Pope Francis asks for international surrogacy ban
Church teaching explains why
By RENEE WEBB
Content and Design Coordinator
Although Pope Francis made headlines last month when he said surrogacy was “deplorable” and called for an international ban on the practice, opposition to surrogacy is not new for the Catholic Church.
Father Zach Jones, parochial vicar at Divine Mercy Parish in Algona who holds licentiate in moral theology, said the Catholic Church has always held this view and it has been laid out by many previous popes.
“Since the rise of surrogate motherhood, the church has always looked upon surrogacy as illicit,” he explained.
In 1987 during the papacy of St. John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document Donum Vitae that was authorized by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) stated: “Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity and the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up, to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families.”
Pope Francis, noted Father Jones, spoke with “great frankness” on a topic that is often overlooked when it comes to modern morality.
“I am very grateful for his comments as surrogacy is growing widespread and the damage it does to everyone involved is often not discussed or overlooked entirely,” said the priest. “His words are sharp, but he very profoundly connects surrogacy to the culture of death that was expressed by his predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II.”
Father Jones surmised that if a life can be purchased or manipulated through surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF), “it can just as easily be discarded through abortion and euthanasia. A consistent ethic of life demands a denial of surrogacy.”
Pope Francis made his remarks about surrogacy on Jan. 8 in a foreign policy speech to the world’s ambassadors where he stressed the path to peace called for respect for every human life, starting with the life of the unborn child in the mother’s womb that could not “be suppressed or turned into an object of trafficking.”
“In this regard, I deem deplorable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs,” the Holy Father said. “A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract.”
Father Jones said the church views surrogate motherhood as a separation of the mother and child.
“The surrogate mother is used essentially as an incubator and the child is brought forth not by the loving embrace of a wedded couple, but rather the manipulation of gametes in a lab,” he explained.
IVF, noted Father Jones, is an integral part of surrogacy that brings with it many morally illicit practices given the separation of the procreative and unitive aspects of sex. In addition, there are many practical and medical side effects and dangers.
“Typically, in IVF, numerous children are created in embryonic stages while only one or two are often implanted in the mother or surrogate,” he explained. “The others are discarded through selective abortions, killing multiple children to bring one or two about through gestation and birth.”
Not long after the pope’s remarks, the spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Chieko Noguchi, offered this comment:
“As Pope Francis stated, with surrogacy, an unborn child is turned into ‘an object of trafficking; because it exploits the birth mother’s material needs and make the child the product of a commercial contract.’ This is why the Catholic Church teaches that the practice of surrogacy is not morally permissible. Instead, we should pray for, and work towards, a world that upholds the profound dignity of every person, at every stage and in every circumstance of life.”
The USCCB also sent out a statement in support of the pope’s comments from Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, who is chair of the conference’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
Parenthood not a right
“The commercialization of women and children in surrogacy is underlined by the belief that there is a right to have a child,” said Bishop Barron. “The child becomes an object for the fulfillment of one’s desires instead of a person to be cherished. In this way, the genuine right of the child to be conceived through the love of his or her parents is overlooked in favor of the right to have a child by any means necessary.”
Father Jones pointed out that surrogacy is often the treatment for infertility and the typical argument is that because of the church’s prolife stance, if an infertile couple desires a child, they should be able to use any recourse to make it happen.
“However, parenthood is not a right and a child is not owed to a couple just because they desire it,” he said. “Parenthood and children are a gift given by God in which the couple cooperate and receive this gift. In both IVF and surrogacy, we see a separation of the procreative and unitive aspects of the marital union which Pope St. Paul V wrote to beautifully about in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. Surrogacy makes the child a product of an economic transaction and not a product of marital union.”
That’s not to say, acknowledged Father Jones, that the parents do not love their children born through surrogacy or IVF, but that “they were conceived in an unnatural and illicit manner.”
At the same time, he said these children are not any less human or loved less by God.
“Infertility is on the rise in the nation and worldwide, and it is a heavy cross that many couples deal with, but this does not justify illicit moral action,” said Father Jones. “Couples can choose to instead adopt and welcome with love a child who is already born and in need of parents. This is a sacrifice, but a heroic call that we desperately need.”
From the Feb. 8, 2024 edition of The Lumen