January 10, 2022

Pope Francis: Value Children Over Pets

He spoke about the global demographic decline and encouraged having children or adoption.

We are in a demographic deficit, and it is a global issue. More and more couples are choosing to have few (if any) children, and they’re making up for the deficit with pets. Ergo, Pope Francis is calling for couples to have more children.

In his Wednesday address, Pope Francis said: “Many, many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one — but they have two dogs, two cats. … Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children. Yes, it’s funny, I understand, but it is the reality.” This is consistent with his statement in 2014 in which he declared having more pets than children is a “cultural denigration.” The pope also made the point that having pets is a simpler matter than childrearing, and on these grounds he calls couples who choose to forgo children or have pets in lieu of offspring selfish.

Pope Francis is absolutely correct. Pets’ demands are simple — well-nurtured animals give affection and obedience unconditionally — whereas children’s demands on their parents are complex and ever-changing. Furthermore, affection and obedience are not guaranteed. Pets are a short-term commitment; children are a lifetime commitment. I have both. Suffice it to say, my child is significantly more fulfilling than my pets.

People love their pets. Animals have become an important part of families so much so that they are taking the place of children. In the comedy series “How I Met Your Mother,” one episode depicts Authur Hobbs, a crusty angry lawyer, in the midst of a messy divorce. The only thing he really wanted out of his divorce was his dog, Tugboat. He was even angry that he got full custody of his kids (a rare occurrence for fathers). This was meant as farce, but in Spain it’s become reality.

Up until recently, Spain had determined that pets were owned by one party or the other in a divorce. Now, however, the courts will treat pet custody much like child custody: The pet will be subject to joint custody. This is ludicrous and sad. Pets are wonderful additions to families, but they are not on the same level of importance as children as this new divorce policy implies.

Pope Francis said the “denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us” and “takes away our humanity.” This sentiment is undeniably true. When you are responsible for the life and well-being of a child, your life is unalterably changed. Being a parent is challenging and demanding in ways that are hard to imagine for those without children. But the fruits of this labor are many. It builds character. It pushes parents to mature. It gives mothers and fathers the opportunity to love and care for someone entirely unique from themselves. Every day as a parent means more because they get to experience it along with their children. Holidays and birthdays regain their magic. It also gives parents the privilege of setting people on their path in life, hoping for their good and helping them to succeed. Parenthood adds a richness to life that simply being a couple (or a pet owner) does not.

To be clear, not all couples can have kids. This is a hard road to walk for those yearning for children. The heavy feeling of missing something important is always there. When friends or siblings announce a pregnancy, it can be devastatingly hard to bare. To quote Pope Francis again, “A man or woman who do not develop the sense of fatherhood or motherhood, they are lacking something, something fundamental, something important.” A lot of childless couples feel this quite deeply.

Pope Francis encourages these couples to consider adoption. He said: “It is a risk, yes: having a child is always a risk, either naturally or through adoption. But it is riskier not to have them.”

This statement in particular garnered a lot of public outcry. Adoption is an expensive venture that’s bedeviled by a broken system. There are families who wait years to adopt because the system is so convoluted. Adoption also poses a lot of risks (though this is true for all children, both biological and adopted). In America, adoption is sometimes demonized. Those brave souls who choose to adopt are accused of having a savior complex. Some adult adoptees even go on to castigate adoption because of the trauma they endured. Even in the best homes, the scars of being abandoned by your biological parents are an emotional obstacle. But isn’t the trauma greater by not being adopted, not being chosen, and not having a family?

Pope Francis prayed for every child to have a home and a mother and father. He encouraged all couples to consider adoption, not just childless ones. Parenthood is a gift. Pet ownership, while nice, is nowhere near as important or necessary.

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