“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,” Francis said in prepared remarks. “A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract. Consequently, I express my hope for an effort by the international community to prohibit this practice universally.”
The pope portrayed surrogacy as a particularly Western problem, and a “culture of death” that “discards children, the elderly and the sick.”
Francis has been embraced by liberals for his outreach to the LGBTQ+ community and focus on migrants, the poor and global warming. But he has upheld conservative church positions on reproductive health, taking stands against surrogacy, in vitro fertilization and abortion.
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In 2022, he compared surrogacy — or “womb renting,” as he called it — with pornography, calling them “threats to human dignity.” He has spoken repeatedly of surrogacy as exploitation of women in poverty, part of a world in which the poor are victimized by commodity-driven and overly commercialized Western culture.
On Monday, Francis additionally reiterated his position against “gender theory,” which he described as “extremely dangerous.”
Overall, the speech represented a rundown of global issues that Francis has sought to put on diplomatic agendas, including a cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, negotiations to end the war in Ukraine, lingering humanitarian crises in Africa and rising tensions in Latin America.
The United Nations has similarly warned that the practice of surrogacy can make children into commodities, but it has called for global safeguards rather than a ban.
Many countries in Europe outlaw surrogacy, or allow it only in “altruistic” cases, in which a relative or close friend is willing to serve as the surrogate without monetary compensation.
Europeans seeking surrogate mothers have often sought them in the United States and, before the outbreak of war, in Ukraine.
In Italy, far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is pushing to expand an existing ban on surrogacy to impose jail time and large fines for parents who seek to have children through surrogate mothers overseas.
In May, Meloni appeared alongside Francis at an event against Italy’s “demographic winter,” where she condemned surrogacy and called it no solution.
“Motherhood is not for sale … wombs are not for rent and children are not over-the-counter products that you can choose on the shelf as if you were in the supermarket and maybe return it if the product does not match what you expected,” Meloni said at the time.
Pro-surrogacy groups criticized the pope’s comments on Monday as aiding Meloni’s proposed law.
“Of course it’ll have political consequences in Italy,” said Susanna Lollini, a member of the legal team of Famiglie Arcobaleno, an LGBTQ+ parents association. “The ruling right doesn’t really care about the pope or religion, but it’s useful to say: ‘The pope asked for this.’”
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