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Pope Francis to childfree couples: Even your dogs suck

For all of the misogyny inherent to the Catholic church (and evangelical and conservative Christianity in general), newbie Pope Francis has gotten a lot of attention for his (relatively) more progressive views and policies in his year of service. He has encouraged women to breastfeed in church. He has washed the feet of women, prisoners, and people with disabilities — rather than the traditional priests — in Holy Thursday observances. He has said he doesn’t judge gay priests (hardly a heartfelt embrace, sure, but a definite step forward from the position of popes before him). He has been lauded as “remarkable” by the HRC and named The Advocate‘s 2013 Person of the Year. Of the whole year, y’all.

And yet.

On Monday, Il Papa celebrated Mass with a group of 15 lengthily married couples to celebrate their marital milestones. His homily focused on the “three pillars” of Christian marriage: fidelity, perseverance, and fruitfulness. The “fruitfulness” part, he acknowledged, can be a bit of a challenge to infertile couples, but new babies are important to growing the church. What Jesus really hates, though, he said, are those married couples who selfishly withhold from the church those warm bodies to baptize:

“These marriages, in which the spouses do not want children, in which the spouses want to remain without fertility. This culture of well-being from ten years ago convinced us: ‘It’s better not to have children! It’s better! You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be care-free… it might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or is it not? Have you seen it? Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fruitful, it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes His Church fruitful.”

Of course, as a no-longer-Catholic, I’m not personally obliged to provide His Holiness with fruit from my womb. And that’s a good thing; neither The Boy nor I plans to have kids, and it was something we discussed early in the relationship to make sure there were no surprises or disappointments later on. And the fact is, we do sometimes explore the world and go on holiday (with and without the pups), and it’s great. We don’t have a villa in the countryside or live completely carefree, which would be awesome, but we definitely get to have a lie-in on Saturdays (after the dogs have been let out to pee) and drop money on IMAX tickets because we don’t have to worry about sending anyone to college.

As for the loving going to the pets… the love goes to each other. Don’t get me wrong — we love the pets. There’s no way I would be able to put up with Skip’s room-clearing flatulence if there wasn’t love there. But they’re not “fur-babies” (ew), they’re not substitutes for human children, and one of the benefits of a childfree life is that The Boy and I get to focus on each other. And when old age comes, it won’t be spent in solitude. (And frankly, creating new human beings so you won’t be lonely and you’ll have someone to take care of you when you’re old strikes me as pretty damn selfish.) God willing, old age will come with each other’s company, and since we’re hoping to both go at the same time in a spectacular skydiving/fireworks-related accident, we’ll be together to the end. If you’re only willing to limit the concept of “fruitfulness” to human reproduction, then yeah, ours isn’t a very godly existence, but that’s a pretty major limitation.

Moreover, though, for all the Pope’s praise of marital fruitfulness, both the Catholic church in general and he specifically have come out explicitly against policies and practices that support precisely that. The church opposes abortion, birth control, IVF, and other methods that would allow couples to be fruitful when they choose to be so and are best equipped to raise healthy families. He opposes same-sex marriage, depriving those couples of the marital bliss he champions in his homily, and he opposes allowing same-sex couples to adopt, depriving them of the opportunity to celebrate God’s fruitfulness.

And while Pope Francis gave it the glancingest of brushings-over in his homily, the “fruitfulness” narrative can, in fact, be a major blow to infertile couples who desperately want to have kids but are instead stuck in a childless relationship that will, Il Papa says, make them bitter and lonely.

It almost seems like a trivial complaint, since by its nature, the Catholic church is never going to be a full-on liberal, progressive, or (gah) feminist institution. And among the church’s offenses, “criticized couples who have pets instead of babies to a handful of married Italians” is toward the more innocuous end of the list. (Try “radical feminist” nuns and feminist “chauvinism with skirts”, for a start.)

But seriously. I’m used to being a ball-busting, man-hating, hairy-legged, baby-killing, slutbag, God-cursed feminist. But now my pets are evidence of my unholiness? Don’t listen to him, Dave; after all, “God” spelled backward is “dog.”

33 thoughts on Pope Francis to childfree couples: Even your dogs suck

  1. I’m married and I have two kids and I can totally understand why some people choose to do neither. His homily enraged me for so many reasons! Here are just a few.
    * Being “fruitful” puts more of a burden on the woman in a marriage than the man. Women make more sacrifices in terms of their earnings, their health, and their mental well being because most of the child rearing falls on them. Of course, as with most things, we’re supposed to consider this a noble sacrifice and shut up about it. For the record, a lot of so-called liberal men out there do the same thing. They love to “have conversations” about why women work full time and still do 99% of the housework, but they aren’t changing their behavior.
    * A lot of the church’s objection to child-free marriages has to do with their desire to control women. They are very fearful of “feminism” and women’s rights because feminists challenge the patriarchy upon which their institution is based. Imagine if all the women in the Catholic Church stood together at the same time and demanded change. That’s a lot of money out of the collection plate. Women may not be priests, but they are the backbone of the church.
    * The Pope and other Catholic religious leaders are not married and do not have families. Therefore they view women as stereotypes. Perhaps if they could have intimate relationships with women and be parents themselves, they would begin to recognize our humanity and have compassion for the challenges we face as mothers and wives.
    * Fear of “dying alone” is a ridiculous reason to have kids. You can have kids and still die alone.
    I could go on and on. This Pope is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I see nothing changing in the church yet. Wake me when it does.

  2. For all the doom and gloom this sounds, the Church doesn’t exactly need to be sweating bullets. Catholicism is still the single largest Christian denomination in the world (with over a billion adherents). I doubt child-free couples will be able to bring down the Church single-handedly.

    This to me sounds very much like what happened when 2008, it was announced that Islam had overtaken Catholicism in sheer number of adherents (Christianity as a group still dramatically dwarfs Islam, though). Several newspapers got sources inside the Vatican making statements about being “overtaken” by Muslims and how they feared a potential “Islamic takeover.” This still gives off the same smell to me, personally. They are less concerned about the personal lives of individual Catholics and more about being about to counter what they see as the growing threat of Islam (or any other religion for that matter).

  3. The whole supposed rationale is stupid. Do people really think that people without kids don’t have them because they want a villa (I mean, who doesn’t want a villa?). Call me a weirdo, but I thought child-free people didn’t have kids because…they didn’t want kids, not because of the siren calls of dogs and villas.

    Personally, I don’t think having a child as a hedge against not being cared for in old age is particularly selfish (it’s as good a reason as any, and in the US, at least, if you don’t have an energetic advocate when you are no longer able to do for yourself, you often get royally screwed in damaging ways), but it’s no reason to have a kid if you don’t want one. That’s just two lifetimes of resentment, there.

  4. Great post! I still don’t understand why a celibate man is confidently doling out fertility advice in the first place. Seems utterly crazy someone who’s never experienced marriage can provide insights on what will make a good vs. bad one. And someone who will never take on child-rearing can ask that everyone else procreate. The church needs a reality check on where it gets its insight.

  5. Hmmmm, I had liked this pope a lot. Where there are numbers there is power. I had hoped he would be more highly motivated. I wonder what he thinks about the effect of population growth on the health of the planet?

  6. (And frankly, creating new human beings so you won’t be lonely and you’ll have someone to take care of you when you’re old strikes me as pretty damn selfish.)

    Exactly. It doesn’t even work if you ignore how unethical – one might say immoral – it is, because having kids guarantees nothing about not dying alone.

    Pets aren’t the child substitutes so many but-you-should-have-babieeeees types pretend they are. I’m sure they are for some childless people, but for this childfree person they’re the first choice, not second-best. I adore cats and never want to be without them. I don’t even like children and I would never go through the pains and hazards of pregnancy and childbirth just to bring a totally dependent person into the world when I have neither the financial resources, parenting skills nor attitudes to make a good job of it.

  7. if you ignore how unethical – one might say immoral – it is

    unethical and/or immoral how, exactly? and in what way more so than any other reason for wanting a child?

    1. Because it goes right back to the idea of children as servants, like the youngest daughter being expected to stay at home and look after the aged parents.

      To me, this is what social welfare is for (in those countries that have any, of course).

  8. (And frankly, creating new human beings so you won’t be lonely and you’ll have someone to take care of you when you’re old strikes me as pretty damn selfish.)

    I don’t see creating life and considering your elder care as unethical or immoral. You care for your children and in turn they care for you. This is the cycle of life for a social species. Of course, the pope is forgetting that humans always had adults that didn’t reproduce. (like himself) Not everyone has to physically provide a child to impact the next generation. (The pope is a example of a child-free adult impacting the next generation) Quality elder care can be provided by people not directly descended from said elder. (The pope will have comfort and friends throughout his life)

    Of course, a man literally living within a golden city disparaging others for seeking wealth i.e. these imagined villas is absurd. Not to mention, that lowered birth rates are associated with financial insecurity. He completely out of touch.

    1. I don’t like the idea of having children with that idea in mind. It’s signing them up for a deal without any consent of theirs. Like I said to Donna, it takes me straight back to the idea of the youngest daughter as permanent unpaid servant to the parents that was so prevalent in the 19th century.

      1. Familial duty isn’t something anyone really consents to. The pope illustrates that many people think child-bearing itself is a familial duty. In my opinion, your example about youngest daughters in the 19th century was harmful because the duty was placed on one person. It’s similar to sons being expected to contribute more because daughters are expected to join their husbands families. A family that is flexible and expects multiple people to contribute is balanced.

        I do understand that in reality. It’s hard to force people to contribute.

        Also, social welfare isn’t going to be able to provide everyone quality care. The majority of the time a family pooling resources is going to be better off.

        1. Familial duty is a choice. If the children don’t want to practice it towards their parents, for whatever reason, it’s nobody’s business but their own.

      2. Having children at all is signing them up for a deal without their consent. That’s what life is. Considering eldercare in your choice to have children is only doing that if you coerce them into it. Otherwise it’s just playing odds.

      3. I think the social welfare element is going to differ hugely depending on where one lives – I sure wouldn’t dump anyone in the US system, or, the way it’s going, the Australian one. But they should be better than they are, though I don’t see that happening.

        But the idea of having “look after me in my old age” in your mind when you’re having kids skeeves me out entirely. It seems to go way beyond the base level of families taking care of each other to some degree. It also relies on the idea of families wanting any contact at all … I’ve enough to deal with looking after my mother; fucked if I’d ever do something for my wastrel father who walked out on us.

        1. They should be, but they aren’t, and that’s that.

          It’s not an enforceable obligation. If one has children in part to have someone to care for one in one’s old age, one had better take damn good care to make sure those children want to. I have no idea why my mother made sure my grandmother was well taken care of instead of leaving her to rot. Well, I do, but if she hadn’t, I sure wouldn’t have blamed her. But I don’t see what’s wrong with planning on having the kind of loving relationship that would make your kids want to care for you.

        2. It’s the “labour force to look after me” as the primary consideration that bothers me, not wanting a close and long-lasting relationship. Caperton put it very well in zir comment below.

    2. If it’s a matter of I want to have kids, and it’ll be nice to have someone to maybe take care of me in my old age, I don’t have a problem. I’m all in for taking care of my parents when they can’t do it themselves. But from the number of times I’ve gotten “But who’s going to take care of you in your old age?!” when I’ve said I don’t want kids, it seems like producing a labor force out of my vagina is meant to be a priority whether I actually want to be a mother or not.

      To me, having kids just so you’ll have someone to take care of you when you’re old is like having a “bandaid baby,” or having a baby just because you want someone to love you unconditionally. If those are your only goals, hire a financial planner, get a marriage counselor or a divorce, and adopt a shelter dog. Making an actual, sentient, human person is a big enough deal that it shouldn’t be used as a means to an end, unless that end is “I really want to have a kid.”

      1. I agree, but I have yet to actually meet or even read something by a parent who didn’t want kids, but had them anyway as some kind of old age insurance policy–for one thing the cost-benefit ratio just isn’t worth it, what with no guaranteed return. I think that’s just one of the douchey things people to say adults who don’t want children, and like many of those douchey things, it is only tangentially related to the actual reasons people have children.

  9. Familial duty is a choice. If the children don’t want to practice it towards their parents, for whatever reason, it’s nobody’s business but their own.

    Actually, quite a few US states impose a legal obligation on adult children to pay for care of aging relatives. It’s insane and morally wrong, but it exists.

    States with filial responsibility laws are: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

    If you have apparent residing in one of those states, you can be made to care for them.

    Usually, however, this is a cudgel used to get kids to sign incapacitated parents up for Medicaid.

    1. If the individual isn’t capable of signing themselves up for medicare someone has to. How else is the community going to identify everyone that needs help? It’s not like there is a list of elders over a certain age.

      People shouldn’t have to pay resources but someone has to make sure their still alive and help sign them up for public programs.

      My great aunt was apparently quite neglectful of her children. Her son refused to visit her when she was dying. But he still worked with us to make sure she had quality care.

      1. Trigger Warning for discussion of physical and sexual abuse in general terms:

        While these laws are mostly a cudgel, they have been enforced…to horrific ends.

        Don’t you have a problem with victims of parental abuse being forced to sign up their parents for Medicaid? To be forced to pay for their unreimbursed nursing home stays?

        Make no mistake, that happens. I’ve seen it happen to people whose parents almost killed them and did jail time for their crimes. I’ve seen it happen to people who were sex trafficked as children by their parents.

        If the parental rights aren’t completely severed by the state, the victims are legally still on the hook.

        As someone who has worked with a lot of abuse victims, I think that forcing them to have any contact with their parents – even if it is at arms length- at all is per se abusive. It is often re-traumatizing.

        I’m glad your family member could get through it. Not everyone can.

        These filial responsibility laws generally have no exceptions for people whose parents were criminally abusive. The ones that do force the adult child to go to court and prove they were abused. The burden of proof is on the victim. If they can’t substantiate the proof, they are still on the hook.

        Your dad molested and tried to kill you? Tough, here’s a bill for his nursing home care!

        The obligations imposed on the adult children aren’t limited to “sign your parent up for medicare”. They allow nursing homes a private right of action against an adult child of a parent in their home. And they do sue.

        There’s a very famous case out of Pennsylvania where a man (Piatti?) was forced to pay $93,000 in his mother’s nursing home bill. Even though she was married to a man (not his father) at the time and the son had no legal authority over his mother’s care and could not have chosen to take her home and tend to her if he had wanted to. They went after him even though his mother was married. Even though he had siblings.

        He lost at the trial and appellate levels and the PASC has refused to hear the case, so he’s stuck paying the bill. If he’s lucky, he may get some money out of his stepfather and siblings.

        The mother? She’s no longer living in the USA. No recourse against her or her estate. If she wins the lottery tomorrow, he can’t collect a penny from her.

        If the individual isn’t capable of signing themselves up for medicare someone has to. How else is the community going to identify everyone that needs help?

        People do need to be signed up. I would never dispute that. But there’s no real reason to force an adult child into this role. None.

        As an attorney, I’ve helped plenty of people through the process. A state agent or an agent of the nursing home could do the
        paperwork better or as well as a child. Half the time, I call the nursing home to get information because the children have no clue.

        Getter yet, we could include nursing home coverage in Medicare instead of Medicaid and it would be automatic.

        There’s no societally justifiable moral reason – nor any legal justification – for forcing this role.

        1. I said I don’t think anyone should be on the hook financially. And certainly whatever laws there are need clear exceptions for abuse. I’m not down playing the concerns of abuse victims. I understand that this is re-victimizing.

          I just don’t see public support for state agents. I know in Illinois its said that the state shouldn’t provide direct services. Nursing home arrangements is a medical expense and should be covered by all forms of medical insurance. The medical precedent is to contact the next of kin. I’m assuming that in these cases the next of kin is the eldest child. I do think that person should have the right to refuse, no questions asked and either provide a another relative to represent the family or request the state make arrangements.

          However, There are horrific reports of conditions in state run nursing homes. Even private ones, you need someone to actively advocate for quality care. I don’t see the state running everything as a viable solution.

  10. Nobody’s mentioned the population problem. The planet can support only so many people and to me it looks like we are getting pretty close to, if not past, capacity. I’m doing the world a favor by not adding to that problem.

    I have always figured my elder care was going to be up to me. I certainly didn’t believe Social Security was going to still be around. I do have a niece who says she’ll visit me when I’m in the old folks home but I don’t expect her to be paying for it. Most people without kids have thought ahead and are ready to deal with the lonely, bitter years ahead, thank you very much. And yeah, let’s be clear; there will be dogs and cats.

    1. Meh to the population problem. In the developed world, where people have access to reliable birth control and can be reasonably sure that there children will survive to adulthood, birth rates are quite low. The problem isn’t one of population; it’s one of systemic industrial environmental destruction. That doesn’t mean anybody should have kids if they don’t want to, but nor have I heard from anybody who wants kids who decided not to out of some sense of environmental morality.

      1. Yea, the developed world has a falling birth rate but we’re also the people that consume the most. There are now 7 billion people on the planet. There is a limited amount of food we can produce. Malnutrition is partly the fault of food prices being inaccessible in developing countries. We need to spread access to reliable birth control. Of course, the Vatican resists these efforts because it teaches that birth control is immoral. And believes being “fruitful” is the ideal.

        1. Yeah, but that’s my point–our consumption clearly has practically nothing to do with our birth rate.

  11. You know what the sad thing is though? I bet a lot of priests have pets. The priest who I grew up with had a dog. It is really necessary, even those who like to be alone need to have some sort of companionship. We’re humans. We are social beings.

    It’s interesting how the church can be so adamantly against married priests, yet piss over childless couples and their pets.

    1. Even the previous way-worse-than-this-one Pope was a cat lover (and guess what, the bureaucrats at the Vatican said he wasn’t allowed to have his cats there – one more tiny drop of miserable idiocy in that vast ocean).

  12. He’s the pope, the head of catholicism, a religion that prides on itself on its exclusivity and its oppressive “moralistic” scriptures … he’s never going to be a good guy is he?


  13. There is something really weird about a guy who has chosen to not have kids give a speech claiming that choosing not to have kids is morally wrong.

    I mean, what does the pope do, but travel around and “explore the world”? The job comes with “a villa in the countryside.” No doubt some popes have had pets, and this pope named himself after the patron saint of animals!

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