Q: What's your opinion about recent statements by Pope Francis imploring married couples to have children or they will be bitter and lonely in old age? I found his comments hurtful and offensive to the many married Catholic couples who struggle with infertility or because of other constraints may not be able to have children.

I also found the pope's statements offensive to Catholics like me who are single without children. I shudder to think what I have to look forward to in my senior years. Pope Francis stressed that a marriage requires three things: faithfulness, perseverance and fertility.

How can you say that a marriage without fertility is not a marriage? Yet, the Catholic Church is against the use of assisted reproduction, which can help infertile couples have children. I find this truly hypocritical.

I have many married friends who don't have children; some have pets, some do not. To imply that their marriages are substandard is unfair. Most shocking of all, this view comes from a pope who's supposed to represent a loving God.

In addition, isn't it somewhat selfish to have children so they can prevent their parents from being lonely in old age? This places quite a burden on children. Besides, many children have no part in their parents' lives once they have families of their own. — J., Brooklyn, New York

A: Pope Francis certainly doesn't need me to defend him, but I will anyway because I like him and because in the Jewish tradition, the first commandment given by God to Adam was, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28).

The relationship between marriage and procreation has been an issue for centuries. However, religions have come to a consensus that although a childless marriage is not the religious ideal, it's still a full and spiritually valid marriage. Children are an asset to a marriage but not an essential ingredient.

Childless marriages come in two forms: The couple is infertile or husband and wife are unwilling to procreate. As for infertile couples seeking to have children, several forms of assisted reproductive therapy are available and sanctioned by the Catholic Church and other religions.

For example, the Catholic Church endorses GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), which bypasses certain obstacles to conception while also preserving the natural elements the church values.

Other religious traditions have embraced IVF (in vitro fertilization), in which conception occurs outside the womb. The moral issues of IVF concern pregnancy reductions if multiple fertilized eggs implant. Now that most insurance pays for IVF, fewer eggs are implanted, thus lessening the chance of couples reducing multiple fertilized eggs through abortion.

Obviously, many infertile couples and fertile couples who want to give a good life to a child choose adoption.

Your comments and criticisms address the much thornier moral and spiritual issue of couples unwilling to procreate. You say you have many married friends who've chosen a childless life. Are they wrong? Not necessarily.

Life without children can be good, and a child-filled life can be good. Children are certainly a powerful antidote to selfishness. Raising children requires sacrifice, patience and self-transcendence, all part of love in its highest manifestation. Children are our most intimate call to live a life dedicated to something larger than ourselves.

JFK famously said, "We are going to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard." Kids and the moon are the same that way.

Of course, there are married couples and single people, as well as priests and nuns of many faiths, who are called to a childless life of self-transcending sacrifice to God's will. Some of my favorite teachers had thousands of children but none of their own. They didn't procreate, but they did enrich the world.

Couples who choose to be childless are not bad people. They haven't committed a moral offense, but their decision is not the one that duty and faith have taught me. I do, however, agree that some people choose in wisdom to live a life without a child.

We should limit what we describe as "hurtful." My standing up for the pope and for procreation need not be hurtful to you, and I'm truly sorry if it is. People can disagree about life choices while still showing spiritual generosity to those with whom they disagree.

And one final thing. Don't bring pets into the argument as surrogate children. Pets are good for absolutely everybody!

(Send QUESTIONS ONLY to The God Squad via email at godsquadquestion@aol.com.)