Pope Francis: Having pets instead of children is selfish

Deciding not to have children and lavishing affection instead on pets is selfish, Pope Francis has said – in remarks which provoked anger and disbelief.

At his weekly general audience at the Vatican, the Pope lamented the fact that some married couples opt to remain childless but transfer their love to cats, dogs and other animals.

“Today… we see a form of selfishness. We see that some people do not want to have a child,” the Argentinian pontiff said during the audience.

“Sometimes they have one, and that’s it, but they have dogs and cats that take the place of children. This may make people laugh but it is a reality."

Couples who do not procreate deny themselves the joys of parenthood, a decision which “diminishes us, takes away our humanity”, he said.

The result is that "civilisation grows old without humanity because we lose the richness of fatherhood and motherhood.”

Pope does not have pets of his own

While his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is an avid lover of cats, Pope Francis does not have a pet living with him at his residence inside the walls of the Vatican.

He has shown affection for animals during his papacy, however – in 2016, during an audience with circus performers, he was memorably introduced to a baby black panther and patted a six-month-old tiger cub while it drained a bottle of milk.

Pope Francis caresses a tiger in 2016

Credit: AP

His remarks about parenthood provoked anger on social media, with many people pointing out that the pope had chosen to remain childless by entering the Catholic Church as a priest.

One woman wrote on Twitter: “Well what does that make me as I have neither (pets or children). People have very valid reasons for choosing not to have children. The planet will be just fine with my decision and that of others like me.”

Another Twitter user wrote: “Who does Pope Francis think he is, telling people what to do with their bodies? It’s 2022.”

Predicting that Francis’s criticism would upset a lot of people, one man joked: “Hey guys, check out the Vatican’s new atheism ad,” while another commented: “Childless virgin admonishes happy couples for their life choices.”

‘Out of touch with reality and humanity’ 

The Pope was accused of being “out of touch with reality and humanity” on social media.

The Italy-based International Organisation for the Protection of Animals said it was “strange to think that the pope considers the love in our lives limited quantitatively.”

“It is evident that for Francis, animal life is less important than human life. But those who feel that life is sacred, love life beyond species,” said OIPA President Massimo Comparotto.

In 2014, Francis told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that having pets instead of children was "another phenomenon of cultural degradation", and that emotional relationships with pets was "easier" than the "complex" relationship between parents and children.

Pope Francis meets a child after the weekly general audience at the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, January 5

Credit: REUTERS

The Argentine pontiff has in the past denounced the "demographic winter", or falling birth rates in the developed world.

Italy is a leading example of demographic decline in the West. The country has struggled with population decline for decades – long gone are the days when women had four or five children.

The birth rate has fallen to its lowest level since Italy was unified in the 1860s, recent figures show.

In 2008, more than 576,000 babies were born but that dropped to 405,000 last year, according to Istat, the national statistics agency.

That has prompted dire warnings that the country’s population will shrink by a fifth over the next 50 years.

Of Italy’s population of 60 million, almost a quarter are aged over 65 – a proportion that is only likely to grow.

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