My daily outrage:
Pope Francis – head of the church I belong to – has just passed the following judgment over childless couples: “[…]not having children is a selfish choice”. I have heard this comment all too often these ten years. But I have bad news: not a single man, not even the Pope, is entitled to the moral high ground to speak like this.
I don’t know what games His Holiness is playing on us, but he clearly changed his moral standards over the last couple of days, and not for the better (see his remark where he promoted violence against children). Maybe this is a political move to appease the hardliners within the hierarchy of the Church. Maybe something else. I don’t know. I’m not to judge.
Passing judgments is morally wrong, and Jesus is quite clear when he does not entitle us to it, see Matthew 7:1 or Luke 6:37 (among many other places). Why? First, because human communication is inherently flawed. Second, because those who judge can never possess all the information to justify their judgment.
Human communication is flawed because s/he who listens never understands the same thing as s/he who speaks. When one hears such criticism as the Pope uttered, s/he will inevitably feel degraded and humiliated. If something can be interpreted as judgment, it will be interpreted by some as judgment, as the rejection of their entire person.
When you see a childless couple, how do you know if they chose not to have children? Or if they did make that choice, how do you know what other honorable cases they serve that are just as beneficial to humanity as spawning children?
Maybe Pope Francis didn’t mean to judge all childless couples. Maybe he didn’t mean to judge at all. But he didn’t say so. He didn’t choose to make a distinction.
What’s more, the Pope’s remark is painfully misguided. Declining birth rates are indeed a serious problem, but precisely for this reason, there is plenty of scientific evidence as to what causes it (see here, here, and here – these are random Google finds). A Eurobarometer study even found that European couples actually pledge to have more children (on average) than are actually born.
The conclusion is that birth rates do not fall because couples are selfish and pass on having children. They fall despite couples actually want children.
What about the pain of infertile couples? These people spend years struggling and yearning for children. At the same time, they remain silent because it’s really hard to speak about such a predicament. As a result, they have to hear over and over again how selfish they are. I know about that – my wife and I are one such couple.
In our parish, we are among the organizers of a prayer group that welcomes and looks after childless couples – none of them chose to remain childless. We pray for them, we follow up with them along their journey, whatever choice they make: to struggle on, to adopt, or do something else. Since this group started – three years ago –, many member couples have had babies or adopted children. And those who haven’t still get the reassurance that they are not alone, and they are accepted and loved.
In lashing out against childless couples, today the Pope mocked our work and questioned God’s love for these people. I’m sure God knows better.