Catholic Bishops Weigh in on Corporal Punishment

Is it possible to articulate a consistent, coherent Catholic position on the use or corporal punishment?  As a family therapist and Catholic parenting author.  It’s a question I spend a lot of time prayerfully considering.  Many good parents on both sides of the debate have very strong feelings on the subject and it can be confusing for parents to have to sort out the pros and cons on this issue.  My own thoughts on the subject have been widely circulated.

In light of this, I was honored to discover that my work on the subject was recently (this past June) cited in the South African Bishops’ Conference–Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (SABC-CPLO) report to South African Parliament on  The Use of Corporal Discipline in the Home.

The report articulates the Catholic position on recent controversial legislation in South Africa protecting the “physical integrity” of children and prohibiting the use of corporal punishment.   It clarifies the difference between the Catholic view of child discipline in contrast with many of Protestant sects that are protesting the Children’s’ Amendment Bill.   The SABC-CPLO articulates a position that promotes positive discipline in lieu of corporal punishment.  Specifically, the document is notable for its assertion that, “There is nothing in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which supports the right of parents to use corporal punishment.”

While I am, personally, very suspicious of any government intrusion into family life as a potential trampling of subsidiarity, I applaud the SABC’s efforts to promote the Catholic view of the dignity of the child and children’s rights to be treated as persons.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Children, “children suffer many forms of violence from grownups….How can we not care, when we see the suffering of so many children, especially when this suffering is in some way caused by grownups.”

I realize that spanking is a controversial issue, but the South African Bishop’s document makes for excellent reading for any Catholic parent who has an interest in the corporal punishment debate, if for no other reason than when bishops weigh in on such issues it provides additional guidance for Catholic laity on what it means to think with the mind of the Church.

I don’t wish to overstate things.  It is true that, at this writing, corporal punishment remains a matter of prudential judgment for Catholics, but as the Church continues to reflect on this issue, she appears to be moving consistently–and internationally–toward opposing it.   For instance, last year, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans was on the receiving end of a great deal of parental anger when he spoke publicly and forcefully against the use of corporal punishment.  At that time, he said, I do not believe the teachings of the Catholic Church as we interpret them in 2011 condone corporal punishment. It’s hard for me to imagine in any way, shape or form, Jesus using a paddle.”

All of this, of course,  is completely consistent with the writings of Catholic educators such as St John Bosco who, all the way back in the mid 1800’s, wrote, To strike a child in any way…and other similar punishments must be absolutely avoided.”

At any rate, it was an honor to have my work cited by the South African Bishops’ Conference in their efforts to promote the Catholic vision of family life.  I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on the document and allow it to speak to your heart about your parenting choices.   If you’d like to learn more about effective, Catholic approaches to child rearing and positive discipline,  check out Parenting with Grace: A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

And for those of you who are interested, here is part of an interview Archbishop Aymond did on local news defending his comments in opposition to corporal punishment  [youtube][/youtube]




Powerful Reflection on Breastfeeding

You may have seen this viral video by Holly McNish’s poem on breastfeeding in public[youtube][/youtube] called, “Embarrassed.”    She uses some strong language–so, sensitive souls be warned–but she makes a powerful point.  I thought I’d pass it along for all you heroic moms who are self-donatively nursing your babies despite the funny looks or lack of support from family, friends or even the public-at-large.

Keep it up! You are changing the world.

So, Natural Family Planning is Based on SCIENCE!?! OMG!

Frank Weathers points us to the website RealClearScience in which a science-geek is shocked to discover that the Church’s retrograde, woman-hating, dogmatic, and theocratic attitudes on contraception are actually…(wait for it) SCIENTIFIC!    And what’s more, NFP actually….WORKS WELL!?!

(Pause to allow for recovery from fainting spell)

I’m picking on the guy a little because he still can’t manage to hide his knee-jerk anti-Catholicism, but at least he had the decency to investigate his biases.  That’s how it starts, people.  Discover the Church is right about something like this one day, and find yourself signing up for RCIA the next.  All my readers who are hip to the Church’s teaching on NFP should wander on over to Real Clear Science and show Ross some love.  Seriously.  The guy is actually trying to understand.  Give him the props and support he deserves.

Come Away, My Beloved–Do You Know How Much God Desires You?

Here is a piece I did yesterday for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend’s My Year of Faith Project.   It’s a great website and a terrific opportunity to get more out of this Year of Faith.  Check it the website here.  My article will run next week but here’s a preview!

Come Away, My Beloved.

Let him kiss me with kisses of the mouth!  More delightful is your love than wine!

(Song of Songs 1:1)

            Is there anything more beautiful than a bride on her wedding day?  Is there anything more touching than seeing a groom’s face light on the eyes of his beloved?

I remember when I saw my bride for the first time standing at the back of the Church.  I could barely catch my breath.  I couldn’t believe how blessed and lucky I was to be marrying such an amazing woman.

What if I told you that is exactly how God feels about you?

The Song of Songs is a scandalously passionate exploration of  the love between a bride and her bridegroom.   This book of the bible leaves little to the imagination as the bride sings of her longing for her man and the bridegroom replies with intimate praise of her beauty.  In the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great,

            Hence it is that…words are set down that pertain to bodily love, so that the soul, wakened  anew out of its listless state by a language to which it is accustomed, may heat up and may, by the language of a lesser love, be aroused to a higher.  For in this book, kisses are mentioned, breasts are mentioned, cheeks are mentioned, loins are mentioned; and the holy picture these words paint are not meant for mockery or laughter.  Rather ought we focus our minds on the greater mercy of God.  We must notice how marvelously and mercifully, in making mention of the parts of the body and thus summoning us to love, [God] works with us;  for he reaches down in to the vocabulary of our sensual love in order to set our hearts on fire, aiming to incite us to a holy loving.  Indeed, by the act in which he lowers himself in words, he also elevates our understanding; for from the words    associated with this sensual love we learn how fiercely we are to burn with love for the Divine.        ——Pope St. Gregory the Great: On the Song of Songs.

You know, at least intellectually, that God loves you.  But did you ever stop to think of how much he desires you and longs to be desired by you in return?

When you are in love, what else can you think about?  What would you let stand in the way of getting one more second on the phone, one more minute by your love’s side?  Is there anything that could be more fascinating to you than your beloved’s face?  Is there anything more wonderful than the eyes of your beloved looking at you with so much care?  So much warmth?

God is looking at you that way right now.

Is there anything more comforting than your beloved’s arms wrapped around you?

God wants to hold you that way now.

He doesn’t care what you’ve done; who you are; who you are not.  He doesn’t care where you come from or how much of a hot mess you are.    Dry your tears.

He loves you as a bridegroom love a bride.

You are his beautiful beloved and he longs to be one with you.   Will you say, “I do” today?

-To learn more about the surprising ways God reveals his love for you, check out How to Find True Love–a book about discovering God’s love in unexpected places.

Celebrating the Sacraments in the “Domestic Church”

Here is a piece I wrote yesterday for Pittsburgh Catholic Parent magazine (a quarterly publication of the Diocese of Pittsburgh) on some simple ways parents can help their kids (and themselves!) get more out of their experience of the sacraments.

Supporting the Sacraments:  What Parents Can Do to Help Their Kids’ Faith Stick.

Dr. Greg Popcak


            Whether, Baptism, first Confession, First Communion, or Confirmation, preparing to receive the Sacraments is a big step in our children’s lives and a huge opportunity to do more in our families to help deepen their experience of the faith.

The Church calls families “the Domestic Church” which means that the vast majority of our faith is lived in our homes.  The Church tends to assume that there is a continuity and a complementary relationship between the way we live our faith at home and the way we celebrate our faith in the Sacraments.  The best way to make sure our children own their faith is to do everything we can to maintain this continuity by looking for ways to connect our kids experience of the Sacraments with our daily life as a family.  Here are some examples.


            -Our baptism is the day we were born into the family of God.  Find out your children’s baptism day and celebrate it for the birthday that it is.  Have a special meal and a special dessert.  Dig out the photos you took of your child’s baptism and share the story of that special day every year.

-Does your child know his or her patron saint?  Traditionally, Catholics would give their children the name of a particular saint so that he or she could be an inspiration to their child and pray for their child.  Even if your child was not named after a particular saint, you can help your child choose a saint to be his or her patron.  Read stories about the life of your child’s patron.  Make sure to ask that saint to pray for your child when you pray together at night or other times.

First Confession

            -Confession represents your child’s growing awareness of right and wrong and the need to take responsibility for his or her actions.  Most importantly, it is an opportunity to experience God’s love and mercy and his willingness to walk alongside us as we work to become the best version of ourselves.  Does your family go to confession regularly?  Make it a habit to go together at least once a month.

-During your child’s nightly prayer time with you, help your child make a simple examination of conscience.  Gently ask your child to think about the times he struggled to be obedient to you or kind to his brothers and sisters.  Help your child ask God for help to do better with those things.  Encourage your child to confess the things he consistently struggles with so that he can receive God’s special help to do even better.

First Communion

            -If baptism is our birth into God’s family, communion is when we actually become God’s flesh and blood.  What an incredible honor to be able to share so intimately in God’s life!  Do you take time to prepare for Mass as a family?  Make the effort to get to Church early so that you have time to pray before Mass and get yourselves ready to participate the incredible honor of receiving Christ’s body and blood.

-Take a few minutes to at least read the Sunday Gospel reading as a family the night before.  Use a good children’s bible to make it more accessible to younger children.  Discuss the reading and ask your kids how it applies, practically, to their lives.

-Although it’s a different sort of meal, making regular time for real family meals (where you actually sit and talk to each other) will give your kids a deeper appreciation for the intimacy they can experience at the Table of the Lord.


            Confirmation is not a Catholic Bar-Mitzvah or graduation ceremony.  Some dioceses do it before First Communion, in fact, and the Eastern Church does it at the same time as baptism and communion–in infancy.  Confirmation is the sealing of the Holy Spirit and a kind-of commissioning that empowers us to proclaim with our words and actions that “Jesus Christ is Lord!”  (see, 1 Cor. 12:3)

-Teach your children how to lead family prayer.  Give them opportunities to lead grace at meals, the rosary, and other family prayer times.  Teach them that they have an important contribution to make to the family’s spiritual well-being!

-Review the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, self-control, and chastity).  Ask yourself on a regular basis, “Which of these virtues would make our family stronger this week?”  Ask each child to identify one thing they will do to work on that virtue.  Talk about your efforts over dinner.

-Talk with your children about the ways their good choices proclaim that “Jesus is Lord!” at school or with friends.  Talk with them about the fact that God has a mission for their lives and that whether at home, school or with friends, they are called to lead by example and try their best to bring out the best in others.

Be Creative

These are just a few ideas to get you started.  Use your own creativity to identify more ways you can celebrate your family’s connection to the sacramental life of the Church.  The more you do, the more you can enjoy the good fruits that, nurtured by sacramental grace,
will grow on your family tree.


For more information on how to help your kids get more from their faith and celebrate a grace-filled home life, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.


Why Religious People Really ARE Compassionate AND Why Atheists are (more likely) Codependent

About a year ago, the media was all abuzz with a study that purported to show that religious people were less compassionate than non-believers.

You can imagine why the press loved this research.  It showed the moral superiority of the godless against the godly.  I wasn’t blogging here at the time, but I remembered the study well because I discussed on my radio program.  Based on the methodology of the study–which involved participants watching an emotionally manipulative video (a’la that cloying,  Sarah McLachlan stray dog commercial that even the dogs thought was over-the-top) and then being asked to give a certain number of phony dollar bills to a stranger–I surmised that there was more to the story than meets the eye.

I hypothesized that the reason non-believers gave more in the study is that they don’t have as well-developed a set of principles and are more prone to emotional giving.  Believers, I guessed, would be more likely to be more consistently and reliably charitable as a matter of principle than non-believers.  I suggested that the study really showed that it was easier to emotionally manipulate agnostics/atheists into giving whether it did any good or not as opposed to believers who probably tended to give to causes they actually believed in and thought mattered.

Well, a year later, Popcak’s First Law* was, once again, borne out.

Today, a new study was released showing that indiscriminate compassion is associated with poor self-control.    Traditionally, psychologists believed that people’s default response was selfishness and that being “pro-social” (doing selfless things) took self-control.  It turns out that we’re actually wired in such a way that compassion–not selfishness–is the natural response, but it takes self-discipline to wield compassion in a manner that is healthy instead of merely…codependent.

Codependency is a word that is thrown around a lot.  It’s gotten to the point that anytime someone does something they don’t really want to do for someone else, they think they’re being co-dependent.  That’s not true.  Codependency is insidious compassion.  It is compassion that makes bad things worse.  If I am married to an alcoholic and she comes home and passes out in a pool of her own vomit I may feel the urge to clean her up and put her in a nice warm, comfy bed but if I give into that urge, I take away her ability to see the seriousness of her problem.  If she wakes up covered in her own filth, she has to confront the fact that there is something seriously wrong in her life and she may actually seek help.  But if I–out of misguided compassion (i.e, co-dependency)– let her wake up in a warm bed, all she remembers is partying hard and waking up in a warm bed.  What’s the problem?Let’s party!

Being authentically compassionate take self-discipline and courage.  It requires a willingness to do hard things and, sometimes,  tick people off–if truly working for their best interest requires it.  Codependency, by contrast, is just doing what your gut says is compassionate whether it is helpful or not.  It is little more than a survival reaction.  Why?  Because If someone is hurting, they are more prone to lash out and behave erratically.  If I behave sympathetically and deferentially–whether it actually helps anything or not–I’m less likely to get hurt.

I submit that what the original study showed was not that religious people were not compassionate, but that that religious people have  a greater incentive to develop better control over all of the primal impulses, including the primal impulse to self-preserving pity.

None of that is to say that religious people are never co-dependent. That wouldn’t be true at all.  But it is to say that someone, like a seriously religious person, who has good reasons to think through moral dilemmas and examine their conscience on a regular basis, is probably at least somewhat more likely to have a more sophisticated sense of compassion than someone who didn’t.

Aside from any academic interest, the takeaway from this is that co-dependency isn’t the same thing as compassion.  Compassion is intentional and, sometimes, it is hard.  Co-dependency is simply an unsophisticated, primal urge that employs pity as a means of self-preservation.  Likewise, one’s tendency to indulge an impulse to indiscriminate, self-preserving, pity also probably runs a fairly high risk of being unable to resist other drives (anger, sex, hunger) as well.

Knowing the difference between real compassion and codependency can make all the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship


*Popcak’s First Law:  The tongue-firmly-in-cheek axiom that states, “Given enough time and enough information, everyone will eventually come to see that Popcak’s been right all along.”


Hi all,

Sorry for the limited blogging this week.  Besides getting ready for the holiday, I have three radio appearances today alone.  I discussed the Vatican & ADHD article I posted here last week on the Sonrise Morning Show at 7:45AM (E).  I’ll be on Busted Halo with Fr. Dave Dwyer talking about how to get the marriage conversation right.  And, of course, there’s my own show at noon.

That, plus a few articles due by Friday and a full slate of clients between now and Wed has me a little busier than normal.  In those weeks, blogging takes a back seat.

I suspect I’ll be back to full steam after the holiday weekend.  And who knows, if I get these articles done, I have a few things I’d like to post on later.  Check back again later this afternoon.  Who know what you might find.

Coming Mon on More2Life Radio: Marriage Fireworks!

Coming Mon on More2Life:  Marriage Fireworks–As we get ready for the 4th of July we’ll talk about ways to bring the spark back in your marriage AND ways to overcome those discussions that tend to blow up in your face

PLUS, Frank and Julie LaBoda of Retrouvaille, join us to talk about the stages of marital rediscovery.

Call in at 877-573-7825 from Noon-1 Eastern (11-Noon Central) with your questions about how to persevere under pressure.

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? YOU CAN STILL HEAR US!
~ Listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!),
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 Q of the D:  (Two-fer.  Answer one or both to win!) 

 1. What’s the most important thing a couple needs to do to keep the spark in a marriage?

 2.  What do you think is the hardest topic for couples to discuss and why?

*Win a free book!  Every day you respond to the question of the day your name will be entered in a radio drawing to win a free book from the Popcak Catholic Living Library (over 10 titles in all)!  Again, each day that you respond you will get another chance at winning a free book in the drawing held every Friday on More2Life Radio.

This week’s featured title is:  For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage–explores everything you need to know to live the Catholic vision of marriage to the full!  You’ll discover tips for negotiating every stage of your married life, improving communication and intimacy, better & more peaceful problem-solving and how to experience every aspect of your marriage as an opportunity to grow in your faith.


Winners will be announced on air and contacted by FB message following the drawing this WED July 3rd.