VATICAN – Pope Francis has ruffled the feathers of childless pet owners by suggesting those who replace their children with pets show “a certain selfishness”.
In a public address at the Vatican on Wednesday, Pope Francis said that pets “sometimes take the place of children” in modern society.
“Today … we see a form of selfishness,” said the pope. “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.”
In addition to “denial of father and motherhood, this practice diminishes us and takes away our humanity,” said the leader of 1.3 billion Catholics around the world.
The pontiff said that “civilisation becomes old without humanity when we lose the richness of fatherhood and motherhood, and the country suffers”.
During the Epiphany celebration in 2014, the Pope was photographed petting dogs, letting a lamb drape over his shoulders, and even petting a tiger and a baby panther.
Francis, however, does not have a pet at his Vatican residence, unlike his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who loved cats.
The 85-year-old told Il Messaggero in 2014 that having pets instead of children was “another phenomenon of cultural degradation” because emotional connections with pets were “easier” than the “complex” relationship between parents and children.
In addition to encouraging couples who are unable to bear children biologically to consider adoption, he encouraged potential parents “not to be afraid” of parenthood.
“Having a child is always a risk, but there is more risk in not having a child, in denying paternity,” he said.
It is among the highest forms of love, fatherhood, and motherhood, he said of adoption. “How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them?”
In the past, the Argentinian pontiff has denounced the phenomenon of “demographic winter”, or declining birth rates in the developed world.
He described society’s focus on career and money-making as “gangrene for society” earlier this year.