Pope Francis has recently come under fire for his comments about human parenting and companion animals. In a statement made on January 5, the Catholic leader suggested that not having children and living with cats and dogs are selfish acts.
“Many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one – but they have two dogs, two cats,” the Pope said. “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.”
The Pope’s statement was criticized by In Defense of Animals’ Interfaith Vegan Coalition and the Compassion Consortium. Reverend Sarah Bowen is the animal chaplain and co-founder of the Compassion Consortium.
“Animal lovers around the world gasped, yet Pope Francis’ words offer us all an opportunity to deeply consider our relationships with other species,” said Reverend Bowen.
“With all due respect to the pope, in a time of climate crisis, economic pressure, war, poverty, hunger, and anthropogenic violence, some of us are lacking nothing by choosing not to have children.”
“Rather we are gaining something: true respect and reverence for the complexities of living in an interspecies world where the needs of human animals and other-than-human animals are often in conflict and always entangled.”
For some, the Pope’s words came as a surprise considering that in the past he’s celebrated non-human life and called for respect for the environment we all depend on. In “Laudato Si” his 2015 encyclical on the environment he wrote: “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect.”
Many animal advocates and environmentalists see the Pope’s most recent comments as a move in the wrong direction – away from meaningful connection with the non-human world.
“Many of our most pressing problems today, including the sixth mass extinction of wild animals, have resulted from human beings’ disconnection of and fear of nature,” said Judy Carman, co-founder of the Interfaith Vegan Coalition. “For many, a family dog, cat or bunny may be their only connection to the world of interspecies communication.”