pope.

But I have not got through with this "Parental Prerogative" yet. It is a most shrewd and sagacious appeal to the very democratic instinct to which it is really opposed. It is an endeavor to rouse the jealous independence of the American father in repulse of a purely illusory attack on his reserved parental rights. That he has parental rights I am the very last to deny; I am a parent myself, and not slow to defend the rights of a parent. But it is tyranny for a parent to forget or disregard the rights of his child; and it is usurpation for a parent to defy or despise the rights of society. Let the parent by all means stand firmly by his true parental rights in this school question; but let him be intelligent and self-restrained enough to recognize that he is not proprietor of all the rights in the case. Children are no longer the absolute property of the father. The plea of "Parental Prerogative" is well calculated to create a sense of wrong where no wrong exists—to sting ignorant parents into claiming a jurisdiction that does not belong to them, and to induce them to look on the Catholic Church as the bold champion of their rights against the assaults of a tyrannical majority. Such parents as these need to have their eyes opened; they are unsuspicious dupes. When the Catholic Church pleads "Parental Prerogative" to break down the beneficent public school system, and seemingly champions the rights of parents against the oppressions and aggressions of the non-Catholic majority, such parents ought to see that the church does not recognize any "Parental Prerogative" at all as towards itself. No sooner has the Church succeeded in rescuing the Catholic parent from the imaginary jaws of the State, than it immediately proceeds to devour both page 84 parent and child with its own jaws. It claims for the parent, so far as the State is concerned, absolute and undivided authority over his child; but, as the Divinely deputed parent of all Catholics, it claims for itself absolute and undivided authority over both parent and child. It is well to understand this matter thoroughly. Whatever "parental rights" or "parental prerogative" the Church may claim for Catholic parents, it concedes to them no rights whatsoever that are inconsistent with its own autocratic dominion over them. Let no one for a moment imagine that the Church would tolerate any exercise of "parental prerogative" which should withdraw Catholic children from parochial schools to place them in the public schools. That sort of parental independence it is swift to punish with the severest penalties in its power to inflict. I must adduce some evidence of this statement, to convince you that I am not talking at random.

In the list of "damnable heresies" known as the Syllabus Errorum denounced and condemned by Pope Pius IX. in 1864, the forty-eighth is as follows:—

"That method of instructing youth can be approved by Catholic men which is separated from the Catholic faith and from the power of the Church, and which has regard, or at least principally, to a knowledge of natural things only, and to the ends of social life on this earth."

The condemnation of this proposition is the explicit condemnation of all secular education by the supreme and infallible Head of the Church; and it forbids all Catholics to sanction or approve anything but strictly Catholic education. The whole warfare of the Catholic Church in this country against the public school system is the direct consequence of obedience to this command of the Pope; and the Church could not possibly recog page 85 nize any "parental prerogative" which should dare to dispute it.

Further, in answer to the question, "Who is bound to obey the Church?" the Catholic Catechism replies: "All baptized persons, for we are commanded by Jesus Christ himself to obey his Church." What "parental prerogative" is left outside of this obligation of universal obedience?

But I do not adduce merely abstract declarations of Syllabus or Catechism. The Dubuque Daily Telegraph of Jan. 3, only seven weeks ago, had this paragraph :—

"Father Ryan announced in St. Patrick's Church yesterday that the rule heretofore adopted of refusing the Sacrament of Penance and Holy Eucharist to parents who send their children to the public schools would be enforced and adhered to henceforth. He spoke emphatically on the matter, and advised parents who send their children to the public schools not to attempt to approach the sacraments, while they persist in refusing obedience to this law of the Church, alleging that such is the law."

Remember that to refuse the sacrament to a Catholic is practically to condemn him to an eternal hell.

There can be no doubt that this is the law of the Church. Bishop Gilmour, of Cleveland, explicitly declared it to be the law in his Lenten Pastoral of 1873, as follows:—

"We solemnly charge and most positively require every Catholic in the diocese to support, and send his children to, a Catholic school. When good Catholic schools exist, where it may be honestly said a child will get a fair common school education,—if parents, either through contempt for the priest or through disregard for the laws of the church, refuse to send their children to a Catholic school, then, in such cases, but in such cases only, we authorize confessors to refuse the sacraments to such parents as thus despise the laws page 86 of the Church, and disobey the command of both priest and Bishop."

In Rhode Island, acccording to the New York Independent of Feb. 10, 1876, "it seems that the father of a Miss De Fray made an affidavit in which he swore that the mother of the child had been excluded from the sacred rites of the Catholic Church, because she allowed her daughter to attend the public school, and was told that, so long as she persisted in doing so, she would not be entitled to the privileges of the Church." In consequence of this oppression, a bill has actually been introduced into the Rhode Island Legislature to prohibit such interference with family affairs. In other words, the State, which is denounced as violating "parental rights," is actually invoked to protect Catholic parents from violation of these very rights by their own priests!

I must not fail to add some personal testimony of my own to the same effect. Last Sunday evening, Bishop McQuaid lectured on "Catholic Education for Catholic Children," in St. Mary's Hall, Cambridgeport; and, desiring to hear him speak on this subject to a Catholic audience, I attended the lecture. Among other things, he said substantially this (I may not give the exact words in every part, but I know I give the exact substance of his words): "Now I am going to read to you from the Syllabus, which is a bugbear to many people, as if it were the horn of the beast of the Apocalypse thrown into the world to make mischief. But the Syllabus is only the condensation of great truths which the world needs for its salvation." He then read the extract I have already quoted, condemning so emphatically all Catholics who approve of any education apart from the faith and power of the Church, and said, with a lowering of the voice and an intensity of manner and tone which well conveyed the verbally suppressed menace: "Whoever does not believe page 87 in the Syllabus as the infallible truth of God ceases to be a Catholic. He may perhaps attend Mass, and go to confession; but"—and he spoke with an emphasis sure not to be misunderstood—"I would not like to have the absolving of him!"

Such, then, is the extent of the "parental prerogative" which the Bishop so eloquently claimed for Catholic parents on Sunday afternoon, and as eloquently scattered to the four winds of heaven on Sunday evening. Nothing can be plainer than that the Catholic conscience hurled against the school system is not the free and independent consciences of individual Catholic parents, but rather the conscience formed irresistibly in them by the clergy to whom they listen with fettered minds, massed like an obedient and well-disciplined army in defence of the Church. It is not the unbiassed conscience of the parents as such, left to form their candid opinions in profoundly respected liberty, but the coerced and yet honest conscience of spiritual slaves. It is, in short, not the conscience of free parents at all, but the organic conscience of the Church of Rome, knowing its own interests, oblivious of everything else, and determined to protect them at all costs. It is the conscience of the priests, the bishops, and the Pope, using the consciences of the laity as mere pawns in their desperate game with modern civilization. Let us understand the matter; the battle is between the corporate, consolidated, ecclesiastical conscience of the Roman Papacy, on the one hand, and, on the other, the multitudinous, independent, and secular consciences of the American Republic—nothing but that; and this whole theory of "parental prerogative," which is now held up high before the gaze of the outside world in order to compass the destruction of the public schools, and now trampled scornfully under foot within the precincts of the Church in order to build up the paro page 88 chial schools, has no life, meaning, or veracity except as the Pope's stalking-horse. In saying this, I do not in the least question the sincerity of the Roman priesthood. Ambition is a terribly sincere thing; despotism is a terribly sincere thing. But the American citizen who is deceived by this talk of "parental prerogative" and consents to abolish the public schools out of tenderness for "parental rights," unbolts and unbars the cage of a tiger whose first leap will be at his own throat. The Church cares nothing for parental rights except as an outer wall of defence against the Republic's just claim to establish schools for the education of her own children. Before the Church, the parent has no right but to obey. The Pope commands the bishops; the bishops command the priests; the priests command the parents; the parents command the children; and the burden of the command is evermore the same—"Believe and obey!" That is the beginning, middle, and end of "parental prerogative." Shall any freeman be so simple as not to know slavery when he sees it?