Choosing pets over parenting? Pope Francis is (still) unhappy with you

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Pope Francis greets a woman with a child during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 10, 2023.
Pope Francis greets a woman with a child during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. | Alessandra Tarantino, Associated Press

Pope Francis created an international press frenzy last year when he shared his candid thoughts on choosing pets over kids.

During a gathering at the Vatican in January 2022, he criticized couples who avoid having children, arguing that it’s selfish and harmful to the whole world.

His comments spread like wildfire across social media, as The New York Times noted in its coverage of the remarks.

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Many people were angry at the pope for downplaying the emotional and monetary costs of having kids, while others praised him for promoting parenthood. Still others wondered why the Catholic leader wouldn’t encourage people to say yes to both pets and children.

“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, the president of the Italian branch of the International Organization for the Protection of Animals, to The New York Times.

On Friday, Pope Francis waded once again into these controversial waters, when he spoke about Italy’s declining birthrate.

Appearing alongside Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, the pope once again called young pet owners “selfish” and argued that government leaders and others must work to reverse birthrate trends.

“Francis called for resources to be dedicated to helping couples grow their families, saying it was necessary to ‘plant the future’ with hope,” The Associated Press reported.

The article noted that “Italy recorded a record low number of live births last year” and that government officials have been engaged in talks about how to reverse the trend. Unless the birthrate rises in the near future, the country could be headed toward economic collapse, according to The Associated Press.

Although Pope Francis engaged with these potential economic issues during Friday’s event, his previous comments on parenthood have focused on other concerns.

Last year, the pope said that choosing not to be a parent risks a person’s humanity. In 2014, he said the drop in interest in child-rearing is fueled by “cultural degradation,” The New York Times reported.

“An emotional relationship with animals is easier, more programmable,” he said nine years ago. “Having a child is something complex.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pope Francis is not believed to have pets of his own, despite sharing a name with the patron saint of animals.

Many of his predecessors have raised pets at the Vatican, including dogs, cats, birds and even a monkey, according to The New York Times.