On August 2015 from Manila, The Philippines, Pope Francis addressed a weeping mother, “You respected the life you were carrying inside you, and God is going to reward you for that and he does reward you for that. Don’t be ashamed… I know that people can sometimes look askance at you…You’re a brave woman because you’re capable of bringing these two daughters into the world.” Francis added, “I congratulate you.” The mother to whom he was speaking is a single parent.
It’s a sensitive subject within the Catholic Church, where the impetus is to encourage the security of the traditional family structure and the inherent sanctity of marriage. And rightly so: the nuclear family is a foundational block. Third-wave feminism has sought to negate/diminish the role of men and fathers in society, with the illusion that women can do it all. It is not the truth: the balance between male and female and the different psychological approaches are necessary for the developing child. To wish a single mom, ‘Happy Father’s Day’, as is popular now, buys into that artifice.
In the zeal, however, to revitalise the traditional family structure within the Church community, one group remains on the peripheries and invisible in Church outreach: the single parent. Very few people choose to be a single parent at the onset (although there is a growing cadre of professional women who are choosing that route). Different circumstances can result in that end, and not all of them as a result of ‘carelessness’, ‘bad behaviour’, or ‘immorality’.
Many single mothers have been driven away from congregations because of the lack of support and weight of judgement that have been placed on them, to find solace and a place to build their relationship with God outside of the Catholic Church. Some dispense with religious practice altogether. If a ‘mistake’ was made, they are left to their own devices as requisite ‘punishment’ for their crime. Ensuing issues, economic or otherwise, are deserved despite the evidence of commitment to ensuring the well-being of the child.
In a strange dichotomy, there are the many tales of mothers and grandmothers who ‘struggled through on their own’ and whose children went on to become leaders and productive members of society. Then single motherhood turns into a mythos of nobility and strength and endurance, where the struggle ‘against all odds’ is held up as a thing to be admired.
It used to be that it took a community to raise a child and, in these times, when so many of our children from both single-parent and nuclear families are struggling to make sense of the world around them, can the Church afford not to fulfil yet another mission of love?
There was a time when children born to single mothers were not baptised in the Catholic Church, a practice that is maintained in certain quarters. To this Pope Francis responded, describing such as “pastoral cruelty” during a question-and-answer session at a pastoral conference for the Diocese of Rome, June 2016.
The pontiff went on to say, that the pastoral practice of “embracing, accompanying, integrating, discerning should be done without sticking one’s nose into the morality of people’s lives”.
It is not that the Church does not concern itself with morality, but rather, that it is done in a manner of loving kindness. The great disrupter of hypocrisy and judgement said it Himself: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
This Mother’s Day Editorial was done by copy editor/writer and mother Simone Delochan.