IT SEEMS Pope Francis cannot say anything right these days. He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
A couple of weeks ago, he opened up a bit of a hornet’s nest when he said that badly-behaved children could be punished with a slap. Now he has stated that people who choose not to have children are selfish.
In relation to smacking a child, I’ll be fair and accept a later clarification from the Vatican that the pope was not advocating or endorsing violence or cruelty to children. The whole subject of chastisement is a delicate one and an area bound to animate people. No-one is advocating violence towards children, and there are parents out there who have smacked their child in an effort to get a message across. But the ‘smack’ was just that and was not given with any great force or designed to humiliate the child.
We all know that children learn from their parents, and if they see brute force as a means of getting their way, they will end up doing the same thing themselves.
Time and time again, we see children who were either physically or sexually abused doing the same thing to their own children. In this instance, I don’t believe the Vatican was talking about anything like that.
However, when it comes to people deciding not to have children, that’s a horse of a different colour. For starters, unless you ask childless couples if they have made a conscious decision not to have children, you will never fully know the facts of the case.
I was 12 years married before my own son was born. It wasn’t by design, but initially both my wife and I had to endure all sorts of what other people thought were humorous jibes. Then there was silence as it dawned on people that perhaps we were unable to have children. Thankfully, our son is living proof that was not the case.
But according to Pope Francis, without children, a marriage comes to old age in solitude with the bitterness of loneliness. I am sure there are countless married couples all over the world who would disagree. They had plenty of children but their marriages ended in bitterness and loneliness.
The marriage itself may have been wrong from day one, but couples decided to stay together for the sake of the children or for financial reasons. Then there are the occasions when parents have done everything they could, but for one reason or another their children flew the coop and never looked back, except for the odd phone call.
But back to the pope’s comments: we were always looking for a pope who could relate to people and the problems they have. He may not be saying what we all want to hear, but you have to admit that since taking up office he has tried his best to be a man of the people, and, more importantly, for the people.
Like all of us, there will be time when he gets things wrong, but as long as he continues to try, he will get more right that wrong – which is the best that any of us can hope to achieve.