We Disagree With Pope Francis Saying Having Animal Companions Instead of Kids is Selfish
Earlier this month Pope Francis caused quite a stir with a statement denouncing people for choosing to have animal companions in lieu of having children of their own. Needless to say it elicited a lot of responses from around the world, including a joint statement released by In Defense of Animals’ Interfaith Vegan Coalition and the Compassion Consortium.
Speaking to a crowd on January 5, Pope Francis stated, “Many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one – but they have two dogs, two cats… And this denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity... a man or woman who does not develop the sense of fatherhood or motherhood, they are lacking something, something fundamental, something important.”
There’s a lot to unpack on this sensitive topic, yet, because Pope Francis has made prior efforts to raise consciousness about the impact of humanity on the Earth and the interconnection of Creation, his words surprised (and offended) many. For example, in “Laudato Si,” his 2015 encyclical on the environment, he wrote, “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect.”
We applaud Pope Francis’ commitment to the environment, yet question his intentions to admonish those who choose to live with animal companions instead of having biological children. Adopting or rescuing animal companions can provide a welcome source of unconditional love.
We acknowledge that animal guardianship is a complicated and controversial topic, especially when considering potentially abusive situations, where animals may be sourced from and that a lot of their food supports factory farming, but studies have found that living in an interspecies home has many benefits, such as decreasing depression and feelings of loneliness, lowering stress and anxiety, and improving cardiovascular health.
Human population growth, on the other hand, is behind every Earth- destroying issue we’re currently collectively facing and in turn drives dramatic increases in animal agriculture, which is the greatest contributor to the climate crisis, and threatens all life on Earth. In an effort to address this, the Interfaith Vegan Coalition, Animal Interfaith Alliance and Compassion Consortium are among many individuals and organizations urging world leaders to adopt the Plant Based Treaty as a companion to the Paris Agreement to stop animal agriculture from causing further devastation.
While Pope Francis, who is notably child-free himself, has suggested adoption, the issue is that he seems to promote an unreasonable and unsustainable hierarchy with biological children preferred, and with adopted children being primarily recommended as an alternative for couples who can’t conceive, with the choice of animal companions completely denigrated. Adoption of children avoids causing any additional damage to the planet, and is severely needed with over 450,000 children in foster care in the United States at any given time. However, his statement that all people should be parents to humans does not consider the procedural and legal complexities involved in adoption, the significant cost of adopting and raising a child that may be out of reach for many couples, and issues of discrimination for the LGBTQ community.
In any case, to suggest that loving — or living with — cats and dogs is selfish is to imply that love is something that is of limited supply. We prefer to heed Pope Francis’ earlier words, and cherish each animal with love and respect, and hope more people will continue to deeply consider the relationships we share with other species.
Find out more about our Interfaith Vegan Coalition and how to get involved.