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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Pope Francis urges ban on surrogacy, calling it ‘despicable’



A portrait of Pope Francis hangs outside an RCIA class at the St. Michael’s Church rectory in Flushing, Queens on April 2, 2019. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

By Jason Horowitz


Pope Francis earlier this week called surrogate motherhood a “despicable” practice that should be universally banned for its “commercialization” of pregnancy, including the practice among wars, terrorism and other threats to peace and humanity in an annual speech to ambassadors.


An unborn child must not be “turned into an object of trafficking,” Francis said, adding: “I consider despicable 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.” A child, he said, should never be “the basis of a commercial contract,” and called for a global ban on surrogacy “to prohibit this practice universally.”


Surrogacy is already illegal in Italy, and compensated surrogacy is also illegal or restricted in much of Europe. The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal and several other nations allow surrogacy under certain conditions. Paid surrogacy is legal in some European nations, including Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.


Surrogate mothers in the United States and Canada are often hired by Europeans, including same-sex couples, seeking to have children, though some American states have outlawed the practice.


Francis, a constant critic of consumerism’s corrosive effects on humanity, is deeply wary that a profit motive will warp the traditional creation of life. While Francis has generally avoided the culture wars over issues of reproduction and homosexuality in order to emphasize priorities such as the care of migrants and the poor, he has always upheld church teaching on the issues and maintained an absolute opposition to surrogacy and abortion. He has equated abortion with “hiring a hit man to resolve a problem.”


The Catholic Church has long opposed surrogacy — as it has in vitro fertilization — for a variety of ethical and theological reasons, and Francis has spoken frequently about what he calls “ideological colonization,” the notion that wealthy nations impose their views on people and religious traditions that do not necessarily agree with them. Monday’s denunciation of surrogacy, which was wrapped in that familiar critique, reflected what people close to him call his frustration with what he considers the arrogance of the wealthy West, often toward less affluent parts of the world.


While the pope’s remarks come only weeks after Francis allowed blessings for same-sex couples, many of whom support surrogacy, the church has made it clear that those blessings were not a “justification” or “endorsement of the life that they lead,” but simply an expression of pastoral closeness to believers. In other words, the blessings had nothing to do with ideology and were misread if interpreted as such.


In June 2022, Francis told a delegation of the Federation of Associations of Catholic Families in Europe that surrogacy was an “inhuman and increasingly widespread practice” in which “women, almost always poor women, are exploited” and children are “treated as merchandise.”


In 2023, he told another group that “while it is appropriate” to use “the most advanced scientific knowledge and technologies” to enhance legitimate desires to conceive, “it is wrong to create test tube embryos and then suppress them, to trade in gametes and to resort to the practice of surrogate parenthood.”


He has in the past also called surrogacy “uterus for rent,” a term often used by Italy’s right-wing prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who opposes the practice and who has also supported the criminalization of Italians who engage in surrogacy abroad.


In May, Francis and Meloni appeared onstage together in Rome for a conference about increasing Italy’s low birthrate. Meloni said it was critical to make clear that “birth is not for sale, that the womb is not for rent and children are not over-the-counter products that you can choose and then perhaps return.”


In March, Eugenia Roccella, Italy’s minister for equal opportunities and the family, promised to make a law persecuting “uterus for rent,” in Italy and by Italians abroad. Federico Mollicone, a member of Meloni’s political party, said on television last year that surrogacy was a “crime even worse than pedophilia.” Fabio Rampelli, another party member in parliament, wrote on Facebook that it was a practice available only to “rich homosexual couples” and reduced women to “machines popping out babies upon compensation.”


The church also opposes in vitro fertilization, including for married heterosexual couples, for reasons including the destruction of unwanted embryos created in the process and a more general separation of the act of human procreation from the church’s conception of reproduction as a holy collaboration between a man and a woman.


While the church opposes surrogacy, the Vatican’s office on church teaching has made clear that those children born from surrogacy can be baptized. It made that position clear in a recent statement clarifying that transgender people could be baptized. That same office has in recent weeks, with Francis’ explicit approval, allowed the blessing for same-sex couples.


But Francis made it clear that he sees modern interpretations about gender that erode the biological separation of male and female as a threat to human dignity on par with humanitarian disasters, calling gender theory “extremely dangerous since it cancels differences in its claim to make everyone equal.”


The pope’s remark came during an annual foreign policy address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See that traditionally serves as a lament for all the world’s conflicts and injustices. This year, there was a lot of material to work with, as he called the new year a time when peace was “increasingly threatened, weakened and in some part lost.”


While Francis once was reluctant to name Russia as the aggressor in its war with Ukraine, he specifically mentioned the “large-scale war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine,” among his most blunt comments yet on the conflict.


Francis restated his plea for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, as well as Lebanon, and lamented the “strong Israeli military response” that has killed thousands and prompted a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and reasserted his support for a two-state solution. He also condemned Hamas’ assault on Israel “and every instance of terrorism and extremism” and called for the release of hostages.

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