The frustrations of Catholic parenting

An email I plan to send:

·         Dear Scoutmaster,

When we moved here this summer, my boys went to several troops to see what the area offered.  My husband and I strongly suggested that they select Troop XYZ, in part because it was the troop associated with our church.  It was our hope that our Catholic religious practices would be understood, accepted, and accommodated by the adult leaders.  We are just ordinary Catholics, trying hard to follow the precepts of the Church and raise our children in accordance with her laws.

I was very disappointed to learn that a backpacking trip was scheduled over a three-day holiday weekend.  While I understand the desire to utilize a long weekend for an extended trip, I would have preferred that the itinerary include Sunday Mass.

This past summer, Fritz attended Philmont and loved backpacking in the mountains.  While that trip does, generally, preclude Sunday Mass attendance, the Bishop of New Mexico offers a special dispensation for Philmont hikers, allowing them to attend Mass before or after the trek.  Fritz was made aware that this was a rare exception.  While dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation may be requested from the pastor in order to attend occasional Scout trips, my husband and I, over the course of years of Scouting, have decided that such dispensations are confusing to youth.  They are also confusing to adult Catholics and are especially confusing to non-Catholics who come to believe that Catholics are not obliged to attend Sunday Mass every week.  Our personal family rule is that we will only intentionally miss Mass for high-adventure camps, and that any other weekend plans must include Mass attendance.  Other families may choose differently, but this is our family rule.

Last night, Fritz was asked by Mr. X why he was not attending the backpacking trip.  Fritz explained that he would like to but could not miss Mass.  Mr. X told him that Mass attendance was not necessary and that the prayer service you would have was sufficient.  Fritz persisted and said that a Catholic must attend Mass.  Mr. X argued that he and most of the troop were Catholic and were going on the trip.  While I am sure he meant that the troop would not have planned a camping weekend that was not morally acceptable to Catholics, his argument seems to be that if everybody is doing it, it must be right.  While some religions may operate in this manner, the Catholic Church does not.

While my family can quietly accept that our boys will not be able to attend some camping trips, I am very upset that an adult leader would seek to dissuade my son from his religious convictions, most especially in a BSA Troop which is considered a ministry of Anonymous Catholic Church.  I expect that my children will have to defend their faith to their peers and possibly to some adults.  But I should not have to worry that the adults of any Boy Scout Troop, where a Scout is always reverent, will try to convince my boys that Mass attendance or any other obligation is unnecessary.  If Mr. X were not Catholic, it would be easy to explain that he simply does not understand Catholicism.  Since he and many other adults are Catholic, I, as a parent, have to choose how I explain our choices to the boys.  Are we wrong, or is Mr. X?

I would like you to address this situation with all your adult leaders.  No boy should have to defend his religious obligations to adult leaders.  If any adult is confused about a boy using religion as an excuse for non-participation, he or she should speak to the parents.  I am sure that most parents, like us, would be happy to explain our decision making process.

Michelle Reitemeyer

Bill tells me that Fritz told him last night:  “I have something planned for me every Sunday. It’s called Mass and it’s scheduled every week for a long time.  Like as long as I am alive. And then if I’m too old to go, I’ll have the priest come to me.”  
BTW, I found this post by Fr. Z to be enlightening, however, I feel that he is “outside the loop” on the very real problems facing Catholic parents today and the scandal involved when Catholics plan vacations without consideration of Mass attendance.  Googling this issue proves that many non-Catholic Scouts don’t understand the Catholic obligation and give Catholic parents a hard time about it.  This issue extends to LDS and other religions and even an active Protestant who felt his family should be at their church on Sunday mornings.  I hate to be accused of being holier than the Pope, but as a parent I am required to set an example and the nuances of a dispensation due to travel are too confusing for most of us.  All a teen will understand is that missing Mass every once in a while is perfectly fine.  A post that should ease the consciences of devout Catholics who want to take a cruise only erodes my complaint that trips are planned with no consideration of Sunday Mass.

15 thoughts on “The frustrations of Catholic parenting

  1. I think that most Protestants have the same obligation. The problem is not so much an understanding of the Catholic Church by a non-Catholic, as shown by this example. The problem is that most religions are becoming, for the majority of people, watered down. Many people are now Easter and Christmas Christians. I believe it is fair to say that someone who does not truly understand or agree with the morals of a religion will see no problem with breaking the precepts of that religion. So many people seem to follow a particular religion because it's easier than finding one they wholly agree with.

    I think this leader was wrong. At the same time, our children will have to learn that even within our faith, there are people who will place pitfalls in our path. We must overcome those temptations to sin, and realize that we cannot base our devotion to our faith on someone else's level of devotion.

  2. Technically, Fr. Z. is correct regarding a person's obligation to attend Mass when no opportunity for Mass is available. The question he doesn't answer is whether or not it is right to put oneself in such a situation. I once had a good and holy priest tell me that we place more of an obligation on ourselves to attend Mass than the Church actually does. I was shocked! Surely, this priest was not one of “those”! He explained further that the Church, like her Beloved, always looks on us in charity, love, mercy and understanding. Sick child? Traveling for a funeral? Have to work, no ifs ands or buts? Anyway, I think it is our responsibility to decide what is an unforeseeable event and what isn't and it sounds like your son is well on his way to making those good choices. I hope you do send this letter and will post if you get any reply.

  3. I think the scout leader was certainly in the wrong for questioning Fritz and then trying to essentially undermine what you and your husband have taught him. That to me is crossing a line and you most certainly should send that letter.

    We have had a few situations come up over the past two years that my eldest daughter has been playing travel soccer where the coach or other parents don't understand why our daughter won't participate in certain games when there is a direct conflict with Mass attendance or a particular holy day (such as Good Friday–Sorry, we don't do soccer tournaments on Good Friday even if you offer to take her to the game yourself.) Our daughter's coach is pretty understanding when she misses a game because her obligation to attend Mass takes precedence. It's the other parents who are Catholic, but are either lapsed or of the pick and choose mindset who give us a hard time. They'll come up with every excuse under the sun for how she can get out of going to Mass. Many of them simply don't understand the precepts of the church. Interestingly enough, it's usually the protestant parents on the team who back us up when we run into these conflicts.

  4. Kristina, the Scouts usually have a prayer service (non-denominational) on Sunday morning which suffices for most Protestants (not all). Even a Catholic prayer service does NOT count for a Catholic without special permission…many parishes do not have adequate priests so a communion service or prayer service is deemed acceptable in those places. I do realize that my kids will have to see that there are different levels of devotion, and I am trying to do that without them passing judgment on others. But a Scout leader should not put me in a position where I have to undermine HIS authority in order to maintain my own.

    Charlotte, Fr. Z did leave one comment that he found it interesting that people seem to think Catholics may only travel for grave reasons. I feel better, personally, about traveling in parts of the world where no Masses are offered – but I think he is downplaying the slippery slope that a carte blanche dispensation offers. Perhaps I'm sensitive: my husband MUST travel often and MUST miss Mass because the Army says so. Camping seems so frivolous an excuse to miss it.

    Karen, the Girl Scouts at the state or national level had planned for an overnight event on Good Friday near us a few years ago. I was aghast. Of all the days…

  5. Good email, Michelle.

    In this day and age where the internet provides us with information about churches around the country, I find it difficult to understand why people miss mass while traveling. I have taken many road trips and we have rarely missed a Sunday mass. Once we missed because the churches in Hawaii apparently don't always follow their own mass schedules.

  6. “the Scouts usually have a prayer service (non-denominational) on Sunday morning which suffices for most Protestants (not all).”
    True. I hadn't really given that much consideration, since the Protestant church I grew up in did not fellowship with other faiths. It's not a Mass, so why would one assume it met the requirements of Mass?

    I completely agree with you that he was wrong to question Fritz's devotion. He should have been applauding it. And, if he had questions, he should have approached you. I will say, though, that I think some of our belief in this ideal is because we homeschool. By the time a child is in high school, their religious beliefs are usually questioned regularly. I think that had my children been in school their whole lives, this probably wouldn't bother me as much.

  7. We run into this problem also. We don't go anywhere without consulting – we even just took a trip to Belize and found a local church for Mass. It's of primary importance to our family also. Thanksfully, we rarely run into an issue with sports, and our boys do not do Boy Scouts. As a Reservist, my husband had this issue A LOT. Weekend reserve schedules often provide zero opportunity for him to get to Mass, and he's at the mercy of the army. My parents go on cruises often, and specifically choose ships that have a priest available – there are lots to select with that criteria in mind. I totally agree, though,that a teenager only sees the message that “it's okay to skip Mass” without seeing the bigger picture, so I think it's a big disservice when we permit it to happen.

  8. Kris, Belize…sounds lovely…

    Kristina, yes, I agree I live in an isolated world by homeschooling. I would not be surprised if my kids had to defend their faith to relatives or strangers or the few other adults they know and am happy it's not a part of a normal day for them yet. But Scouts are supposed to be reverent – that is the specific word they choose to describe their ideal. The adults are to set an example and if a kid says it's against his religion to miss Mass that should be respected.

  9. bravo for writing this Michelle – its disheartening to hear the BS are putting your son in this situation since they are so often Church affiliated. but really, its not their fault that Catholics themselves aren't willing to follow Church precepts or for heaven's sake accept and support other catholics (esp youth!) who do.

  10. I hope that you get a chance to discuss this with the Scout leaders AND the pastor in person.
    Our (church sponsored) troop does weekend campouts but the kids are always back in time to attend the “Mass of Last Resort” across town. Otherwise I would have been objecting as well.
    Scouts are reverent. Reverence includes observing the customs, practices and requirements of a particular religion. A Scoutmaster should never ask a child to choose between church and Scouts.

  11. I'm glad you're writing this. I also think that you might want to have a conversation with the Scoutmaster or even speak to all the adults at a leaders' meeting. Not to “scold,” but to ask that they rethink how they handle Mass attendance and — if NOTHING else — make it policy NOT to impede any scouts' Mass attendance (even if it means missing a trip). I like how you put it in one of your responses — you should NOT have to undermine a scout leader authority in order to defend yours as a parent! They should not tell any scout (of any age) to go against his religious obligations.

    So really they are out of Scout protocols in 2 ways — “A Scout is reverent” and in attempting to convince a scout not to follow his family's rules (whether they agree with them or not).

    Honestly, if you don't get a satisfactory response from the Troop leaders, perhaps a conversation with the pastor or priest most involved with the Troop is in order — or your Troop's Chartered Representative in the parish.

    Sadly, it could also help to have your husband co-sign the letter or also speak to the leader(s). I hope that's not an issue in your sons' Troop, but it is in some (a mom's complaints are treated as a “Mommy” issue, not as a Scout issue).

    I do think since many Catholics are very lax about the obligation to attend Mass it is hard for some to comprehend the idea of changing other plans to attend. We've had that issue on family reunions/vacations — we'll be the only family who leaves Saturday evening or Sunday morning to attend Mass.

    Our son was in a Scout Troop for several years and while his Troop was not affiliated with a church, many members are Catholic: one of the dads is a Deacon in a local parish and several of the scouts are altar servers, lectors, etc. I don't recall them doing a 2-night trip that wasn't Friday and Saturday night (or at least our son didn't participate). But whenever there was a trip, we saw lots of scouts at the Sunday 6 pm Mass at the other parish in town.

    Good luck. I hope you're proud of Fritz and how well he understands the importance of Mass attendance!

  12. With all these great comments, I hope there is a follow-up post on the outcome of sending the email!

  13. I did receive an email from my pastor last night, but I'm waiting to see what the Scoutmaster says…I'll follow up this weekend. Good stuff.

  14. None of my kids is involved in scouting, so perhaps this is a dumb the hike/trek so far removed that a priest can't possibly drive up for a Sunday morning Mass?

  15. I really need to post the follow up…Christina, they are hiking camping about 2+ hours from our church, but there are other churches closer to the National Forest where they will be. We're in central Florida, which is all fairly developed. The Philmont Scout Ranch where many scouts do go backpacking is in the mountains of New Mexico and the groups do go out into inacessable areas on foot 3 or 4 or more days' hike away from the base camp where Mass is offered every evening.

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