Pope Francis wants you to have babies. If you don’t, you’re 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 last week. “The choice to not have children is selfish.”
People who don’t have children are no more greedy or selfish than those who do. Maybe they decided raising kids was not for them. Maybe they decided they really wanted children, but biology got in the way. Selfishness has nothing to do with it.
It would be just as ridiculous to say people who have children are selfish, as they are overpopulating the world, are motivated to create other beings in their likeness in some kind of subconscious narcissistic plot or are just making sure there’s someone to look after them when their body cannot do everything for itself any more. Neither decision – to have children or not – is selfish.
Hitting a defenceless child
A few days before calling loads of people selfish, the pope endorsed the beating of these little people he loves so much. He said: “One time I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say: ‘I sometimes have to smack my children a bit but never in the face, so as to not humiliate them.’ How beautiful! He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.”
I don’t know what could possibly be going through the mind of a grown man to think that hitting a defenceless child is “beautiful”. That is a deeply disturbing comment.
It is difficult to take the Catholic Church’s teaching on anything to do with children seriously, given the context of paedophilia, child rape, abuse, torture, humiliation and beating that impacted on so many children who were entrusted into the church’s care in this country, not to mention those who were simply just unfortunate to come into contact with a predatory priest, devoid of empathy for young people who needed love and protection, not abuse and sexual assault.
And it’s difficult to take advice on family life from people who are barred from having intimate relationships, never mind having children.
What do the pope and his clergy know about sharing a home with a partner? What do they know about how relationships change and progress over time? What do they know about sexual love? What do they know about the difficulties and joys of raising children?
What do they know about the comfort of coming home after a long day’s work and having someone at the door, whom you love, asking how the day went, with the evening’s radio playing on the kitchen worktop and a dinner in progress? What do they know about crisis pregnancies? What do they know about planning families?
What do they know about standing on the side of a football pitch in the freezing rain on a Thursday evening, watching a son or daughter under the age of 10 lashing a point wide? What do they know about tiptoeing out of a bedroom and dimming the light after reading their son or daughter the latest chapter of Matilda?
What do they know about teenagers slamming doors and retreating to their bedrooms to listen to ear-bleeding music?
What do they know about the strains that enter relationships when letters from the bank fall on the hallway doormat and the needle on the car’s petrol dial is perilously low? What do they know about the heartache of miscarriages?
What do they know about those awkward first encounters of meeting the parents of a boyfriend or girlfriend where you accidentally insult their political party allegiances or favourite soccer club? What do they know about turning to someone in bed and saying: “I love you”? What do they know about the decision to have children? What does the pope know about pacing the halls of a maternity ward or pushing a human out through his vagina?
No position to comment
The answer is nothing. The pope and his cardinals, bishops and priests don’t know anything about these things, these important, real, human things that are central to people’s lives. They haven’t lived these experiences, and are in no position to comment on them.
They live different lives – lives that they have chosen or lives that have chosen them. And they are fully entitled to lead those lives, and to preach their learning about the Catholic faith and the teachings of Jesus. Words of wisdom from the pulpit can be incredibly eye-opening. The comfort priests offer to their parishioners in times of grief and strife can be vital. The altruistic efforts of the church in Ireland and abroad in helping poor, marginalised and disadvantaged people are often life-changing.
Yet ultimately, they are backseat drivers in the intimate lives of their flock, suggesting decisions without their foot on the pedal. When it comes to the world of intimate love, be it relationships, marriages, the separation of both, or parental life, it’s probably best to take advice from those who know what they’re talking about.