On Monday, the pontiff spoke to an audience of 15 married couples at daily Mass in his Vatican residence, stressing the importance of faithfulness, perseverance and fruitfulness in a successful Christian marriage. During his address, the pope asserted that while parenthood may seem inconvenient and expensive, cats and dogs cannot replace the emotional and spiritual fulfillment that comes from raising children.
"This culture of well-being from 10 years ago convinced us: 'It's better not to have children! It's better! You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be care-free ... It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats and the love goes to the two cats and the dog,'" the pope said to his audience.
"Is this true or is this not? Have you seen it? Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fruitful, it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes His Church fruitful," he added.
Pope Francis is definitely not an animal hater. He even blessed a guide dog last year, but there is good reason for his concern over parenthood.
Birth rates have been rapidly dropping in Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Italy and the United States, which have the largest Catholic populations in the world. Just last week, the Italian government announced that its birth rate hit a record low last year of just 515,000 babies born — a drop of 64,000 over the past five years.
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Image Credit: Pew Research Center
Pope Francis has previously taken rather unprecedented stances on issues of sex and marriage. Last week, he argued that celibacy in the priesthood is "not a dogma" and that "the door is always open." This arguably goes hand-in-hand with his statement last July that he was open to gay priests serving in the Catholic Church.
So while the pope's anti-pet rhetoric may seem out of left field, it's very much consistent with his philosophy: He doesn't care what goes on inside the bedroom, as long as you are a good Catholic and produce more good Catholics in return.