Choosing pets over babies is ‘selfish and diminishes us’, says pope | Pope Francis | The Guardian

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Pontiff laments ‘denied parenthood’ and people who ‘substitute cats and dogs for children’

Choosing pets over babies is ‘selfish and diminishes us’, says pope | Pope Francis | The Guardian
Pope Francis greets devotees at his weekly general audience
Owning cats and dogs instead of having children is selfish, says pope – video

Harriet Sherwood and agencies@harrietsherwoodWed 5 Jan 2022 17.57 GMT

In a move likely to raise the hackles of millions of cats, dogs and their human cohabitees, Pope Francis has suggested that couples who prefer pets to children are selfish.

Wading into a debate noted for its toxic tone on social media, the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics said substituting pets for children “takes away our humanity”.

During a general audience at the Vatican, he said: “Today … we see a form of selfishness. We see that some people do not want to have a child. 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.”

Pet keeping was “a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity”, he said. The consequence was that “civilisation grows old without humanity because we lose the richness of fatherhood and motherhood, and it is the country that suffers”.

While saying couples unable to have children for biological reasons could consider adoption, he urged potential parents “not to be afraid” of embarking on parenthood. “Having a child is always a risk, but there is more risk in not having a child,” he said.

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“Crazy cat ladies” and couples with “fur babies” are frequently trolled on social media. The former are depicted as lonely, unloved women, and the latter as self-centred narcissists or careerists for whom babies and children are inconvenient.

But there are concerns about the falling birth rate in developed countries. According to the US Census Bureau the proportion of households made up of married couples with children fell from 40% in 1970 to 20% in 2012. But seven in 10 households included a pet.Advertisement

During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a further marked fall in the birth rate. In Italy 22% fewer babies were born in December 2020 than in the same month a year earlier. In Spain the drop was 20%, and in France 13%.

“I feel like I would be giving up a lot of my life to be a parent,” Lisa Rochow of Ypsilanti, Michigan, told the BBC in 2019. “That would cost money, that would cost time, that would cost things that you want to do.” Instead, she and her partner, both in their 20s, had welcomed a Siberian Husky puppy into their lives. Some couples opt to be childless out of environmental or financial concerns.

Francis, who has previously denounced the “demographic winter”, or falling birthrates in the developed world, is not known to have a pet at his Vatican residence. But he has been photographed stroking dogs. He allowed a baby lamb to be draped over his shoulders during Epiphany in 2014 and has petted a tiger and panther cub.

In 2014 Francis told Il Messaggero newspaper 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.

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