Pope calls couples who choose pets over having children ‘selfish’

Pope Francis risked the ire of the world's childless dog and cat owners Wednesday, suggesting people who substitute pets for kids exhibit "a certain selfishness".

Pope Francis blesses a child during his general audience at the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on January 5, 2022 (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)
Pope Francis criticises couples who have pets and children for being selfish. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Speaking on parenthood during a general audience at the Vatican, Francis lamented that pets “sometimes take the place of children” in society.

“Today… we see a form of selfishness,” said the pope. “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.”


The practice, said the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, “is a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity”.

Thus, “civilisation grows old without humanity because we lose the richness of fatherhood and motherhood, and it is the country that suffers”, the pontiff said at the Paul VI Hall.

Francis has been photographed petting dogs, allowed a baby lamb to be draped over his shoulders during Epiphany in 2014 and even petted a tiger and a baby panther.

But while his predecessor, Benedict XVI, was a cat lover, Francis is not known to have a pet at his Vatican residence.

In 2014, Francis told Il Messaggero daily that having pets instead of children was “another phenomenon of cultural degradation”, and that emotional relationships with pets was “easier” than the “complex” relationship between parents and children.

On Wednesday, while inviting couples who are unable to have children for biological reasons to consider adoption, he urged potential parents “not to be afraid” in embarking on parenthood.

“Having a child is always a risk, but there is more risk in not having a child, in denying paternity,” he said.

The Argentine pontiff has in the past denounced the “demographic winter”, or falling birth rates in the developed world.

READ ALSO: Italy heading for demographic ‘crisis’ as population set to shrink by a fifth

Earlier this year, he criticised modern society, in which career and money-making trumps building a family for many, calling such mentality “gangrene for society”.

But a study by the Istat national statistics agency revealed that most Italians do want to have at least two children.

Experts pointed out that Italy’s high levels of unemployment, the broadly badly-paid, short-term work contracts, and a lack of affordable housing and childcare mean many young people put off starting a family as they think it’s unaffordable to do so in Italy.

Italy has for years recorded one of Europe’s lowest birth rates and is set to lose a fifth of its population in 50 years, further official data from Istat suggests.

The agency stated that the data marked “a potential picture of crisis”.

Italy’s population is expected to decrease from 59.6 million people in January 2020 to 47.6 million in 2070, it predicted, representing a drop of 20 percent.

In 2012, Italy saw births fall to the lowest level since it became a nation state in 1861, to around 534,000. Since then, new record lows have been established every year.

In 2020, the Italian population shrank by almost 400,000 due to the effects of the pandemic.

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‘Not worth it’: Why one Finnish family left Italy over ‘poor’ schools

A Finnish family who moved to Sicily wrote an open letter to a local newspaper explaining why they left the island for Spain after just two months due to the standard of the schools.

'Not worth it': Why one Finnish family left Italy over 'poor' schools

Elin Mattsson, a painter and mother of four from Finland, slammed the Italian education system in an open letter published in Siracusa News explaining why she couldn’t live in Italy and didn’t want her children to study in the country’s schools.

After her childrens’ experiences at schools in Syracuse, Mattsson and her family quickly decided life in Sicily “wasn’t worth it” and moved back to Spain.

The family of six, including children aged 15, 14, six and three, relocated to Syracuse in August as Mattsson explained she and her husband, an IT manager, were able to work remotely.

“We wanted to experience your amazing climate and culture but sadly our stay did not go as planned,” Mattsson wrote.

“We’ve lived in both Spain and the UK before and (naively?) thought the education system would be similar across the Mediterranean, but boy, were we wrong.”

“The school system is so poor,” Matsson said, describing a catalogue of issues from out-of-control classrooms and a lack of outdoor time to English teachers with a less-than-stellar command of the English language.

It “took us just a couple of months” of school in Syracuse to “realise that it wasn’t worth it”, she said.

READ ALSO: Are Italians really the ‘worst in Europe’ at speaking English?

Mattsson said she had “doubts” from the day she went to the school to register as “the noise of the classes was so loud that I wondered how the hell it was possible to concentrate.”

She said her children later described teachers yelling, blowing whistles and “shouting and banging on the tables” in classrooms, and she discovered that “the school day is spent in the same chair from morning until you go home. What?”

She was told the children only get “little breaks in the same classroom”.

And when she saw the kindergarten she said she was “worried”, describing the garden as a “patio” with “nothing to play with”.

“Where was all the climbing stuff? Nothing? Shouldn’t children also play in kindergarten? No, an empty garden around the perimeter of the building. It wasn’t good.”

“I can understand the energy level of the kids when they don’t have time to physically release it, like in breaks.”

The family moved to Syracuse, Sicily for ‘climate and culture’ but left in search of better schools. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

As well as urging Italy’s education authorities to “let kids play outside”, she criticised the fact that parents are expected to accompany their children to and from school, which she said was not the norm in Finland for those over seven years old.

In stark contrast to the “total traffic chaos” of the school run in Italy, she said children in Finland “use a bicycle or walk and if they live more than five kilometres from the school they can go by taxi or school bus. They have lunch at school, then go home alone when the school day is over.”

“Why don’t you offer lunch at school? Why don’t you see the benefits of children going to school and home on their own?” she asked, concluding: “Bye bye Syracuse and hola Espana”.

Italy’s education minister commented on the letter on Wednesday, Siracusa News reported, saying: “Italian schools have teachers and managers of absolute value who do an excellent job on modest salaries”. 

“Let’s not generalise based on extemporaneous judgements,” Minister Giuseppe Valditara added.

A response to the letter from Nicoletta Tancredi, a high school teacher in Salerno, was published by news agency Ansa: “I work in an Italian school. And sometimes I would like to escape too …. And I tell you: you’re right! For years, Italian reforms have not taken education into account. They do not put the learner at the centre.”

READ ALSO: ‘Educational crisis’: Italy’s schools compare badly with the rest of Europe, study finds

Online reactions to the letter ranged from some Italian parents agreeing that standards in many schools were poor, to international parents criticising the family’s decision to move to Sicily, which consistently ranks among the Italian regions with the lowest levels of educational attainment.

Data compiled by national statistics bureau Istat reveals wide regional gaps in educational standards in Italy, with a particularly stark divide between central-northern regions and the country’s poorer south, or Mezzogiorno. 

At the very bottom of the rankings are Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia, where close to half of all students had poor literacy skills and around 60 percent had an inadequate grasp of mathematics in 2019.

In the northern province of Trento, just 16.8 percent of students had below-satisfactory literacy skills and 15.3 poor maths skills.

Overall, Italy consistently performs below the EU average when it comes to completing school and graduating from university.

What is your experience of the Italian education system? Do you agree or disagree with the letter writer’s opinions? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.