Youthful crime is not something new in human affairs. But in our age the problem of juvenile delinquency has assumed such proportions as to cause grave concern to the community and to call for special comment and prompt remedy.
To an alarming degree the records of wrongdoing reveal that the criminals are under 21 years of age, and many of them are under 18, a fact which is reflected in the unsavory notoriety which has gathered around the term “teen-age gang.”
The crimes involved run from general disorderliness and insubordination to acts of the gravest violence, not excluding murder. And the wave has spread its influence so widely that it has affected society at every level, and there is hardly a family with growing sons and daughters which does not feel apprehensive of its contagion.
What are the reasons for this upsurge of youthful criminality? Obviously at the root of it is that primordial rebellion which we call original sin, which at all times and in all places has been prolific in wrongdoing. But why is this evil root producing such luxuriant fruit precisely now and precisely among our youth?
Let it be said at the very beginning that it is a great mistake to treat juvenile delinquency as a malady detached from the body of society. There is juvenile delinquency because there is adult delinquency. And therefore its most basic cause is a decline in public and private morality, as its most fundamental remedy is a reformation of life at all levels of society. This is an unpleasant necessity that many reformers refuse to face, and as a result deserve from youth the scriptural rebuke: Physician cure yourself.
Nevertheless, there are special reasons why the evil is flourishing in our day and these deserve mention and discussion.
The first reason is to be found in the fact that hundreds of thousands of our boys and girls are growing up without serious religious formation. The first source of religious training for children should be the family. But with a very large fraction of the parents themselves products of the very system that creates juvenile delinquency, not much is to be hoped for from that source, until the parents themeslves seriously study and practice religion. Too many homes are without any religion except perhaps a few traditional observances that have lost most of their meaning. As a consequence, the children are raised in an environment devoid of Christian virtue. There is a lack of true love between husband and wife; an absence of proper esteem for honesty, truthfulness and chastity. The parents in too many instances seek their happiness elsewhere. They are constantly out of the house in quest of diversion, according to the potentialities of their income, at gambling tables, night clubs, or movies. The care of the children is confided to maids, houseboys, chauffeurs; or they are simply left to their own devices. Little effort is made to exercise parental authority; with cruel indulgence fathers and mothers yield to their children’s every whim, spare them every hardship, pass over every misdeed. It is obvious that such a home is little prepared to fulfill its most important function of turning the child’s heart and mind to God.
Unfortunately, religious instruction outside the home can do little to compensate for these domestic failures. The number of priests is too few to allow pastors to take proper care of their flocks. And the schools are still far from offering a solution. It is true that religious instruction is authorized by law in our public schools but the implementation of the law is very frequently attended with grave difficulties.
In many cases widespread poverty adds new occasion for the downfall of the young. Fathers and mothers are forced by the need of earning a livelihood to be frequently away from home for long periods. Housing conditions are often such as to deprive the members of the most elemental privacy, and are so restricted that children must of necessity spend most of their time in the streets. In the dire want that is a daily, nay, an hourly anxiety, thieving and other kinds of wrongdoing offer tempting avenues of income.
It is not surprising if, in this absence of religion and in this favorable climate of poverty, bad motion pictures and bad literature, the two principle forces for juvenile delinquency, produce disastrous results.
The late Pope Pius XI listed the harm wrought by evil motion pictures. “Everyone” he said, “knows what damage is done to the soul by bad motion pictures. They are occasions of sin; they seduce young people along the ways of evil by glorifying the passions; they show life a false light; they cloud ideals; they destroy pure love, respect for marriage and affection for the family.” (Vigilanti Cura, June 29, 1936)
Obviously not all motion pictures incur these strictures. But the number of harmful movies is so high as to bring discredit on the whole industry. Producers, distributors, theatre owners and advertisers must all share the blame for the evil. Advertisers especially play a peculiarly sinister role in this tragedy. In their efforts to attract the public to the theater, they often exceed all bounds of decency, and seem to think no means illicit if it serves their purpose. Newspapers which print their advertising are equally to blame for the harm that results.
Bad literature is the accomplice of the movies in this campaign of corruption. Motion picture magazines are of course tainted with the same disease as the industry itself, holding up bad principles, false ideals and sinful people for the admiration and emulation of the young.
Among other magazines the pictorials are outstanding offenders with their displays of indecency; but worst of all and most pernicious are the so-called comics where the young mind can drink in detailed descriptions of every sin and perversion in the annals of crime.
Meanwhile, the community is largely content with lip-protests against these conditions. As soon as effective means are suggested to cope with the dissemination of moral poison and to promote the more effective teaching of religion, small but very vocal groups raise exaggerated claims for one liberty or another, insensitive to the much more important values that are in danger. On the other hand what does youth find in those circles of the community which should be expected to provide moral leadership? He sees prominent men in all walks of society leading immoral lives. He finds that they suffer no stigma therefrom but are received with open arms everywhere. He learns the callous doctrine that what succeeds is right. He observes that wealth and power are above the law; crime if committed by important men goes unpunished.
We should not be surprised if in such circumstances young people listen with a certain cynicism to exhortations to virtue, whether at home or at school. And it is not strange that there exists a problem of juvenile delinquency; rather it is a wonder that it has been so long in gathering momentum, and that it is not even greater than it is.
It is a consoling fact that in spite of this gloomy picture there is a solid mass of decent people in the country who refuse to bow to the pernicious influences just described. And it is they who are most alarmed at the deterioration of youth. Many of them are parents who try to provide a good, wholesome home for their children, to supervise their activities outside the house, and by word and example to cultivate in them a deep religious spirit. But their efforts are thwarted by the dangerous impact of the world outside their homes, by influences from which their best and most constant efforts cannot shield their children and against which they strive in vain to fortify them.
The remedies for juvenile delinquency are suggested by the very sources of the evil.
First, there must be a return to domestic virtues. The movement for the family rosary is a step in the right direction. Parents must be impressed with the necessity of cultivating a genuine home life in which the whole family participates. Fathers and mothers must endeavor to know, supervise and to an extent share the recreation of their sons and daughters. Great care must be exercised over the choice of companions. Parental authority must be maintained and obedience insisted upon, lovingly but firmly, with a condign punishment for disobedience. Children must be filled with a sense of responsibility and of their vocation to play a role in human society, for which they have an obligation to prepare themselves. Cooperation must be given to school authorities, and parents must keep themselves constantly informed of the conduct and application of their children at school.
The state and all social agencies must lose no opportunity of insisting on the sanctity of marriage and the nobility of family life; that married life is something to be entered into carefully and prayerfully, since it is a vocation to provide citizens for the kingdom of heaven. Every influence must be brought to bear to prevent rash, ill-considered marriages and the unbridled promiscuity which inevitably occasions them.
Especially we call upon the government to take effective steps to control those agencies of destruction: bad motion pictures and bad literature. These are protected by powerful vested interests, deaf to the voice of conscience and the appeal of public decency. The Church, the school and the home will make little progress against them unless the state awakens to its obligation to safeguard its citizens, especially those who because of inexperience and weakness are unable to protect themselves.
But parents should not leave organized work exclusively to the state and social agencies. In many places in the world excellent results have been accomplished by the private group action of families who refused any longer to stand idly by while theatres, newspapers, newsstands, advertisers and other cardinal offenders in this matter worked to undermine the virtue of their children. These parents united in their resistance to the evil and first directed appeals to the offenders. When these failed, by the force of public opinion and other group sanctions they obtained a hearing and remedy.
Another obvious step is to raise the standard of living among the poor, to provide employment, to pay decent wages, to make satisfactory housing available. All this will serve to alleviate the problem of juvenile delinquency. Though in general the proportion of crime among the poor is not greater than among the rich, the causes among the poor are more sharply economic and therefore admit more easily of an economic solution.
There must be a great advance in the quality and quantity of religious instruction. More children must be given better instruction in their obligations to God and their duties as citizens. The law of religious instruction must be effectively implemented. This means on the one hand, that the government will not tolerate any efforts to sabotage its implementation, and on the other hand, the Catholics must be ready to put themselves at the disposition of their parish priests as teachers to provide this instruction.
To these general measures, aimed at preventing the rise of delinquency, must be added specific remedies for the problem as it actually exists. Society must admit its obligations to the delinquent child and take a patient optimistic interest in his adjustment. To this end, clubs, recreational centers, parks, and guidance centers must be established and maintained. The official handling of youthful crime must avoid the two errors of excessive leniency and excessive severity. Young men and women must be made to understand that society will not tolerate attacks upon its well-being and existence from any source, and that wrongdoing will receive a swift, just and suitable punishment. On the other hand, the official handling of youthful crime should take into consideration the age of the offender, who should be tried by special courts, where the prevailing mood will be paternal. The offenders will be shielded during the process from contact with hardened criminals and other evil influences. Trained specialists should be employed to ascertain to what extent physical and psychic causes contribute to the delinquency, so that proper remedies may be provided. And finally by means of vocational training, apprentice programs and placement bureaus, skillful, gainful and interesting occupations should be made possible for those for whom idleness is the occasion of wrongdoing.
In all remedies, general and specific, it cannot be too often emphasized that religion must be the basis of all true reform. The most fundamental reason why young people are delinquent is because they are offered no convincing reason for being otherwise. Elders, who “say and do not”, urge respectability and civic virtue– a kind of temperate sinfulness; but youth is not deceived by such hollow preaching. It is only the support which sound religious doctrine and practise give to the voice of conscience, with the example of Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother, which can hope to achieve any measure of success against the violent tempests of adolescent rebellion.
The Hierarchy cannot end this statement without a word of warm praise for those persons who, whether in government, civic and religious agencies or in their private capacity are devoting themselves to the solution of this problem. We know that there are many public officials and private citizens who are thoroughly alive to the menace of the evil and are generously and unselfishly giving their time, talents and resources to its solution. It is certain that they will receive an abundant reward from Him Who always showed His predilection for youth.
July 26, 1957, Feast of St. Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary
For the Philippine Hierarchy:
(Sgd.)+JUAN C. SISON, D.D.
Apostolic Administrator, sede plena, Nueva Segovia
President, CWO Administrative Council
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