Nearly one month after suggesting Catholics may have a moral obligation to limit the number of their children, Pope Francis has said that families that choose not to have kids are being selfish.
Speaking Wednesday at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, the pontiff put it rather bluntly: "Not having children is a selfish choice."
"Life rejuvenates and brings multiplying energy: It enriches, it does not impoverish," said Francis, speaking during the audience on the role of children in the family.
"A society stingy in generation, that does not love to surround itself in children, that considers them overall a worry, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society," said the pope.
The pope has been using his general audience in recent weeks to reflect on various roles in the family, leading up to October's global meeting of Catholic bishops at the Vatican on the issue of contemporary struggles in family life.
Francis made his remarks about the need to have children in a brief aside during his talk Wednesday about the low level of birthrates in European countries.
"Let's think of many societies that we know here in Europe," said the pope. "They are depressed societies because they do not want children, they do not have children. The level of birth does not arrive at one percent."
"Why?" the pontiff asked. "Everyone of us, think and respond."
"The generation of children has to be responsible, as is taught also in the encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Paul VI," he continued, referring to the 1968 papal teaching that prohibits use of contraception by Catholics.
"But to have more children cannot become automatically an irresponsible choice," said Francis. "Not having children is a selfish choice."
The pope's remarks Wednesday came after an interview he gave on the papal plane in January generated controversy when he said parents may have a responsibility to limit the number of their children, saying church teaching on contraception "does not signify that the Christian must make children in series."
"God gives you methods to be responsible," Francis said then. "Some think that -- excuse the word -- that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No."
Francis' remarks Wednesday on having children were part of a longer discourse on the role of children in the family, which also saw the pope describe the worth and value of every child.
Retelling a time when he asked his mother which of he and his four siblings was her favorite, Francis said that she compared her five children to her five fingers.
"All are my children, but all are different like the fingers on a hand," the pope recalled his mother saying. "It is like this, the family. The children are different, but all children."
The pope also spoke of the difficulty many children face today, when he said it looks more difficult for many of them to "imagine their future."
Children, he said, "must not have fear of the need to construct a new world."
"It is right for them to desire to better that which they have received," said the pope. "But this must be made without arrogance, without presumption."
Francis also reemphasized the duty of children to honor their parents, saying that the Fourth Commandment "contains something sacred, something divine, something that is at the root of every other type of respect between men."
"The virtuous tie between generations is the guarantee of the future, and the guarantee of a truly human story," he said.
"A society of children that does not honor their parents is a society without honor," said Francis. "Who you do not honor parents you lose your honor."
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]