Pope Francis calls for families to choose children over pets

Pontiff says cats and dogs are taking the place of children in the family

Pope Francis meets a baby at the Vatican.  Reuters

Pope Francis called on Wednesday for simplified adoption procedures and urged couples to have more children as he presided over his first general audience of the New Year.

He repeated his call for couples to have more children to address what he has called the “demographic winter” in much of the West, saying “this denial of fatherhood and motherhood makes us smaller, takes away our humanity".

Pope Francis lamented that pets “sometimes take the place of children” in society.

“Today … we see a form of selfishness,” the pope said. “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.”

He added that this practice “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.

He also called for couples who cannot have children to be open to adoption.

“This kind of choice is among the highest forms of love, and of fatherhood and motherhood,” he said. “How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them!”

Pope 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 baby panther.

But while his predecessor, Benedict XVI, was a cat lover, Francis is not known to have a pet at his Vatican residence.

Italy's International Organisation for the Protection of Animals (OIPA) said it was “strange to think that the pope considers the love in our lives limited quantitatively” while citing the sacrifices of volunteers who save the lives of animals.

“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 a statement.

During his address, Pope Francis argued for the simplification of adoption procedures “so that the dream of so many children who need a family, and of so many spouses who wish to give themselves in love, can come true”.

For the first time, a layman and a nun provided the English and Spanish translations of Francis’ weekly catechism lesson rather than a cloaked monsignor, a small but revolutionary change for the Vatican.

During his nearly nine-year pontificate, Pope Francis has often criticised the element of Catholic culture that puts priests on a pedestal and has advocated for the “people of God” to take their rightful place in the church.

He has called for women in particular to serve in governance roles and has appointed a handful of women religious to important jobs in the Vatican, although none heads a Vatican congregation. He is currently presiding over a two-year consultation of the Catholic laity around the globe to understand the needs and desires of ordinary faithful and how the church can better serve them.

Updated: January 06, 2022, 8:01 AM