Pope Francis: “Children have a ‘Right’ to a Mother and Father”

Pope Francis continues to elicit much strong reaction among orthodox Catholics and liberal Catholics, Protestants and Jews, agnostics and atheists, progressives and conservatives, collectivists and free marketers, tree huggers and polluters, cats and dogs, fish and birds, and everything in between. But one thing is increasingly certain: When it comes to the Church’s position on marriage, Francis has been solid. Sure, many on our side wished he had waded into Ireland’s referendum, using his immense popularity there to perhaps try to sway the gay-marriage vote, but, for whatever reason (wise or ill-advised), he did not.

And just when the world needs an encyclical on, say, natural-traditional-biblical marriage, we’re instead getting one on climate change. And yet, rest assured, the encyclical will be immediately followed by an international meeting on the family in Philadelphia, where this pontiff will surely affirm the Catholic position on male-female marriage—as he has done. So, for those who want papal fireworks on same-sex “marriage,” those sparks are probably—and inevitably—coming.

Pope Francis has been quite good on marriage while also being quite compassionate toward homosexuals. His reaching out to gay people has not deterred him from being passionately dedicated to his Church’s sacred teachings. In my view, looking objectively at the totality of his statements, faithful Catholics need not worry about Francis on this major matter of the moment—on male-female, traditional, natural, biblical marriage and family. And that includes one particular element of the same-sex “marriage” issue that hasn’t received adequate attention: Francis’s statements on every child’s “right” to a mother and a father.

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Let us please pause and consider this very important point. It has not received the audience it merits.

Recall the Vatican’s three-day international, interfaith colloquium on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman” held last fall. In his opening remarks on November 17, Francis made a number of wonderful observations, including this one: “It is necessary to insist on the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its intangible assets. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s growth and emotional development.”

Note that crucial assertion from Pope Francis: Children have a “right” to grow up with a mother and a father in their family.

The Holy Father continued: “This is why, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I stressed the ‘indispensable’ contribution of marriage to society, a contribution which ‘transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.’ And this is why I am grateful to you for the emphasis that your colloquium has placed on the benefits that marriage can provide children, the spouses themselves, and society.”

Marriage between a man and a woman benefits children which, in turn, benefits society. And again: Children have a right to grow up in a family that has a father and a mother.

This is a critical affirmation of marriage and family in the face of relentless gay-marriage advocates who seek to redefine both, and it has gone surprisingly unnoticed and unused by those fighting the culture’s rapid repudiation of the traditional-sacred understanding of these ancient institutions. And it isn’t the first time that Jorge Mario Bergoglio said such a thing. When he was a cardinal in Argentina, he made an even more emphatic statement, declaring same-sex “marriage” a diabolical effort of “the Father of Lies” to “destroy God’s plan … and deceive the children of God.” He said that this completely new form of marital arrangement targets “the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

What prompted these words was a 2010 bill in Argentina that proposed giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children. Cardinal Bergoglio saw this as outrageous. The future pope who liberals today fancy as their first Gay Marriage Pope viewed such a configuration as nothing less than Satan at work. In particular, it would “discriminate” against children in advance.

Fast forward to his papacy, to Pope Francis’ insistence that children have a “right” to grow up with a mother and a father. Of course, not all children will get that ideal. We know that. But when they don’t, it hasn’t been because society, culture, and the state are creating a new form of “marriage” that is motherless or fatherless. No, when they’ve grown up without a mother or father it has been historically the result of misfortune, tragedy, or an undesired or undesirable outcome: the premature death of a parent, divorce, an out-of-wedlock birth. Of course, the single parent who survives those circumstances to raise a child without, say, a father, often does so heroically, and should be commended. That’s not at issue. The point is that a fatherless or motherless home has never been what the society, the culture, and the state has strived for, has set out to do as a matter of deliberate policy. That is now changing with this fanatical, no-second-thoughts push for gay “marriage,” which looks to create an entirely new form of marriage and family that is either motherless or fatherless, and that specifically deprives the child of a home with a mother or a father. It indeed, as Bergoglio said, deliberately discriminates against the child in advance.

But what’s especially brilliant about all of this is how Pope Francis is framing this issue as a matter of rights. The secular left is militant about magically conjuring up new forms of “rights” whenever it pushes a new agenda item: “abortion rights,” “marriage rights,” the “right” to taxpayer-funded contraception and abortifacients, and on and on. Progressives are ruthlessly masterful in co-opting the language of “rights.” When they have a new rostrum to peddle their secular wares or fundamentally change this or that, they effortlessly slide it under their ever-widening umbrella (or penumbra) of new “rights.”

Well, Pope Francis has turned it right back at them: he is arguing that children have “rights.” To be sure, he’s not the first to argue for children’s rights. No less than Hillary Rodham Clinton has done that for decades, beginning back in her days as a “children’s rights” advocate. But what Francis is doing is far more basic and level-headed and innately understandable and preferable to anything that the likes of Mrs. Clinton ever did with their radical claims of this or that new “right” of children. Francis is promoting an ancient truth, a natural truth, a fundamental truth: every child has a right to a mother and a father.

What he’s saying is hard to deny. And he’s wise to use that language. It’s less a tactic than a truth that we, in turn, ought to remember and ought to incorporate into this debate over marriage and family. Pope Francis has made a critical point here, and it’s our fault if we neglect to pick it up and use it effectively.

(Photo credit: VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)


  • Paul Kengor

    Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values. He is the author, most recently, of The Devil and Karl Marx (TAN Books, 2020).

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