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About preferring pets over children

Sunday, January 9, 2022 (04:18)

Pope Francis has produced lucrative content during the general audience on 2022-01-05 where he said “Many, many couples have no children because they don’t want. Or they have one single child and don’t want more. But they have two dogs, two cats (…) And this denying of father- and motherhood belittles us” (my translation from Generalaudienz: Papst ermuntert Paare zu Kindern)

And the news industry greedily uses the occasion to make money by firing up heated public emotions: Don’t choose pets over children, Pope Francis says as birthrates drop (Washington Post) or Papst Franziskus kritisiert kinderlose Paare and Der Kinderwunsch des Pontifex (Der Spiegel).

I have several good friends who are likely to feel offended by these words. One of them was married without children during ten years, then divorced, married again, and in the new couple they chose to not have any children. They enjoy life with dual income and no kids, they have several dogs, love them as their children, engage in a local animal refuge centre. Another example is a woman who would probably have made a good nun, but she doesn’t trust the church and lived with alternating partners, has a bohème lifestyle, big ideas and visions, shows symptoms of bipolar disorder.

I think about my own family. Recently I asked our daughters “Do you want to have children of your own?” and they answer with a resolute “No”. Each of them individually. It hurts a bit because it makes me worry whether they be really happy. I sometimes explain them that I dare to live with minimal wage –which means especially here in Estonia that my income after retirement will be ridiculous– because I hope that our children will take care of us when my wife and I will be old.

The Pope’s words touch deep wounds. And every wound hurts when you touch it.

How can my favourite Pope say such offending words? This does not help to spread the Gospel, does it?

Before going on in my thinking, I wanted to hear the context. Did he say them at all? Here is the German translation of what the Pope exactly said, with a bit of context:

Wie viele Kinder in der Welt warten darauf, dass sich jemand um sie kümmert! Und wie viele Ehepartner wünschen sich, Väter und Mütter zu sein, können es aber aus biologischen Gründen nicht; oder sie wollen, obwohl sie bereits Kinder haben, die Zuneigung ihrer Familie mit denjenigen teilen, die ohne sie geblieben sind.

Wir dürfen keine Angst haben, den Weg der Adoption zu wählen und das ‚Risiko‘ einzugehen, Kinder aufzunehmen.

Und auch heute, im Zusammenhang mit dem Waisendasein, gibt es einen gewissen Egoismus. Neulich sprach ich über den demografischen Winter, den wir heute erleben, dass die Menschen keine Kinder haben wollen, oder zumindest eines und nicht mehr. Und viele, viele Paare haben keine Kinder, weil sie nicht wollen, oder sie haben eines und nicht mehr - aber sie haben zwei Hunde, zwei Katzen … Ja, Hunde und Katzen ersetzen Kinder. Ja, das bringt einen zum Lachen, das verstehe ich, aber es ist die Realität.

Und diese Verleugnung der Vater- und Mutterschaft setzt uns herab, nimmt uns die Menschlichkeit. Und so wird die Gesellschaft älter und unmenschlicher, weil der Reichtum der Vaterschaft und der Mutterschaft verloren geht. Und das Vaterland leidet, weil es keine Kinder hat und –wie einer mal etwas humorvoll sagte–, und wer zahlt jetzt die Steuern für meine Rente, da es keine Kinder gibt?’: er lachte, aber es ist die Wahrheit. Wer wird sich um mich kümmern?

(…) diejenigen, die in der Welt leben und heiraten, denkt daran, Kinder zu bekommen, das Leben zu schenken, denn sie sind es, die (nach dem Tod, Anm.) Eure Augen verschließen werden, die von euch etwas für die Zukunft übernehmen werden. Und wenn Ihr keine Kinder bekommen könnt, denkt über eine Adoption nach. Es ist ein Risiko, ja: Ein Kind zu bekommen ist immer ein Risiko, ob auf natürlichem Wege oder durch Adoption. Aber es ist riskanter, keine zu haben. Riskanter ist die Verleugnung der Vaterschaft, die Verleugnung der Mutterschaft, sei sie real oder geistig. Aber zu verleugnen, ein Mann und eine Frau, die keinen Sinn für Vaterschaft und Mutterschaft entwickeln, ihnen fehlt etwas, etwas Wesentliches, etwas Wichtiges. Denkt bitte daran.

Source: vaticannews.va

Aha. So even the Washington Post gets it wrong: The Pope was speaking about orphaned children when he said these words, not about “dwindling birthrates”.

I wonder whether those who feel offended after reading Der Spiegel or Washington Post, would have felt offended if they had heard or read the general audience in first place.

In this context the Pope’s message is theoretically correct: as long as there is one orphan in the world, choosing to not adopt children is a sin.

Christians dare to speak this way about sins because we believe that God forgives them. Once you realized –and get used to the belief– that God forgives each potential sin even before the sinner realized and admitted it, then you dare to ask “Was I wrong? Did I make a mistake? Would we be happier if I had chosen differently?” Such questions aren’t meant to accuse anybody or make people feel guilty. Asking them is a necessary part of analysis. Analysis is needed to reduce harm at least in the long run.

And if you don’t feel offended by such questions, you happen to forget that other people might.

This message undoubtedly sets up a lot of people who get it wrong and feel wrongly accused. And I blame the news industry for removing the Pope’s words from their context instead of truthfully reproducing his full message.

I remember the six years time when our first child was born and the second not yet coming. I felt the call to adopt one ore more children. I discussed the idea with my wife, but she didn’t feel as me, and I didn’t insist. If I had heard the Pope’s message at this time, maybe I’d have insisted and maybe we would now be a family with more children.

I can imagine the Pope, when considering the question whether to speak about this painful topic or not, was thinking: “If I speak it out, media industry will probably distort it and use it (causing harm to me and the Church), but if I silence it down, a number of potential adoptive parents who are currently in doubt will maybe choose to not adopt (harming those children that fail to get adopted because of their choice)”. And we can see how he decided. A selfless man who fully trusts in God and who sometimes ignores warnings about being careful or diplomatic.

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