My husband and I chose not to have kids of our own.
So, Pope Francis’ comments about couples who opted to raise pets instead of kids being selfish really made me bristle. I like this Pope. I agree with some of his more progressive stances, such as his allowing President Biden to receive communion despite his position on abortion rights. (I disagree, though, with his conservative stances such as barring priests from blessing same-sex unions.)
As someone who was reared Catholic and attended 12 years of parochial school, I can even see the point he was attempting to make about the need to replace aging populations by producing more children. It’s true to the Catholic church’s philosophy and teachings about the importance of family.
But the irony is who this is coming from — Pope Francis, Christ’s so-called representative on Earth whose namesake is St. Francis, the patron saint of animals. According to Catholics, he loved them so much he would preach to birds and other creatures. I love the story about how he supposedly talked a wolf into not attacking him. If your patron saint is St. Francis, you’re not supposed to have beef with childless people who choose to love on their animals instead of reproducing. That’s why I’ve been scratching my head over remarks Pope Francis made during his weekly address at the Vatican in which he referred to couples who have pets instead of children as selfish.
“Today we see a form of selfishness,” he said in Italian, according to a published translation. “People don’t want to have children, maybe they’ll want to have one child and not more than that. And many couples don’t have any children because they don’t want any... But they’ll have two dogs and two cats. Yes, cats and dogs are a substitution for children.”
He added, “denying fatherhood and motherhood makes us lesser. It takes away our humanity.”
Pope Francis’ statements smack of the utmost hypocrisy coming from a church leader who heads up an institution that for centuries has overlooked and helped cover up sex abuse by priests as well as nuns against countless children.
I understand that more U.S. Catholics are leaving the church than joining, in part because of the church’s mishandling of its sex abuse crisis — moving offending priests to different parishes and other coverups. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 37% of American Catholics were considering walking away from their religion, nearly doubling the number of those who left the flock since 2002, the year after the news of the abuse scandal first broke.
It’s hard to feel like the leader of the Catholic church really understands the needs of families when 20 years after the Boston Globe’s ground-breaking Spotlight investigation shed light on predatory priests, we’re still seeing headlines about abuse in parishes not just in the United States but around the world.
But church leadership shouldn’t try and guilt folks into having babies to help keep sanctuaries full. Parishioners need to decide for themselves whether or not have children, just as the Pope decided long ago to abstain from having them himself. Giving birth can have serious health implications for certain women, especially older mothers. Plus there are all kinds of practical considerations would-be parents need to consider before expanding their families.
Childfree couples offer pretty compelling reasons about why they chose not to reproduce, including those who are worried about overpopulation. After all, we already have nearly 8 billion people on a planet that is in the midst of a climate crisis. Even though studies show that overpopulation isn’t a major cause of the rapidly warming Earth, it’s understandable why some potential parents would be fearful. Then there is of course the enormous financial cost of raising a child. It costs middle class families roughly $234,000 from birth to adulthood, according to U.S. government statistics. A whole lot of parents spend way more than that just to get their children through college.
Couples who make conscious decisions not to have large families need to be applauded — not made to feel bad about their choices. When my husband and I decided not to have kids, it wasn’t because we wanted to save all of our money for ourselves or live an extravagant lifestyle that a child would impede. He already has a son from a previous relationship, who lived with us for a time. We talked about expanding our family and decided our lives were already incredibly full. Until his father died in June, my husband was his primary caregiver. I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C., caring for my parents during their final years. Looking back, we have no regrets. We did what was right for us, which is what every couple is supposed to do. We saw it as a practical choice.
My faith is strong, but I just don’t believe a higher power will knock people for choosing a fur baby over a human one.