“The Devil is more intelligent than mere mortals,” Pope Francis told us recently. He is “a real person armed with dark powers … He always pretends to be polite, that’s how he enters into your mind, but it ends badly if you don’t realise what is happening in time.”
The truth of this last phrase struck me when a friend, a widow in her mid-40s, told me that she was expecting a baby conceived with the sperm of an anonymous donor. She already has a daughter whom she believes will benefit from a sibling. When asked what I thought, I said that – though tragedies occurred whereby children lost one or both their parents – to deliberately bring a child into the world without a father was wrong.
“Ah, but you’re not modern,” she said – too delicate, perhaps, to use the word “old-fashioned”. And then: “And it’s because you are a Catholic.”
I replied that my objection had nothing as such to do with my faith, but was based on convincing evidence that a child flourishes when raised by two parents. We then got on to the question of whether those two parents need be of different genders, and, since we were both over-familiar with the other’s position, the discussion came to an inconclusive end.
Why do I feel so strongly that a child should have a father? It is no doubt because I so value the bond I had with my own father. He was wise, just and kind – a combination of qualities made it easy for me to envisage God the Father. I also prized my own role as a father when I came to have children of my own. I was present at their birth – unusual at the time; and because I worked mostly at home, I was able to play an active role in their upbringing.
However, in 1970, the year of our first son’s birth, the traditional view of the pater familias was coming under attack with the publication of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, in which she argued that children were better off without identifiable fathers. Her book was lavishly praised by many eminent people, became a bestseller and went on to influence a whole generation.
Thirty years later, in The Sex-change Society, Melanie Phillips judged that Greer’s “distorted view that men are always the violent or feckless victimisers and women their victims has become embedded in our cultural bloodstream. It is a kind of group libel which distorts public policy, not least in the attitude of the Child Support Agency and the divorce courts, whose hostility towards men pervades the whole system and deprives many blameless fathers of contact with their children.”
The adverse psychological and social effects on boys, in particular, of growing up without a male parent is now well established, but few politicians dare make much of it, for fear of being thought reactionary, blinkered or bigoted – out of touch with the society we have become. Children may suffer, but they cannot articulate their suffering. And they do not have the vote.
On reflection, I think I was wrong to say that it was not because I was a Catholic that I object to the eradication of the role of the father. We were told in the old Penny Catechism that we are created to “know, love and serve God …” But how can we know God? Only from Jesus. “No one has ever seen God; it is the only son who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).
“Our Father. Father! This is Christ’s revelation,” wrote Miguel de Unamuno in his Diario Intimo. “The most characteristic thing about Christianity is its teaching of the fatherhood of God, making men the children of the Creator, not creatures merely, but children.”
By denying the experience of a paternal love from a child’s formation, we are denying him the emotional bond that helps him to know God; and, while the unhappiness of children and the distortion of their development may be a welcome side effect for Satan, his prime purpose is to estrange us from our Creator.
As Pope Francis warns us, Satan obscures what is really going on. He pretends to be polite but also benevolent. There is not a heresy or malign ideology whose adherents did not imagine at its inception that it would not benefit humanity – whether it was Cathars, Hussites, Calvinists or, closer to our own time, communists and fascists.
Will the time come when a child, learning the Lord’s Prayer, will ask: “Mum, what is a father?” Many Catholics today are reluctant to criticise those who deliberately choose, like my friend, to be a single mother; and, knowing the sensitivities of their gay friends, they feel it uncharitable to condemn same-sex marriage and adoption. There is talk of changing the Lord’s Prayer to remove the suggestion that God might lead us into temptation. Will the time come when there are demands to change “Our Father” to “Our parent 1”?
Piers Paul Read is a novelist, historian and biographer