Pope Francis Calls out Couples Who Choose Not to Have Children as ‘Selfish’

Feb 12, 2015 05:29 PM EST

Pope Francis
Photo: Osservatore Romano Press Office/EPA

Despite the fact that Pope Francis urged Catholic followers in the Philippines last month not to "breed like rabbits," he made comments on Wednesday at the Vatican that seemed to be contradictory with that assertion.

According to Stephanie Kirchgaessner of The Guardian, the pope called out couples who decided not to bear children, commenting that the decision was a "selfish" act. He made the statement to his general audience at St. Peter's Square.

"A society with a greedy generation, that doesn't want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society," the pope said. "The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished."

The Guardian reported that Francis, in his address, focused primarily on the joy of children and their role in society. The pope then turned to a childhood memory of his mother.

"She would say, 'I have five children like I have five fingers. If they beat one of my fingers, all five hurt. All of my children are mine, but each one is different,'" he said.

The pope then elaborated on the context behind his remarks. According to The Guardian, he contended that there was a strong correlation between a society's level of hope and its "inter-generational harmony."

"You love your child because he is a child, not because he is beautiful, healthy, and good; not because he thinks like me, or embodies my desires," Francis said. "A child is a child: a life created by us but destined for him."

David Gibson of Religion News Service thought that the pope was referring to the low birth rates in Europe through his comments.

"They are depressed societies because they don't want children," Francis said. "They don't have children. The birth rate doesn't even reach 1 percent."

Gibson reported that Francis has focused many times on the importance of the family whenever he addressed his public audience in St. Peter's Square. According to The Guardian, his latest message seemed to be consistent with comments he made last year about a "culture of wellbeing" that could entrap couples who do not have children.

"It might be better, more comfortable, to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog," he said last year. "Is this true or is this not? Have you seen it? Then, in the end, this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness."

The pope argued that children were a "gift" from God in previous remarks.

"The joy of children makes their parents hearts throb and reopens the future," Francis said. "Children are not a problem of reproductive biology, or one of many ways to realize oneself in life. Let alone their parent's possession. Children are a gift. Do you understand? Children are a gift."

Gibson reported that Francis supported the Humanae Vitae encyclical of Pope Paul VI, which was written back in 1968. The letter argued that in terms of biological processes, "responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions."

"With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time," Paul VI wrote.

Paul VI added that responsible parenthood "concerns the objective moral order which was established by God."

"In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society," Paul VI wrote.

According to Gibson, the latest controversial comments came after the pope seemed to endorse spanking last week as a proper method for disciplining unruly children. However, The Guardian reported that the pope did not endorse violence or cruelty against a child, according to a clarification issued by the Vatican.