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A Return From Exile: 10 Papal Statements on Education & The Rights of Parents - by John Clark

A Return From Exile: 10 Papal Statements on Education & The Rights of Parents

Last week, Pope Francis exhorted parents to reclaim the education of their children. History may remember it as one of the strongest papal statements regarding parental education rights, but it is certainly not the first such pronouncement. Pope Francis was simply re-iterating what popes have been saying for many, many years.

To highlight this fact, I thought it might be interesting to see what the previous ten popes in succession have said about education and the rights of parents. Submitted for your approval, here are ten quotes that illustrate the consistency of Pope Francis’ words. Emphases are my own.


“It is, then, incumbent on parents to strain every nerve to ward off such an outrage, and to strive manfully to have and to hold exclusive authority to direct the education of their offspring, as is fitting, in a Christian manner, and first and foremost to keep them away from schools where there is risk of their drinking in the poison of impiety.”

Pope Leo XIII, 1890, Sapientiae Christianae


“Obviously the need of this Christian instruction is accentuated by the decline of our times and morals. It is even more demanded by the existence of those public schools, lacking all religion, where everything holy is ridiculed and scorned. There both teachers’ lips and students’ ears are inclined to godlessness.

We are referring to those schools which are unjustly called neutral or lay. In reality, they are nothing more than the stronghold of the powers of darkness. You have already, Venerable Brethren, fearlessly condemned this new trick of mocking liberty especially in those countries where the rights of religion and the family have been disgracefully ignored and the voice of nature (which demands respect for the faith and innocence of youth) has been stifled.”

Pope Saint Pius X, 1910, Editae Saepe


“Deplorable indeed is the system prevalent today of educating young students as if God did not exist and without the least reference to the supernatural.”

Pope Benedict XV, 1921,  In Praeclara Summorum


“The family therefore holds directly from the Creator the mission and hence the right to educate the offspring, a right inalienable because inseparably joined to the strict obligation, a right anterior to any right whatever of civil society and of the State, and therefore inviolable on the part of any power on earth.”

Pope Pius XI, 1929, Divini Illius Magistri


“He should favor, by every lawful means, in every sphere of life, social institutions in which a full personal responsibility is assured and guaranteed both in the early and the eternal order of things.

“He should uphold respect for and the practical realization of the following fundamental personal rights; the right to maintain and develop one’s corporal, intellectual and moral life and especially the right to religious formation and education…”

Pope Pius XII, 1942, Christmas Message


“Of course, the support and education of children is a right which belongs primarily to the parents.”

Pope Saint John XXIII, 1963, Pacem in Terris

Blessed Pope Paul VI

“Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking.”

Promulgated by Blessed Pope Paul VI, 1965, Gravissimum Educationis


“And then we must encourage parents in their role as educators of their children – the first catechists and the best ones.

Pope John Paul I, 1978, Address to a group of American Bishops on their Ad Limina visit

st john paul II

“The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.”

Pope Saint John Paul II, 1981, Familiaris Consortio

“However, it is very obvious that in educating and forming people in the faith the family has its own fundamental role and primary responsibility. Parents, in fact, are those through whom the child at the start of life has the first and crucial experience of love, of a love which is actually not only human but also a reflection of God’s love for him.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 2007, Address to the Participants in the Convention of the Diocese of Rome

“On the other hand, the number of so-called ‘experts’ has multiplied, and they have assumed the role of parents in even the most intimate aspects of education…. It is time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile – for they have exiled themselves from their children’s upbringing – and to fully resume their educational role.”

Pope Francis, 2015, General Audience, May 20.

Amen, Pope Francis.


About John Clark

John Clark is a homeschooling father, a speechwriter, an online course developer for Seton Home Study School, and a weekly blogger for The National Catholic Register. His latest book is “How to be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford a Decent Cape.”
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