The Church and motherhood
In his Independence Day homily, Archbishop Joseph Mercieca maintained that the state should do everything in its power to help parents give their children the kind of upbringing they are entitled to from both their parents together, especially when they are still very young.
Mgr Mercieca added that if young parents end up unable to raise their children together properly because, for example, both of them are constrained to go out to work to be able to pay off their house mortgage, or otherwise an environment is created where the mother who stays at home to devote her time to her young children is seen as a failure, instead of recognising and supporting her noble choice in a concrete way, then we would be sowing harm.
The Archbishop's pronouncement generated quite a discussion on the subject. One feels that in such a discussion, it is important to keep in mind the Church's stand on the various aspects involved:
• the distinctive natural bond that exists between mother and child cannot be ignored;
• society must strive to ensure that the family's collective income permits mothers to have a real choice of whether to work outside the family home or not, especially when they have small children to take care of;
• it is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to look at women who dedicate themselves to their families as if they are second-class and failed citizens;
• what a mother contributes to the family and through it to society deserves full attention, appreciation and recognition;
• society should do its utmost to support effectively the hard work women do in fulfilling their vocation as mothers, and in the gestation and up-bringing of their children through family-friendly policies;
• the emphasis on the mother's role in the upbringing of children should not overshadow the importance of the father's specific role because their roles are complementary - i.e. full attention must be given to the role of men as husbands and fathers, as well as to the responsibility which they share with their wives for their marriage, the family and the raising of their children;
• women have the right to full opportunities and to be able to find and keep their right place in all sectors of society; women should be assured equal opportunities in every sphere of society, from education to the practice of professions and the acquisition of jobs, and that everything should be done to encourage women to develop their talents.
Pope John Paul II's teaching on employment and motherhood is as follows:
"While speaking about employment in reference to the family, it is appropriate to emphasise how important and burdensome is the work women do within the family unit: that work should be acknowledged and deeply appreciated. The 'toil' of a woman who, having given birth to a child, nourishes and cares for that child and devotes herself to its upbringing, particularly in the early years, is so great to be comparable to any professional work. This ought to be clearly stated and upheld no less than any other labour right. Motherhood, because of all the hard work it entails, should be recognised as giving the rights to financial benefits at least equal to those of other kinds of work undertaken in order to support the family during such a delicate phase of its life." (Letter to Families, 17).
The Church believes that there must be a social re-evaluation of the mother's role, of the toil connected with it, and of the need that children have for care, love and affection so that they may develop into responsible, morally and religiously mature and psychologically stable persons.
The Church also believes that it will be to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother - without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination, and without penalising her as compared with other women - to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age.
The Church further believes that having to abandon these tasks in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of the good of society and of the family when it contradicts or hinders these primary goals of the mission of the a mother (Laborem exercens, 91).
The Church is not alone in her stand on the matter. Indeed, the issue was one of the subjects discussed at the Second Meeting of European Politicians and Legislators on Human Rights of the Family, organised in Rome by the Pontifical Council for the Family, on October 22-24, 1998. One of the conclusions drawn up and approved unanimously by the assembly, states as follows:
"Social legislation and policy should protect the role of mothers. Women should be free to be mothers and not forced by economic or social pressures to work outside the home.
"Work in the home ought to be recognised as a real and essential economic activity that produces goods.
"We salute those European politicians and legislators who have fought to promote the right to motherhood through just legislation and good social policy.
"We call on all our colleagues to examine together what can be done to create the conditions for women to carry out their indispensable work of forming the next generation, without preventing them from participating on an equal basis in society, whether in the workplace or the political arena."
Mr Buttigieg is PRO of the Archbishop's Curia.