Saint Pope John Paul II published The Gospel of Life in 1995. As with all Vatican documents, this encyclical is more commonly known by its Latin name: Evangelium Vitae.
This document is Saint JPII collection of the long-held teachings of the the Church concerning issues concerning the sanctity of human life from the first moment of conception until natural death. If you have any any questions about what the Church teachings on various issues related to life issues include family and marriage, this is an excellent resource. You can access the English translation from the Vatican here.
Article 93 of the encyclical discusses the solidarity of the family. In the second paragraph, Saint JPII includes a summary of Church teaching concerning adoption. Of the three sentences in this summary, we are going to consider one word in the first sentence:
“A particularly significant expression of solidarity between families is a willingness to adopt or take in children abandoned by their parents or in situations of serious hardship.” Evangelium Vitae §93 ¶02
In this post, I am going to focus on the word solidarity and how it relates to adoption.
To better understand what Saint JPII means when calling adoption “a particularly significant expression of solidarity between families”, let’s start with an introduction to the Catholic understanding of the virtue of solidarity. Yeah, I didn’t know solidarity was a virtue either.
Solidarity is defined as a “union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes”.ƒ
The CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) says “The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of ‘friendship’ or ‘social charity’, is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood.”ƒ
As Catholic social teaching has developed since 1891, solidarity has come to mean that we are responsible for all humans, not just those in our tribe or village or kingdom which use to define the group of people to which we have responsibility. The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) have an article on their web site to help frame this concept for American Catholics.
Before leaving our definitions, let’s review what is a virtue. According to CCC 1803, “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” You will hear people say that we need to practice virtues because none of us will ever be as virtuous as Christ, which is the standard we are trying to reach. Going along with our topic, we are called each day to rid ourselves of vice individualism by having a love of all people especially those we don’t like or who are causing us trouble.
Now let’s apply the idea solidarity as a virtue to adoption.
The Gift of Fertility
Many of us enter into adoption to satisfy our own desires for children. Is that such a bad thing? Well, that depends on the attitude you bring to the adoption. Is the desire you want children or is it because you want to raise children? Are you picky on the attributes of the child to might adopt or are you willing to accept what God has for you. Have you even considered what the birth family is going through or are you praying for them?
As you are considering those questions, let’s look at the wisdom God has given us through the Scriptures and the Church concerning human fertility. No, we are not jumping tracks here. With few exceptions, consideration of adoption is done because of infertility issues. Before starting down the adoption path, we need a good understanding of the basic teachings on infertility.
God gave us the desire and blessing to procreate. After creating Adam and Eve, “God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply”.ƒ The Church teaches that one of the ends of marriage is children. In the wedding sacrament, couples commit to accept the gift of children. Notice, we have not said “the promise of children”.
No person EVER has the right to parent a child. It doesn’t matter what the world is telling you, your friends are telling you, or what your aunt Martha is telling you: children are ALWAYS to be seen as a gift from God, and not a right.ƒ Human fertility is not owed to us but is a gift from our Creator to join in the process of creation. We have allowed science to blind us to this truth.
Never before have humans had access to acceptable medical treatments that can overcome infertility. Only by God’s wisdom are we now able to give some couples the gift of fertility. When treatments are done a manner that aids in the natural methods of procreation, the Church encourages infertile couples to seek these morally acceptable treatments.
The problem comes – as it often does – when hubris gets in the way, and we cross the line into the gravely immoral. This includes medical treatments such as surrogate uterus, artificial insemination, and donor sperm and ovum. These are NEVER acceptable because they rely on medical science to make children rather than accepting them as gifts.ƒ When we go this route, we know we are more concerned about having a child than raising a child.
Solidarity Of Adoption
The Church teaches that if an infertile couple has chosen to seek medical assistance and “after exhausting legitimate medical procedures [they] should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity (the ability to reproduce). They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others.”ƒ A point of clarification: the Church does not teach that couples must FIRST seek medical interventions on infertility issues before considering adoption.
The mindset that infertile couples should bring to adoption is first an acceptance that God has chosen infertility for them while at the same time giving them a desire to raise children. With this mindset, we can have the solidarity that Saint JPII talks about in Evangelium Vitae. As adoptive parents, we are willing “to adopt or take in children abandoned by their parents or in situations of serious hardship.” Our desire is then to raise these children according to standards of Christ entrusted to the Church.
Coming to adoption with any other mindset is coming with selfishness. That’s where I was when we started our adoption. I wanted four children because that was the number I always wanted. After three biological children, God turned off our fertility so I pursued adoption to get what I wanted. I did have a vision to adopt since 7th grade and I was thinking about four children long before I was married, so I could say that these ideas were placed there by God years before waiting for the right time. I could, but the truth is when we started the process, and it was all about what I wanted.
During the process, I began to see things differently, but it was not until I met Gemma in Guatemala City that I really began to understand her as a gift rather than what was owed to me.
To Those Considering Adoption
Where are you with the idea of solidarity of adoption?
What are your own thoughts when reading Saint JPII talk about a “particularly significant expression of solidarity between families is a willingness to adopt or take in children abandoned by their parents or in situations of serious hardship.”?
Does this change how you consider the birth family?
Please leave your answers below.