In a move likely to raise the jaws of millions of cats, dogs and their human cohabitants, Pope Francis has suggested that couples who prefer pets over children are selfish.
Immersing himself in a debate known for its toxic tone on social media, the leader of the 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide said that 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 children. Sometimes they have one, and that’s it, but they have dogs and cats that take the place of the children. It may make people laugh, but it is a reality.
Keeping pets was “a denial of paternity and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity,” he said. The consequence was that “civilization ages without humanity because we lose the wealth of fatherhood and motherhood, and it is the country that suffers”.
While saying couples who are biologically unable to bear children might consider adoption, he urged potential parents “not to be afraid” of getting into parenthood. “Having a child is always a risk, but there is a greater risk of not having a child,” he said.
The “mad cat ladies” and couples with “furry babies” are frequently trolled on social networks. The former are described as lonely and unloved women, and the latter as self-centered narcissists or careerists for whom babies and children are troublesome.
But the declining birth rate in developed countries is causing concern. 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 ten households included a pet.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a further marked drop in the birth rate. In Italy, 22% fewer babies were born in December 2020 compared to the same month a year earlier. In Spain, the decrease was 20%, and in France 13%.
“I felt like I would give up a lot of my life to be a parent,” Lisa Rochow from Ypsilanti, Michigan, told the BBC in 2019. “It would cost money, it would cost time. , it would cost things you want to do. ” Instead, she and her partner, both in their twenties, had welcomed a Siberian Husky puppy into their lives. Some couples choose not to have children for environmental or financial reasons.
Francis, who has previously denounced “demographic winter”, or declining birth rates in developed countries, is not known to have a pet in his Vatican residence. But he was photographed petting dogs. He allowed a baby lamb to be draped over his shoulders during Epiphany in 2014 and stroked a tiger and a panther.
In 2014, François told Il Messaggero newspaper that having pets instead of children was “another phenomenon of cultural degradation”, and that emotional relationships with pets were easier than the “complex relationship.” Between parents and children.