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US bishops' body affirms pope's description of surrogacy

Pope Francis has denounced surrogacy before and told diplomats on Jan. 8 that he finds it 'deplorable'
Pope Francis distributes sweets to children during the weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on Jan. 3.
Pope Francis distributes sweets to children during the weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on Jan. 3. (Photo: AFP)
Published: January 09, 2024 05:32 AM GMT
Updated: January 09, 2024 05:36 AM GMT

Pope Francis told diplomats on Jan. 8 that he finds surrogacy "deplorable" and would like to see the practice universally banned.

"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. A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract," he said in an annual New Year's meeting with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. "Consequently, I express my hope for an effort by the international community to prohibit this practice universally."

The remarks made headlines among major U.S. secular news outlets, prompting calls to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the conference's spokesperson and Executive Director of Public Affairs Chieko Noguchi told OSV News.

"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 makes 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," Noguchi said in a Jan. 8 media statement.

Gestational surrogacy is the practice in which a woman carries and delivers a baby for an individual or couple, sometimes for compensation. The gestational carrier is impregnated through in vitro fertilization, a practice the church also proscribes.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' 'right to become a father and a mother only through each other.'"

Pope Francis has denounced surrogacy before, including in a 2022 meeting with members of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe, during which he said, "The dignity of men and women is also threatened by the inhumane and increasingly widespread practice of 'womb renting,' in which women, almost always poor, are exploited, and children are treated as commodities."

In 2016, Pope Francis briefly reflected on surrogacy in "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), a post-synodal apostolic exhortation that followed the 2014-2015 synods of bishops on the family, noting, "History is burdened by the excesses of patriarchal cultures that considered women inferior, yet in our own day, we cannot overlook the use of surrogate mothers and the 'exploitation and commercialization of the female body in the current media culture,'" citing a catechesis he gave at a general audience in April 2015.

The commercial surrogacy industry was valued at $14 billion globally in 2022, and is projected to reach an estimated value of $129 billion by 2032, according to a November 2022 Global Market Insights report. Surrogacy laws vary by country.

Surrogacy was just one of many topics Pope Francis touched on in his Jan. 8 meeting with members of the diplomatic corps. After thanking them for their "efforts to foster good relations between the Holy See and your respective countries," he reflected on areas of war and political tension throughout the world, including Israel and Palestine and Russia and Ukraine.

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