Honor your parents

Q.  From childhood I was taught the Fourth Commandment, which calls us to honor our fathers and mothers. How can you teach that commandment to children who come from abusive homes? If students with abusive parents are taught that commandment, maybe they will think that they should take abuse and not tell anyone about it. What do you think?

A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:

I agree with the implication of your question that young children are very impressionable and likely to draw conclusions from what they are taught that are unwarranted and unintended.

I would say two things about your question. The first is that the Fourth Commandment -- in the context of the other commandments and, indeed, the whole Bible and the Catholic moral tradition -- implies that to be honored parents must first of all be honorable and upstanding. There is nothing that states or implies that children must yield to and honor the behavior of parents who act dishonorably. Teachers and catechists must always make that point clear in an age-appropriate way.

Second, I would say that with the vastly improved identification and procedural systems in Church and society regarding child abuse, it is less likely that children will be misled by the Fourth Commandment. Balance, subtlety and wisdom in catechesis and in the general nurturing of children are the keys to avoiding problems here.