Pope Francis pulled off his kid gloves Wednesday, denouncing in the strongest terms what he called a “society without fathers.”
“Particularly in Western culture,” he said, the father figure is “symbolically absent, missing and removed.”
At first, Francis explained, the absence of fathers “was perceived as a liberation: liberation from the father-master, from the father as a representative of the law that is imposed from the outside, from the father as a censor of the happiness of children and obstacle to the emancipation and autonomy of young people.”
In his weekly audience, the Pope recognized that in the past especially there were cases of authoritarian, overbearing fathers who didn’t respect the personal needs of their children. Now, however, “we have gone from one extreme to the other,” he said.
The real problem of our day, Francis said, “does not seem to be the intrusive presence of fathers anymore, but rather their absence and their inaction. Fathers are often so focused on themselves and on their work and sometimes on their individual accomplishments, that they can forget even the family, neglecting their children.”
As bishop of Buenos Aires, Francis reflected, “I felt the sense of orphanhood that many young people live today. And I would often ask dads whether they were playing with their children, if they had the courage and love to spend time with their children. And in most cases the answer wasn’t pretty: ‘I really can’t, because I have so much work.’ And the father was absent from that child who was growing up, not playing with him, and not spending time with him,” he said.
The Pope urged Christian communities to be more attentive to the presence of fathers. “The absence of the father figure in the lives of children and young people leaves gaps and scars that can be very serious,” he said. He also suggested that many times “the transgressions of children and adolescents can be attributed to this neglect, to missing examples and authoritative guides in their daily life, the lack of closeness and love on the part of fathers.”
The sense of orphanhood that many young people live is “deeper than we think,” he said.
Some are orphans, Francis continued, because their dads are often physically absent from home, “but also because the ones who are home do not behave as fathers; they don’t communicate with their children; they don’t fulfill their role as educators; they don’t give their children, through their example and their words, the principles, values and life lessons that they need as much as their daily bread.”
These days, the Pope said, it sometimes seems “that fathers don’t really know what their place is in the family and how to educate their children. So, when in doubt, they abstain, they withdraw and neglect their responsibilities, perhaps hiding behind an unworkable relationship ‘on a par’ with their children.”
It’s true, he said, that “you must be your child’s friend, but do not forget that you are the father! If you act only as a companion on a par with your child, you will do no good to the child,” he said.
Some of you will tell me, the Pope concluded, “‘Father, today you were too negative. You spoke only of the absence of fathers, and of what happens when fathers are not close to the children.’ It’s true, I did want to emphasize this, because next Wednesday I will continue this catechesis and I will highlight the beauty of fatherhood.”
“This is why I chose to start from the dark to get to the light. May the Lord help us to understand these things,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome