What can Catholics mums do if they want their children to remain Catholic?


When you have children, everyone tells you that your life is going to change.

They mean this in both the best and the worst possible ways: There are the predictable losses (lost sleep, lost money, lost time) as well as the wholly unexpected gains of loving a child beyond reason, beyond yourself.

What people do not tell you is that your children are bound to make unexpected and sometimes bewildering choices—and those choices have the power to change you.

Children will shake your sense of identity, challenge your beliefs and fundamentally alter who you are.

Anyone who has tried to pass on their religious faith to their children knows this to be true: You can be a good Catholic and raise a passel of atheists.

You can be a strident ex-Catholic and raise a priest—like I did.

My son would tell you that I have had a big influence on him.

He dives into the world in the same way I do, with the firm intention of changing it.

He works out his thoughts by writing them down.

He believes in the healing properties of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on a rainy day.

But when it came to making the biggest choice of his life—to convert to Catholicism and become a Jesuit priest—I was left to wonder what influence I had had on him or whether I had wielded any influence at all.

Many of the good Catholic mothers I have talked to are just as bewildered.

You can be a good Catholic and raise a passel of atheists.You can be a strident ex-Catholic and raise a priest—like I did.

They did everything in their power to raise children in their faith only to see them adopt other religions or reject God altogether.

Some say they were defeated by a culture that increasingly values the material over the spiritual, or they point to the rigidity of doctrine, failures of individual priests, sexual abuse scandals, boring services and bad music.

Many blame themselves, although they struggle to say where exactly they went wrong.

Those whose children remain practicing Catholics have some ideas about why that may be the case, but they, too, are well aware that things could easily have turned out differently.

In a recent survey of more than 1,500 U.S. Catholic women, commissioned by America and conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 73 percent of women who are mothers said their children remain in the church.

Fifteen percent indicated that none of their children are now Catholic.

The remaining 12 percent reported a mixed result: Some of their children are Catholic and some are not.

Those results closely mirror an informal poll of America readers for this article conducted by social media.

Just over 25 percent of the more than 500 respondents said their children have left the church—a number that trends suggest will increase as the young children of many respondents grow up.

Nationally, nearly half of all children leave the faith of their parents once they reach adolescence. Continue reading

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