Pope: Opting not to have children a ‘selfish choice’

Pope Francis has delivered a heaping helping of guilt to couples who have chosen not to have children.

A week or so after saying Catholics shouldn’t breed “like rabbits,” he called childless couples “selfish.”

“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 Religion News Service suggests — we’re guessing incorrectly — that his remarks won’t cause a big stir.

The pope’s comments on childbearing and selfishness might spark some commentary, but they are not likely to produce as many headlines as his improvised comments the previous week when he seemed to signal that it was OK for parents to spank their children.

“One time, I heard a father say, ‘At times I have to hit my children a bit, but never in the face so as not to humiliate them,’ ” the pope said. “That’s great. He had a sense of dignity. He should punish, do the right thing, and then move on.”

Over to you, childless couples.

  • KTN

    Guilty as charged, except neither of us are Catholic, so his decree means about as much to me as,well. the weather forecast. As a life-long coach, surrounding myself with kids, I I have to say my life has indeed been enriched because that choice, but that we chose not to conceive, well quite frankly, that was ours to make, not the Pope’s (and for what its worth, I think as Popes go, he’s one of the better ones).

  • David P.

    Doesn’t the church require priests, nuns and brothers to be childless? (They clearly are not required to be celibate…)

    • Al

      It was a comment aimed at couples who choose not to have children.

      • John

        As a direct consequence of a celibacy vow, one is choosing to not have children.

      • David P.

        Aye. And mine was a comment regarding the ban on marriage for priests, nuns, brothers, etc. If they could marry, then they could breed to the pope’s content. As pope, he has the authority to allow their being married.
        The other point I was making was regarding celibacy, or lack thereof, in the above mentioned church members. It seems the church is OK with sex or rape outside of marriage that doesn’t produce babies, but not love-sharing inside a marriage that does not produce babies.
        The shameful disregard for those that have been abused is a scar that will never heal – for the victims nor the church.
        Considering the church’s facilitation of this systematic abuse, the church has no more moral authority than any other criminal enterprise.

      • Jack

        Priest’s send those pregnant nuns to the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland.

  • Sorry Mr. Pope, you are dead wrong.

    Plenty of people don’t have children for a myriad of reasons, not just because they are “selfish.”

    • Jack

      I would consider it opposite of selfish for a couple who wishes to remain without children to remain without children. I would think that they might know htat they would make lousy parents.
      A child raised by parents who did not want them in the first place can feel this throughout their entire life.

  • Al

    1. Is being selfish in that manner a bad thing?
    2. “Honest with themselves about their wants, needs, and capabilities” seems more appropriate than “selfish.”
    3. What about us one-kid households? We’re clearly not selfish at all, right?

  • Jim G

    This is a good example of why we don’t have kings anymore.

  • Sara

    Seems like it can be summed up as women only have value if they breed.

  • andy

    Happily, I’ve been cured of Catholicism (and all religion) for 22 years now, so my wife and I’s decision to be childless produces no guilt for me!

    That being said, as pope’s go, this one is still pretty cool in my book.

  • MrE85

    I liked it better when he said dogs go to Heaven. That comforts me. Not that I’ll ever find out for sure. (there was a classic “Twilight Zone” episode that dealt with dogs in Heaven, BTW).

    • I’ve often said the fact that dogs only live a fraction of the time humans do is the best argument against the existence of a deity.

      • MrE85

        I’m fairly certain Satan is a cat person.

        • KTN

          Wow, I’m both selfish and Satan – cool 🙂

  • DJ Wambeke

    It’s tempting here to turn this into a blanket condemnation of childless couples. But the danger, as always, is in taking the pope’s words apart from the greater context of 1) all the other things he has said, and 2) 2,000 years of Catholic thought, of which he is the current steward.

    The Catholic understanding of marriage is that it is a situation which, by its very nature embodies a deep truth in the deepest way possible: that love itself brings forth new life. And it rejoices in couples who embrace that truth as generously (but prudently) as they can.

    So in the same way that his “breed like rabbits” comment was not a universal condemnation of couples who have lots of kids, neither is this comment a universal condemnation of each and every couple who don’t have any. What it is is a critique of the kind of systemic cultural failure to value and bring forth new life that one finds in Europe and elsewhere where birth rates are meager.

    The commmon theme of virtually everything this pope says is that we should be always giving of ourselves and living our lives in service of others. Providing for another generation is just another spoke in the wheel of doing just that.

    • David W.

      What’s wrong with meager birth rates? It’s not as if civilization didn’t prosper 100 years ago when the Earth’s total human population was 1/3rd what it is today. People can still give in many ways without having children also, and help ensure a decent life for future generations. I value children for what they are, not as a some means to cure a “depressed” society.

      • DJ Wambeke

        >>> I value children for what they are, not as a some means to cure a “depressed” society

        Actually, I’m pretty sure the pope would agree with that statement.

    • RallyLock

      Modern history shows that in industrialized, “developed”, or “first-world” nations (i.e. Europe, North America, East Asia), high poverty rates typically equal low birth rates, and low poverty rates typically equal higher birth rates. People don’t want to have children when they know that they might not be able to provide adequate food, clothing, or medical care to their children. Not only is this an economic decision, but it is also a moral decision – why have a child, only to watch him/her suffer, and possibly die, from poverty?

      As one example, some of Europe’s lowest birth rates are in Italy, Spain, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, and the Czech Republic – all of which have very high poverty rates. At the same time, Europe’s wealthier nations – Britain, France, the Scandinavian countries – all of much higher birth rates. The only real exception to that norm is Germany – a very low birth rate, despite being the wealthiest nation in the European Union.

      So… how does it make any sense to criticize the residents of poor nations as “selfish”, when all they are doing is fitting into a proven socioeconomic trend?

  • Anna

    Some people really should not have children, mainly because they do not have the temperament to love them unconditionally. These parents are the same ones with mug shots on the news after dropping their children off a bridge, literally beating their children to death because they would not stop crying, drowning them in a bathtub, or the pregnant mother who abuses drugs or alcohol and then the child (and society) is stuck with the consequences.

    Yes, there is a host of reasons people should not have children. My hat is off to couples who realize they would not make good parents or who realize they do not have the financial means to raise a child to adulthood.

    I think Francis is subtly referring to the selfishness of today’s society in general with which I wholeheartedly agree. There’s a world of difference between being “selfish” in the context of taking good care of one’s self and “selfish” as in taking care of one’s self to the exclusion of everyone else.

    Think of all the ills in the world we could solve if like driving or practicing medicine, becoming a parent would require a license.

  • Jeff

    I think he’s verbalizing what a lot of people think of childless couples (who have the potential to reproduce), Catholic or not.

    • Tim

      Yes, I’ve certainly seen the sentiment expressed before, though I don’t understand it. Who is negatively affected by a couple’s decision not to have children?

    • Julie

      Having the potential to reproduce does not mean one should reproduce. As a women married for 20 years who does not have children, I am incensed that people who do not even know me feel they have the right to question the decision my husband and I have made not to have children. Why should I be diminished and even demonized for this decision–one that has nothing to do with greed or selfishness. I am an educator who spends the majority of my time surrounded by children. Not only do I teach, but I spend time helping identify children who are struggling and need support because they come from homes where perhaps these individuals should have given more serious thought to their ability to reproduce. I have clothed and fed students and counseled them when they’ve been abandoned and neglected. I’ve given them a safe ride home when parents were too drunk to drive them home. I care about children and often spend more time with some children then their parents do. Is this the selfishness to which the pope refers? Is it these actions that “valued” reproducing couples take issue with? Perhaps we should consider letting the individuals who must assume the ultimate responsibility for such a precious task make their own informed decisions about whether or not they should reproduce.

  • Jeff C.

    In this day and age of global overpopulation and dwindling natural resources that couples who choose to have children could be called selfish. Same with having more than 1 child.

    • sixguinness

      I agree completely.

    • DJ Wambeke

      But there is no “global” overpopulation. All overpopulation is local.

      Thanks to improved technology, this earth has enough resources to allow all of us – and more – to live flourishing, happy lives. The problem is that we aren’t doing a good job of allocating those resources. Nor are we shifting over fast enough to renewable resources.

    • DAvid Schnell

      You are outside the borders now. Do you need reinforcements?

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I’m single, but if I were married he’d be dead-on 100-percent correct. And I have zero problem with that.

    • buffalobirdie

      Explain for all of us how he is “dead-on 100-percent correct.”

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        I do not want kids because I’m selfish, no other reason.

        • buffalobirdie

          Ok – I understand that may be a correct description for you – but for everyone?

        • Janie

          I appreciate this honesty. I’m close friends with numerous childless couples. I’ve heard this debated endlessly. They assert they can’t afford children as they sip a $40 bottle of wine. They complain their demanding careers would make it “impossible” to have children. My husband and I had one child, suffered the financial and career consequences, and chose not to have another. Not everyone has to go through this to live an “enriched” life, but at least be honest about your motives. I can be honest that the reason we chose not to have more children is pure selfishness.

          • kevinfromminneapolis

            There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Being selfish is okay.

  • tree trimmer

    Maybe some don’t have kids and adopt instead. That’s selfish? There are enough humans.

  • buffalobirdie

    As a childfree person I’d love to express my annoyance at the Pope’s comments, but my husband and I are too busy drinking mai-tais and getting twin massages from 2 hot latinas in Costa Rica! Woo-hoo. Uhhhh- yeah….it feels so good.

  • Jack

    Time for a female pope. (Not that I will ever see that happen). I’d love to see the tone at the top if that ever happened.

    BTW – we have one child who had more opportunities being a single than if he had siblings. We stopped at one for many reasons but partially because it was financially prudent at the time and the wife’s health was more important.

  • WhenDovesFly

    Thank You! Thank you to all the childless Catholics out there. Most who find themselves childless by circumstance.
    Thank you for picking up the slack and ensuring that children who are not your own are fed, clothed and sheltered through your generosity.
    Thank you for giving disproportionally to the school, church and numerous other charities without fail.
    Thank you for coming to church, sitting alone while families surround you, you are sitting the example for young people or couples that may one day find themselves in the same situation.
    Thank you for enduring the never-ending sermons on the glory or family, knowing you support the family but will never have one of your own or receive any credit for your efforts.
    Thank you for sitting through mothers and fathers day, knowing it will never be you.
    Thank you for smiling through and giving to the newly baptized, communicant or confirmed while listening to endless stories of “when MY kids”.
    Those of you in the situation, thank you for ensuring the family has dinners, holidays and get togethers while hearing behind your back that you are not the “REAL parent”, you’re “just” the husband or wife and countless stories about the REAL family/parent.
    Thank you for listening to other’s kids and guiding them when the parents fail.
    Thank you for enduring the insinuation of “sin”, the accusation you “put career first” (what you should be unsuccessful while crying at home?) or you are just too selfish.
    Thank you, Thank you so much. You persevere in the toughest of circumstances, you support he family in the most selfless way known to man, You will never have your own family but you serve others, not only without recognition from others and the church but in the face of steady and continuous detraction and degradation. THANK YOU.
    For others reading this, well you may want to examine your thought processes before freely commenting on the childless in your parish,

  • annoyed

    So… if let’s say I have a genetic condition that it is selfish of me for deciding not to have my own children? I have mild autism, anxiety and depression. It could put my offspring at higher risk of having a more severe form. (I understand autism isn’t all bad. There are good traits to the condition as well as the bad, but it does pose a challenge and something to seriously think about and plan for before jumping in and having children. Making sure if such child ends up with it to get early intervention programs, therapies, etc plan to fight with the education system throughout their life etc…

    But even if I didn’t have autism, anxiety and depression, I still am by no means financially able to support a child. Also heart attack and stroke are in our bloodline. Should that be encouraged? What about those with more serious genetic conditions? What about those that are unable to have children, even if they tried? Did the Pope think this through before firing off such statements?