Pope Francis said Wednesday that people who adopt pets instead of children were exhibiting “a form of selfishness” as he presided over his first general audience of the new year.
“How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them,” the pontiff said in a speech at the Vatican. “And how many spouses wish to be fathers and mothers but are unable to do so for biological reasons; or, although they already have children, they want to share their family’s affection with those who have been left without.”
Francis’ catechism lesson focused on the figure of Joseph, who Francis said was the “foster father” of Jesus.
Repeating his call for couples to have more children to address the “demographic winter” in much of the West, he said those who can’t have children should be open to adoption.
Today “we see a form of selfishness ... We see that people do not want to have children,” he said.
“Sometimes they have only one (child) and that’s it, but they have two dogs, two cats,” he said. “Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children,” he added. “Yes it’s funny, I understand, but it is the reality.”
He added that choosing to adopt was “among the highest forms of love, and of fatherhood and motherhood.”
Emphasizing his call for a less-clericalized Catholic Church, for the first time, a layman and a nun provided the English and Spanish translations of Francis’ weekly catechism lesson rather than a cloaked monsignor, a small but revolutionary change for the Vatican.
Vatican monsignors from the secretariat of state have always provided the summarized translations at the Wednesday general audience. On Wednesday, the clerics only read the translations in French, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Polish and Italian.
The Vatican announced the change ahead of time, saying that starting Wednesday “men and women, religious and lay employees of several dicasteries of the Roman Curia, will be present at the General Audience for the reading of the greetings in various languages.”
During his nearly nine-year pontificate, Francis has often criticized the element of Catholic culture that puts priests on a pedestal and has advocated for the “people of God” to take their rightful place in the church.
He has called for women in particular to serve in governance roles and has appointed a handful of women religious to important jobs in the Vatican, though none heads a Vatican congregation. He is currently presiding over a two-year consultation of the Catholic laity around the globe to understand the needs and desires of ordinary faithful and how the church can better serve them.