The subject of family breakdown, and the bad consequences thereof, was something that the Church talked about a great deal when I was younger. At present the Church talks about it rather less, perhaps because what it warned of has now come to pass.
In Britain today, we are told, there are a million men who have fathered children with whom they do not live. Of these million absent fathers, 130,000 are more than just absent physically – they have disappeared from their children’s lives, and have no contact with them whatever.
I know of a few children, some of whom are adult children, who are in this situation. It is not a good situation to be in. Here, also from the Telegraph, is an account of one such person who was abandoned by his father.
The sense of anger and alienation is palpable; it is something I recognise from other accounts of people in similar situations.
This is an awkward matter for those who view divorce as either a good thing or even a necessary evil. While adults may benefit from divorce, children do not, and neither does society. But what has divorce got to do with it? Many of the couples who split up have never been married in the first place. Easy divorce has perhaps killed off marriage: something that Leo Abse himself, once a proponent of liberalised divorce, at a meeting of Catholics at Oxford University back in the 1980s, predicted would happen.
Instead arguing about the ethics of family life – an argument which has sadly become a waste of breath – we might like to look at the situation in a new way, by asking ourselves some questions.
Firstly: where children are raised without knowing their biological fathers, it follows they may well never know their biological half-siblings until later life. What safeguards have we got against incest, when these half-siblings meet as strangers in later life?
Secondly, what will a society where the minority are brought up in traditional families look like? There has never been such a society before now – can someone hazard a guess about how a society functions when it has left stable lifelong unions between a man and a woman for the upbringing of children behind it?
Thirdly, what is the effect on boys in particular of being brought up in a home where the biological father is missing, perhaps substituted by another adult male, but perhaps not?
These are surely legitimate questions. As far as I am concerned, they all point back to one thing: the simple fact that the traditional family is the best way to bring up children and to ensure the happiness and stability of the individual child, as well as society as a whole. The decline in the traditional family should be a huge worry to us all, whatever our religious beliefs.