Home Schooling Based on Catholic Church Teaching
More information may be found in Responsibilities & Rights of Parents in Religious Education, available for only $2 from Seton Educational Media.
Does the Catholic Church allow home schooling? Absolutely, yes! In fact, the Catholic Church strongly supports home schooling.
Several documents of the Church use language specifically stating that parents must be acknowledged as first and foremost educators of their children:
- Canon law
- Vatican II Declaration on Christian Education, #3
- Pope John Paul II The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, #36-40
- On Catechesis in Our Time, #68
- The Charter of the Rights of the Family
- Guidelines for Education Within the Family, Chapter IV (by the Pontifical Council for the Family, 1995)
- and The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994.
While not using the words home schooling directly, all the documents of the Catholic Church mentioned above leave absolutely no doubt that the primary right of education and the duty of education lie with the parents. The parents are the primary educators.
It should be remembered that all Christian education was taught in the home prior to the Edict of Milan in the year 313 A.D. It was in that year that Emperor Constantine permitted the Christians the right to practice their Faith openly for the first time. From the time of the Apostles until 313 A.D., therefore, all Christian doctrine was taught at home. The first Christians followed the teachings of the Apostles who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ. Home Schooling was the only method of Catholic teaching for the first three centuries.
It was the parents who gave great zeal to their own children to go out and preach to all nations, teaching them what Jesus had said and taught to the Apostles. These Christian parents were following the Old Testament Biblical command as well:
Fathers teach your children… (Deuteronomy 6:6)
You shall read the law aloud in the presence of all… Assemble the people, men, women and children that they may hear and learn it. (Deut. 31: 11-13)
We also read in Deuteronomy:
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad… (Deut. 6: 6-7)
When your son asks you what these ordinances, statutes and decrees mean which the Lord our God has enjoined on you, you shall say to your son, “We were once slaves of Pharaoh but the Lord brought us out of Egypt…” (Deut. 6: 20-22)
The Book of Proverbs also exhorts:
My son, forget not my teaching; keep in mind my commands. (Proverbs 3: 1)
The Old Testament is filled with the command of God, “Fathers, teach your children.” The Catholic Church, having accepted these exhortations for centuries, has now incorporated them into the documents of Vatican II.
In the new Rite of Baptism, toward the end of the ceremony, the priest blesses the mother of the child. The priest then adds a prayer from the father saying:
God is the giver of all life, human and divine. May He bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the Faith by what they say and do in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
From the very beginning of the life of their children, the Catholic Church encourages parents to teach their children about the Faith. It is not surprising then, that Vatican II reiterates this in #3 of its Declaration on Christian Education:
Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and men that a well-rounded personal social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those virtues that every society needs.
It is particularly in the Christian family enriched by the grace and the office of the Sacrament of Matrimony that from their earliest years children should be taught according to the Faith received in Baptism…
Finally, it is through the family that they are gradually introduced into civic partnership with their fellow men and into the people of God.
This Declaration further reminds us that “education requires the help of society as a whole” but it must not be forgotten that the original right of education belongs directly with the parents. Society may “aid” the parent but not usurp a parent’s power to educate.
In #6 of Vatican II’s Declaration on Christian Education, we read: “Parents who have the first and inalienable duty and right to educate their children should enjoy true freedom in their choice of schools.” Surely, this would include the right to home school.
#8 of Vatican II’s document on education speaks of teachers approved by parents to help them in teaching—that is, if the parents seek help. Vatican II reminds such teachers: “… above all, let them perform their services as partners of the parents.” Notice, teachers, if used, are “partners of the parents”. Teachers help parents; they are not to usurp the parents’ rights.
This short summary of Vatican II’s litany of parental rights in the realm of education should be sufficient in itself to prove to the most dubious mind that parental rights to educate are sanctioned by Vatican II; however, we will give further evidence of Church approval of home schooling. Incidentally, using the permission given them by Vatican II to teach their own children should put to rest the argument that home schoolers are pre-Vatican II.
Further proofs of Church approbation for parents to teach will include statements from Canon Law, The Charter of the Rights of the Family, two apostolic exhortations from Pope John Paul II, numerous paragraphs from The Catechism of the Catholic Church and pronouncements from Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality published in 1995 from the Office of the Pontifical Council for the Family. All these documents are post-Vatican II.
Canons 776 and 777, when speaking about the Pastor and catechetical instruction, direct him to provide for the catechetical formation of the young. Canon 776 actually commands the Pastor “to promote and foster the role of the parents in the family catechesis.”
Parents on their part must keep in mind that although they have a natural right to teach their children, they must follow the teaching which is handed down by the Church and the particular norms published by competent authority for a suitable catechetical formation.
It is most important to mention that those who choose religious texts from which to teach catechetical doctrine to others are themselves bound to use texts which adhere to the Magisterium of the Church. One would sin gravely in allowing the use of religious texts which contradict or ridicule doctrines handed down and approved by our Holy Father. The criterion for texts, then, must always be, is it authentic doctrine? Does it agree with The Catechism of the Catholic Church? Seton Home School religion books agree with authentic teaching. Home schooling’s purpose is always to inculcate a love of traditional Truth.
Our Holy Father reminds those who aid parents in teaching:
But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities. (#16, Letter to the Family, John Paul II)
In brief, the Pontiff states that the religious education should start at the lowest level, i.e., the family. The principle of subsidiarity can be best capsulated in the idea that we should never do for an individual what he can do for himself. Since the Holy Father has stated often that the marriage vows give the parent the right to teach, it would seem that the right to decide if one is capable or not, lies with the parent himself. The parent is the one to decide: “I am capable to teach,” or “I cannot do this alone. I need help.”
Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, in commenting on a parent’s right to catechize when he was President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said:
But while the Canon states that the Pastor should judge about the fitness of a child’s preparation for the reception of Confirmation and Eucharist (Canons 890, 914), it also requires that the Pastor’s judgment be made together with the parents. This judgment is to be based not on the arbitrary criteria of the Pastor, but upon the truths of the Faith and legitimately established norms. (Seton’s Newsletter, April 1992, reprinted there with the permission from Lay Witness)
So from the highest office in Rome on the family, we have Church approbation for the right of parents to teach catechesis as long as they teach authentic doctrine. It must be stated that authentic doctrine is doctrine approved under the authority of the Pope. Authentic doctrine is violated when at the whim of a religious director or anyone else, even clerics’ ideas, thoughts or personal prejudices are passed off as “new” catechetics.
In the Introduction to the Rite of Confirmation, we are again told that the initiation of children into the sacramental life is the responsibility of the parents. It suggests that parents can receive help from catechism classes but again we notice that it is help. Catechism classes should not supercede the rights of parents.
Pope John Paul II in The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris Consortio) states quite clearly, that the right of parents to educate their children:
… is original and primary… on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parent and children; it is irreplaceable and inalienable and therefore, incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others. (Familiaris Consortio, #36)
Surely, if one would not follow directives from the Pontifical Council for the Family, he or she would think twice before disregarding the words of the Holy Father. Edouard Cardinal Gagnon hits the proverbial nail on the head when he says:
“The role of the Pastor, therefore, is to give a service of assistance by providing the parents with the means to form their child. The parents, however, are not obliged to accept this assistance if they prefer to exercise exclusively their obligation and right to educate their own children.” (This is a natural right and is not altered by the right of the Church e.g., Canons 793 and 794, 914)
He continues, pointing out the real problem:
In times past, parents were only too happy to be assisted by the Catholic school system in the formation of their children. Now, however, it is no longer the case in many a diocese where Catholic schools are permitted to use certain catechetical texts, which though bearing an imprimatur, are gravely deficient in following the Magisterium. (Taken from Seton Newsletter, April 1992 and reprinted with permission from Lay Witness.)
This is the basic problem and the author feels that Pope John Paul II had such interests in mind when he wrote:
…in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, the “Church of the home” remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus, there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children’s catechist and to carry it out with tireless zeal. (Catechesi Tradendae, #68)
The Pontiff had just said “…that the parish community must continue to be the prime mover and pre-eminent place for catechesis” (C.T., #67) but modified this in the very next paragraph when he summarized: “In short, without monopolizing or enforcing uniformity, the parish remains, as I have said, the pre-eminent place for catechesis.” (C.T., #67)
Why did the Pontiff add “without monopolizing” or “enforcing uniformity?” Surely, it was because he had said so often that the original and primary right to educate lies with the family. Thus, “without monopolizing” would seem to say “without usurping the rights of the parents”; and “(without) enforcing uniformity” would seem to indicate: “do not set up some artificial requirement such as a parish program without which a child would be denied the Sacraments.” This goes without saying, that if the parent undertakes to prepare the child, that the parent is truly obliged to see that the child really does understand the meaning, purpose and results of the Sacrament he is about to receive.
The Charter of the Rights of the Family in Article 5 states:
“Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children.” (Article 5) Continuing on, The Charter says: “Parents have the right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions…Parents have the right to freely choose schools or other means necessary to educate their children in keeping with their convictions.” (Article 5, a and b)
This states almost word for word what Vatican II said in #3 of its Document on Education. The fact that these documents quote each other shows that the statements are extremely important, and were not written without serious thought by Vatican II, the Pope, Canon Law, and The Charter of the Family.
#108 of the Charter tells us distinctly that the contribution of others to education “must be carried out in agreement with the family.” In other words, do not pass off personal ideas as doctrine when the family adheres to the Magisterium. Let all teach what the Church teaches.
Canon 793.1 recognizes that parental right to teach extends to the choice of means and institutes which they prudently determine as being suitable. This indicates in itself that parents may use authentic material to teach their children in the home about the Faith. Parents “have the right to choose the means” i.e., the books (as long as these books teach authentic doctrine).
No one, then, is free to say to parents, “You cannot use those books.” Usually, such a statement really means, “Your child must learn ‘our’ brand of Catholicism.” Where do they get their authority to even suggest such a thing? Surely, these people do not want to ignore Canon Law, which gives parents the right to choose the means (texts). They may also choose “institutes” which would pertain to the school, even home school if the parents choose.
Canon 774.2 states that “before all others, parents are bound by the obligation of forming their children by word and example in the Faith and practice of Christian life.” Before all others, then, parents can choose the books or their own home. Where have Directors of Religious Education obtained the idea that parents must use their books or attend their religious education classes, and that parents may not use their own books if they adhere to the Magisterium of the Church?
The Church does not object to catechisms which are faithful to Church teaching; the Church, however, objects strongly to those who would reject catechisms approved by the Church for years, and substitute “theories” which question Christ’s Resurrection, Papal Authority, the True Presence in the Eucharist, the Virginity of Mary, and the miracles of Christ.
One wonderful Bishop, in forbidding a certain text to be used in his Diocese, stated that it would be difficult to find something against the Catholic Faith or morals in that catechism because matters of Faith and morals were hardly treated at all!
This is the crux of the problem. Why do some catechisms fail to mention the efficacy of grace, occasions of sin, Confession, the power of prayer, the necessity of chastity, modesty, a right conscience, the evil of abortion, Humanae Vitae, and other basic Catholic dogmas?
Could this not be the cause of why so many Catholics do not even know the meaning of Transubstantiation? Even very young home schooled children can explain it in simple terms. To be told that home school religion texts [with imprimaturs] are old-fashioned and that parents must use new texts omitting traditional teachings violates Vatican II. Such statements toss aside the spirit of subsidiarity and is in direct violation of Canon Law.
There are many Canons relating specifically to the sacramental education of children, but all of them show a strong preference for the parents to teach sacramental catechesis. Vatican II affirms parental rights to teach and the words of Pope John Paul II do the same.
The documents of the Church should put to rest once and for all, anyone’s doubt as to the rights of home school parents to teach their children. Canon 1136 gives parents the right to teach not only religion, but also all the physical, social, cultural, moral, and other aspects of raising children.
In the apostolic exhortation, The Role of the Christian Family (Familiaris Consortio) our Holy Father says again and again that the right of the parents in education is irreplaceable, inalienable, and incapable of being usurped by others.
As Catholics, we must always base the morality of our acts upon the Ten Commandments and the traditional Catholic teaching. If your child has lost his Faith in a public or even a Catholic school, you can be sure he was steeped in Values Clarification. This is why the Council condemned it. Home schooling parents, on the other hand, stress the values of traditional Catholic teaching; they encourage respect for the Holy Father.
In the document issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1996, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, chapter IV on Mother and Father as Educators, stresses the Rights and Duties of Parents. The Council points out that parents have a “source in the Sacrament of Matrimony, which consecrates them for the strictly Christian education of their children…it enriches them with wisdom, counsel, fortitude, and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to help the children in their growth as human beings and as Christians” (#37).
The Pontifical Council encourages parents by stressing that “Parents must never feel alone in this task. The Church supports and encourages them, confident that they can carry out this function better than anyone else” (#40). “No one is capable of giving moral education in this delicate area better than duly prepared parents” (#43). “Therefore, through this document, the Church hold that it is her duty to give parents back confidence in their own capabilities and help them to carry out their task” (#47). “The family environment is thus the normal and usual place for forming children and young people to consolidate and exercise the virtues of charity, temperance, fortitude, and chastity. As the domestic church, the family is the school of the richest humanity” (#48).
Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II said:
As the Second Vatican Council recalled, “Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, the parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children.” (Familiaris Consortio, #36)
Let those who invoke Vatican II so often to explain so many questionable practices and changes take note. Vatican II teaches that parents are the first educators of their children. Home schoolers are not people returning to Vatican I, but people who expect the rights given them by Vatican II. Our Holy Father continues:
The right and duty of parents to give education is essential since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; it is irreplaceable and inalienable and therefore, incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others. (F.C., #36)
Here the Pope teaches parents that they cannot even give away entirely their right to teach to another person. He tells those who would try to take away from the parent the right to teach, that they cannot do so. Continuing, he says:
In addition to these characteristics, it cannot be forgotten that the most basic element, so basic that it qualifies the educational role of parents, is parental love which finds its fulfillment in the task of education and it completes and perfects its service of life: as well as being a source, the parents’ love is also the animating principle and therefore, the norm inspiring and guiding all concrete educational activity… (F.C., #36)
Pope John Paul II tells us further:
The task of giving education is rooted in the primary vocation of married couples to participate in God’s activity.
Certainly, it does not take a college degree to see that the Pope is telling parents that their right to educate comes from their marriage vows. Wedding bells do not of themselves give this right; but it comes from the Sacrament of Marriage and from their cooperation with God in the transmission of human life.
The Pontiff continues with this theme:
The Sacrament of Marriage gives to the educational role the dignity and vocation of being really and truly a “ministry” of the Church…So great and splendid is the educational ministry of Christian parents that St. Thomas has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests. (F.C., #38)
By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are, through the witness of their lives, the first heralds of the Gospel for their children. Furthermore, by praying with their children, by reading the word of God with them, and introducing them deeply through Christian initiation into the Eucharist and ecclesial Body they become fully parents. (F.C., #39)
The Pontiff himself here states that parents should help in the preparation of children for the Sacraments of Initiation. Vatican II declares that the Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation. It is also quite clear that our Holy Father teaches that parenthood is not truly fulfilled until parents also become teachers of their children. Rome has spoken; the argument is over. Parents have not only the right to teach, but it is also their duty.
This should put to rest once and for all the question of whether or not parents are qualified to teach catechism to their children; yet there are those who cling to the false idea that only an elite group can teach catechesis. Such an idea is in direct opposition to what Pope John Paul II has repeatedly said. It is illogical also because one could rightly ask the question, “Who teaches the C.C.D. classes in the parishes?”
Obviously, parents teach in the parish religious education classes, yet home schooling parents are told they are not qualified enough to do what pastors have parents do in the parish. The implication is that only those who have adopted the “new” watered-down theology should be teaching catechism to children. Parents who adhere to the traditional teaching of the Church are not wanted as teachers in some parishes.
The Holy Father, on the other hand, tells us:
The educational role of the Christian family therefore has a very important place in the organic pastoral work…The right of parents to chose an education in conformity with their religious faith must be absolutely guaranteed…the family needs special assistance from pastors of souls who must never forget that parents have the inviolable right to entrust their children to the ecclesial community. (F.C., #40)
Home schoolers do not deny that the Church has a role and a right to help; we ask only that the help be authentic doctrine and not a combination of Eastern psychology and new age practices.
In his Letter to the Family, the Pope reminds parents that in the Rite of Marriage, the priest asks: “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?” The key phrase here is “according to the law of Christ and His Church.” Let us adhere to authentic teaching; let us remain loyal to what our Holy Father teaches. The Church always must teach one, holy Catholic Church doctrine.
Our Holy Father states:
Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: They are educators because they are parents. (Letter to the Family, #16)
The question of competency of parents to teach is answered in the Pontiff’s last sentence here: “They are educators because they are parents.” Rome has spoken.
Pope John Paul II suggests that there are others who can aid the family in socialization and teaching but he concludes with a very important comment:
All other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents with their consent and to a certain degree with their authorization.
How much clearer can the Pope state it? He says again and again, parents hold original jurisdiction when it comes to education; others may help if the parents choose but their teaching must be in accord with the parents’ wishes, i.e., parents must give authorization to teachers because all other teachers are secondary. Those who would usurp parental rights and assume that they know better than the parents what is to be taught are in violation of Vatican II.
Most home schooling parents encourage their children to join parish groups, Boy Scouts, sports groups, etc. Many of them engage in music, art classes, creative writing, ice skating, debating, and in theatre. There is ample opportunity, therefore, for socialization.
However, one can exaggerate the idea of socialization. There are many schools today where children are socialized but are exposed to very little education. In some of these schools, one can find a variety of drugs and violence. They know little or nothing about God, with no appreciation for the feelings of others, or respect for the property of others.
True or real socialization means that children are taught to get along with people of all ages and differences. Home schooling socialization teaches children to associate with brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents, the elderly in the home. The Church teaches that social virtues begin in the home.
One final mistake about home schoolers is the foolish notion that we are not community minded. Our Holy Father teaches that the family is the first community, but aside from this, whenever I go to my parish Church, I attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a community. When I go to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, I walk up the aisle with other people in community. When I go to Confession, there are other people in the Church. How much more community should there be? It is true that Christ said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20), but He also went off frequently by Himself to pray. (Cf. Mt 14:23, Mt 26:36, Mk 6:46, Lk 5:16, and Lk 6:12).
Our Blessed Lord Himself told us: “But when you pray go to your inner room close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Mt 6:6)
Christ did teach the Apostles to pray together but He did that only a few times. Most of the time, Christ prayed in solitude. Even when He did take the Apostles, He often took only Peter, James and John (Mt 26:36 and Lk 9:28). It would seem that some have blown the idea of community out of proportion even to the exclusion of private prayer and devotion. People need time to reflect. When asked what was the greatest Commandment, Christ answered: “The greatest Commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all of thy heart, with all of thy mind, and with all thy strength.” (Mt 22:37)
And yes, He did add, “and the second is to love thy neighbor as thyself.” Notice, however, God is first; the neighbor is second. Community is second.
If one is honestly following Church teaching, and obeys our Holy Father, then he will easily see that Church teachings encourage home schooling and that the parents have original and primary rights and duties when it comes to educating their children. No one has the power to usurp this right and duty which mothers and fathers have under the Natural Law.
Catholic home schoolers promote the traditional Faith and wish to see the Catholic doctrine remain as it was passed down to us. Home schoolers claim their rights from Vatican II and post-Vatican II documents. Home schoolers are loyal to the Pope and to the Church.
Catholic home schoolers base their rights to educate on the writings of Vatican II, Canon Law of the Church, Pope John Paul II’s own words, The Charter of the Rights of the Family and from recent writings from the Pontifical Council for the Family. We believe as the Holy Father teaches—that a parent is not truly a parent until he becomes a teacher.