Bishop Michael Router has encouraged parents not to distance children from the other parent in situations when marriage or relationships end, stressing that it is “a particular form of domestic abuse that manifests itself in more subtle ways than physical or sexual violence.”
The Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh made this appeal during his homily at Mass for the Third Sunday of Easter ahead of the International Parental Alienation Awareness Day scheduled for 25 April.
The denial of rights to children to have a relationship with both parents has long-lasting, damaging effects, highlighted Bishop Router. The children are often “cut off from one side of the family including grandparents, who also suffer greatly as a result.”
“As childhood is short and any substantial period of conflict and separation can lead to a parent missing significant moments in a child’s life such as First Communion and Confirmation. Such moments can never be repeated,” the Bishop said.
However, Bishop Router acknowledged that it is justified for a child to be separated from a parent because of threatening behavior but in the case of Parental Alienation, there is no such reason as courts would have granted parents access to their children, but the other parent refuses to allow it.
Family needs to be protected
In this year which Pope Francis has declared as a “Year of the Family” to mark the fifth anniversary of the Post Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the “family needs to be constantly supported so that its importance in human development is recognized and protected,” stressed Bishop Router.
Even though human weakness, and the internal and external pressures that married couples experience can lead to the breakdown of previously loving and committed relationships, noted the Bishop, couples should seek relationship counseling “to help them find stability and a way forward,” especially when there are children involved, who “add a complexity that, if not handled sensitively, can have negative effects.”
Bishop Router further noted that over the past years, thirty councils and local authorities in the Republic of Ireland and two in Northern Ireland have called for a change in family law to ensure that situations of parental alienation do not occur. Nonetheless, he notes that though changes in the law will be helpful, “they alone won’t always be effective in dealing with difficult and painful situations within families.”
Echoing Pope Francis’ words in “Amoris Laetitia”, Bishop Router emphasized that “the Church, while appreciating the situations of conflict that are part of marriage, cannot fail to speak out on behalf of those who are most vulnerable: the children who often suffer in silence”
God’s peace in trying times
Bishop Router noted that in the Gospel reading of the day, Jesus greets his disciples with the words: “Peace be with you.” Jesus used this greeting to “calm the grave fears and agitation of his disciples that was brought about by the trauma of the crucifixion, its violence, and their subsequent dispersal.”
Likewise, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic which has challenged our health systems and economy, and has also, unfortunately, manifested itself in a sharp increase in domestic violence, “the gift of peace that Jesus brings is much needed in international and national affairs, but it is also very much needed in our homes and in our hearts.”
“Much of the difficulty, pain and stress that the world endures emanates from the lack of peace in the hearts of men and women” he noted. “We, therefore, constantly pray for the gift of peace. We know how easily it can be shattered.”
Concluding, Bishop Router asked for prayers “for all parents and for children so that even in difficult situations they may know the peace that the risen Christ brings to them and may turn to him for solace, comfort, and healing.”