Q: What’s your opinion about recent statements by Pope Francis imploring married couples to have children or they will be bitter and lonely in old age? I found his comments offensive to the many married Catholic couples who struggle with infertility, or due to other constraints may not be able to have children.
I also found the Pope’s statements offensive to Catholics like myself who are single without children. I shudder to think what I have to look forward to in my senior years! Pope Francis stressed that a marriage requires three things: faithfulness, perseverance and fertility.
In addition, isn’t it somewhat selfish to have children so they can prevent their parents’ from being lonely in old age? This places quite a burden on children. Besides, many children have no part in their parents’ lives once they have families of their own. – J., Brooklyn
A: Pope Francis certainly doesn’t need me to defend him, but I will anyway because I like him and because in the Jewish tradition, the first commandment given by God to Adam was, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28).
The relationship between marriage and procreation has been an issue for centuries. However, religions have come to a consensus that although a childless marriage is not the religious ideal, it’s still a full and spiritually valid marriage. Children are an asset to a marriage but not an essential ingredient.
Childless marriages come in two forms: the couple is infertile or husband and wife are unwilling to procreate. As for infertile couples seeking to have children, several forms of assisted reproductive therapy are available and sanctioned by both the Catholic church and other religions.
For example, the Catholic Church endorses GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), which both bypasses certain obstacles to conception while also preserving the natural elements the Church values.
Other religious traditions have embraced IVF (in vitro fertilization), in which conception occurs outside the womb. The moral issues of IVF concern pregnancy reductions if multiple fertilized eggs implant. Now that most insurance pays for IVF, fewer eggs are implanted, thus lessening the chance of couples reducing multiple fertilized eggs through abortion.
Obviously, many infertile couples and fertile couples who want to give a good life to a child already born, choose adoption.
Your comments and criticisms address the much thornier moral and spiritual issue of couples unwilling to procreate.
You say you have many married friends who’ve chosen a childless life. Are they wrong? Not necessarily.
Life without children can be good, and a child-filled life can be good. Children are certainly a powerful antidote to selfishness. Raising children requires sacrifice, patience and self transcendence, all part of love in its highest manifestation. Children are our most intimate call to live a life dedicated to something larger than ourselves.
JFK famously said, “We are going to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” Kids and the moon are the same that way.
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