Back in early 2019, my wife discovered that she was pregnant with our fourth child. A few weeks later, we discovered that the child, a girl, had Down Syndrome. The NHS asked if we wanted to abort her. We did not. My wife, brave and stoic, soon accepted the news as a blessing. I wanted to do the same, but I felt shocked and scared and morally inadequate.
How bad would her disability be? How would our other children cope? How would we cope? Would the rest of our lives be spent looking after this child? I spent a lot of time worrying. I took to praying and, as I pondered the matter, a line from Pope Benedict XVI kept repeating itself in my head:
‘We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’
The Pope, who died today, said that at his inauguration mass in 2005. I covered the event as a journalist and the words must have stuck in my brain somehow. I kept saying them to myself. I found comfort in them. Benedict’s phrasing helped me realise that, even if I found it hard, and I did, we had an obligation towards this new life we had made. That obligation – complicated by an extra chromosome – was bigger than us.
What that ‘each of us’ quote also does is show that the late Pope was nothing like the media’s ‘God’s Rottweiler’ caricature. Any fair-minded person who spends an hour reading his writings or speeches should be able to tell that he was a major spiritual intellect and a deeply sensitive man.
He wasn’t a Nazi sympathiser.