“The Devil is more intelligent than mere mortals,” Pope Francis told us recently. He is “a real person armed with dark powers … He always pretends to be polite, that’s how he enters into your mind, but it ends badly if you don’t realise what is happening in time.”

The truth of this last phrase struck me when a friend, a widow in her mid-40s, told me that she was expecting a baby conceived with the sperm of an anonymous donor. She already has a daughter whom she believes will benefit from a sibling. When asked what I thought, I said that – though tragedies occurred whereby children lost one or both their parents – to deliberately bring a child into the world without a father was wrong.

“Ah, but you’re not modern,” she said – too delicate, perhaps, to use the word “old-fashioned”. And then: “And it’s because you are a Catholic.”

I replied that my objection had nothing as such to do with my faith, but was based on convincing evidence that a child flourishes when raised by two parents. We then got on to the question of whether those two parents need be of different genders, and, since we were both over-familiar with the other’s position, the discussion came to an inconclusive end.

Why do I feel so strongly that a child should have a father? It is no doubt because I so value the bond I had with my own father. He was wise, just and kind – a combination of qualities made it easy for me to envisage God the Father. I also prized my own role as a father when I came to have children of my own. I was present at their birth – unusual at the time; and because I worked mostly at home, I was able to play an active role in their upbringing.

However, in 1970, the year of our first son’s birth, the traditional view of the pater familias was coming under attack with the publication of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, in which she argued that children were better off without identifiable fathers. Her book was lavishly praised by many eminent people, became a bestseller and went on to influence a whole generation.

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