“Don’t choose pets over children.”
In a recent weekly address at the Vatican, Pope Francis said that Catholics should not choose to have pets over children. He said many couples are choosing to have more pets than more children, saying that a trend of forgoing child-rearing takes some of our humanity away.
It is never that simple a choice.
As a baptized Catholic and former priest, I fully expect the Pope to support the birth of children. However, what is surprising is Pope Francis bringing pets into the conversation. An alternative would be him changing the narrative to say – don’t choose the institution of Catholicism over children.
As a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest in Philadelphia, I am unaware if a pontiff has ever stated the abuse of children is an act that takes away the humanity of those abused.
Even though the Catholic Church has been immersed in an international crisis involving the abuse of children for over 20 years, in which the institution was chosen over the protection of children, the leadership continues to speak so forcefully when it comes to the conscience-based, moral decisions of its members.
There is no mention of the reasons why married couples may “choose” not to have children. The days of the Catholic Church painting everyone with the same broad brush needs to come to an end. Pope Francis did not acknowledge mental illness, poverty or infertility as reasons couples may “choose” not to have children.
The Pope’s reflection on the importance of parenthood shifted to a warning about dwindling birth rates, encouraging people to “take the risk of welcoming children,” biological or adopted.
However, the issue of having children needs to be tempered by the realities of fertility and population. The argument that the world’s population is dwindling is absent context and history. The latest projections from the World Population Projections state that the population could reach 10 billion by 2057, while the population is approximately 8 billion today.
Pope Francis did not mention the reality of infertility for couples. Roughly 15% of couples in the United States will have trouble conceiving a child. Couples who want to have children but cannot due to infertility will struggle with the Pope’s comments. Couples may also struggle with the question of what kind of world will their child be born into; the Catholic Church needs to address these realities.
One possible way for the Catholic Church to promote couples having children is for the Church to become a strong beacon of light and hope in a world torn apart by political ideologies, religious intolerance, and discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
It is undeniable the influence of the Catholic Church is deep. There are 1.34 billion Catholics globally with approximately 51 million Catholics in the United States alone. Pope Francis, as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, is the spiritual leader of more than one-sixth of the world’s population. What he says matters.
A 2021 study concluded that religious institutions do not care about the issues young adults care about deeply. Young people care about racial justice, gender equity, immigration rights, income inequality and gun control as well as LGBTQ rights.
If only the Church was a place of acceptance without judgment and could welcome without exclusion, while Church leaders addressed issues such as racial justice, poverty, fertility, childcare, maternal health and LGBTQ rights, then men and women would perhaps be drawn to that light.
So many children need a loving and supportive home in order to thrive. Yet, Catholicism wants to promote the birth of more children but only to straight, married couples. They want to promote the birth of more children who may ultimately need to be fostered and/or adopted but only to straight married couples.
Perhaps the miracle of modern time is the love between a child and his/her parents, regardless of orientation or regardless of the child’s origin.
Hebrew Scriptures praise the beauty of all creation starting with the Book of Genesis. Jesus in the Christian Scriptures showed love and compassion for all living creatures – the outcast and those searching to understand God’s plan.
Pope Francis, when raised to the papacy, chose Francis, the patron saint of animals, as his new name; it is not too much to expect the Pontiff to mirror his values.
It is a complete misunderstanding and blindness to the realities of the world and of relationships to equate the love for pets and the love for children as one and the same. Love for humanity and for animals is indeed miraculous, but not a simplistic choice between the two.