Pope Francis has suggested that opting for pets over children is selfish and that the act “diminishes us”. 

In the address to a general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, the Pope had initially been speaking about Saint Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. Admiring Joseph’s decision to bring up Jesus, he had said that adopting orphaned children was the ‘highest form of love’, CNN reported. 

“Today … we see a form of selfishness. We see that some people do not want to have a child. Sometimes they have one, and that’s it, but they have dogs and cats that take the place of children. This may make people laugh but it is a reality,” he said.

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The 85-year-old Pope added that keeping pets was like a ‘denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity’, resulting in the civilisation ‘growing old without humanity because we lose the richness of fatherhood and motherhood, and it is the country that suffers’.

Speaking of those who are biologically unable to procreate, he proposed the idea of adoption and encouraged them to ‘not to be afraid’ of parenthood. 

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“Having a child is always a risk, but there is more risk in not having a child,” he said, as quoted in a report by The Guardian. 

“How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them,” Francis said. “Having a child is always a risk, either naturally or by adoption. But it is riskier not to have them. It is riskier to deny fatherhood, or to deny motherhood, be it real or spiritual.”

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Responding to the comments, Italy’s International Organization for the Protection of Animals (OIPA) said it was “strange to think that the pope considers the love in our lives limited quantitatively” while citing the sacrifices of volunteers who save the lives of animals, reported news agency AFP. 

“It is evident that for Francis, animal life is less important than human life. But those who feel that life is sacred love life beyond species,” said OIPA President Massimo Comparotto in a statement.

Notably, the Pope has commented at people choosing to have pets over children earlier as well. In 2014, he called this decision ‘another phenomenon of cultural degradation’, since tthe emotional relationships with pets was ‘easier’ than the ‘complex’ one between parents and their child.