Pope scolds couples who choose pets over kids

Pets and kids.

Speaking on parenthood during a general audience at the
Vatican, Francis bemoaned the global decline in birthrates — what he described
as a “demographic winter” — and was bluntly critical of couples who prefer to
have pets rather than children.

People who have pets instead of children, the pope said,
were being selfish, exhibiting a “denial of fatherhood or motherhood” that
“diminishes us; it takes away our humanity.”

“Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children,” Francis
said, laying out the harsh consequences of a childless future, including the
inevitable drying up of pension plans. “Yes, it’s funny, I understand, but it
is the reality.”

The reaction was heated.

Several people pointed out that the pope had made a
deliberate decision not to have children and should have little say on the
matter. “Is the Vatican gonna pay daycare?” asked one man.

Others noted that Francis was failing to live up to his
namesake, Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.

The pope had already signaled his kids-over-kibbles stance
in a 2014 interview with the Rome daily Il Messaggero. When asked whether some
in society valued pets more than children, he said that it was a reality that
reflected a “sign of cultural degeneration.”

“That’s because an emotional relationship with animals is
easier, more programmable,” he said at the time. “An animal is not free, while
having a child is something complex.”

On Wednesday, Francis said the world was experiencing “an
age of notorious orphanhood” that could be countered, in part, by caring for
children, either through adoption, or naturally.

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“It is riskier not to have them,” Francis said. “Think about
this, please.”

One animal rights group said it was not an either/or

“It is strange to think that the pope considers love in our
lives to be limited in quantity, and that giving it to someone takes it away
from others,” said Massimo Comparotto, president of the Italian branch of the
International Organization for the Protection of Animals.

“Perhaps the pontiff is unaware of the enormous sacrifices
that volunteers endure” to help save animals, he said in a statement. “Anyone
who thinks that life is sacred loves life beyond species.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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