No, Mary was not a surrogate mother

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Question: In recent news about in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy, a friend emailed me: “Wasn’t Mary a surrogate mother? Did she not bear a son for someone other than her husband, Joseph? Jesus was the Son of God. Was he not conceived by artificial insemination? She didn’t have intercourse with anyone. … I know you can show me how wrong these thoughts are, but right now all this seems logical to me.” 

J. Aucoin, via email

Answer: Let’s begin by defining terms. “Surrogate motherhood” involves a woman carrying a child in her womb that is not her own, and the child will be surrendered to others at the birth. This pregnancy is achieved in any number of ways. In some cases, biological parents use IVF and have the embryo implanted in the surrogate mother’s womb. In other cases, the embryo is obtained from some other source such as frozen embryo “bank.” The adoptive parents “procure” the embryo and bring the child to birth using a surrogate mother. 

Another practice sometimes called surrogacy, but which is not, is to use artificial insemination or adulterous intercourse on a woman who agrees to the practice, usually for payment. She is not a surrogate mother but is the actual mother of the child. But she is expected to surrender the child to the paying customers, perhaps to the father and his wife or some combination of “partners.” Some same-sex couples also make use of these sorts of arrangements to “have” children. 

Mary’s motherhood and the manner of her pregnancy

As you can see, much of this involves troubling actions that remove the conception and birth of children from God’s design and move it to technological processes that cross the bounds of marriage and treat procreation as a kind of product that can be manufactured through purchased services. Human life is removed from the sweet mystery of God’s love, providence and sovereignty in the marriage act, and things are manipulated to produce outcomes demanded by human wants and designs. The Church considers such practices wrong and sinful

As for Mary’s holy motherhood and the manner of her pregnancy, the differences from IVF and surrogacy are many. First, Mary is not a surrogate mother; she is the actual mother of Jesus. If Mary were a surrogate mother, Jesus would have been fully God but not man, since Mary would supply only the womb but not her ovum from which he drew his humanity. So, yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but he is also the son of Mary. Further, Jesus was not “conceived by artificial insemination.” Nothing God does is artificial. Jesus’ conception was not of human contrivance, technology or action, but wholly by God’s miraculous and sovereign action. Further still, Mary was not carrying Jesus “for someone other than her husband.” Mary is also properly understood as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean St. Joseph was not the spouse of the ever-Virgin Mary. Rather, it is not so different from all of us who, though perhaps married, also have our souls espoused to God in the New Covenant. Mary, of course, is espoused to God in a pre-eminent way, far beyond us, but this does not preclude Joseph being her true spouse as well. Hope these distinctions help! .

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at Send questions to