Pope Francis risked the ire of the world’s childless dog and cat owners by suggesting people who substitute pets for children exhibit “a certain selfishness”.
Speaking on parenthood during a general audience at the Vatican, the pontiff lamented that pets “sometimes take the place of children” in society.
“Today … we see a form of selfishness. We see that some people do not want to have a child,” he said. “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.”
The practice, said the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, “is a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity”.
Thus, “civilisation grows old without humanity because we lose the richness of fatherhood and motherhood, and it is the country that suffers”, the pontiff said at the Paul VI Hall.
Francis has been photographed petting dogs, allowed a baby lamb to be draped over his shoulders during Epiphany in 2014 and even petted a tiger and a panther cub.
But while his predecessor, Benedict XVI, was a cat lover, Francis is not known to have a pet at his Vatican residence.
In 2014, Francis told Il Messaggero daily 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.
On Wednesday, while inviting couples unable to have children for biological reasons to 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, in denying paternity,” he said.
The pontiff has in the past denounced the “demographic winter”, or falling birthrates in the developed world.
Previously he has criticised modern society, in which career and money-making trumps building a family for many, calling such a mentality “gangrene for society”.