Monday, January 10, 2022

Pope Francis offers insights on human interaction, but follows it up with nonsensical and insulting remarks about "selfish" couples who have pets but no children

Pope Francis

As the calendar turned from one year into another, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church went into a good news-bad news cycle that has left ill feelings around the world -- and that's too bad for the world and the influence of religion. Before Christmas 2021, it is worth remembering, Pope Francis offered seemingly heart-felt wisdom about the three key words to a stable marriage. It's also worth noting that similar words and phrases can help strengthen all human relationships -- whether they involve marriage or not. Unfortunately, in early 2022, the Pope might have trashed the good will generated from those words by labeling as "selfish" couples who have pets but no children.

As for the good-news portion of our post, this is from a report at Associated Press:

Pope Francis sought . . . to encourage married couples, acknowledging that the pandemic has aggravated some family problems but urging couples to seek help and always remember three key words in a marriage: “Please, thanks and sorry.”

Francis penned a letter to married couples that was released [on] a Catholic feast day commemorating Jesus’ family. It came halfway through a yearlong celebration of the family announced by Francis that is due to conclude in June with a big family rally in Rome.

Speaking at his studio window, Francis said he intended the letter to be his “Christmas present to married couples.”

In an Axios e-newletter, a reporter sought to take the idea beyond the boundaries of marriage. The Pope's message is strong, but the one from Axios might be even better. Husbands and wives, after all, aren't the only ones who sometimes struggle to communicate:

I'd add to the list: "You're right" ... "I'm on it" ... "Good point" ... "What can I do?" ... "I hadn't thought of that" ... "I hear you" ... "I was wrong."

Those help almost every time. Also magical in the workplace. 

After sparking dialogue on words meant to boost human interaction, it was sad to see the Pope follow up in early 2022 with nonsense about pets and children. From a CNN report on the subject:

Pope Francis has criticized couples who choose to have pets instead of children as selfish, arguing that their decision to forgo parenthood leads to a loss of "humanity" and is a detriment to civilization.

The Pope made the comments Wednesday while speaking to a general audience about Saint Joseph, Jesus' earthly father.
Francis was lauding Joseph's decision to bring up Jesus as "among the highest forms of love" when he veered into the topic of adoption and orphaned children today. He then turned his focus on couples that opt for animals instead of children. 
"We see that people do not want to have children, or just one and no more. And many, many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one -- but they have two dogs, two cats ... Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children," the Pope said. "Yes, it's funny, I understand, but it is the reality. And this denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity. And in this way civilization becomes aged and without humanity, because it loses the richness of fatherhood and motherhood. And our homeland suffers, as it does not have children."

Shockingly, the Vatican did not consult me on these issues. But I would offer to be the Pope's  editor, because he apparently needs one.  A few thoughts I might have tossed out for the Pontiff's consideration:

* I don't think most couples see pets-children as an either-or-proposition. Many have both and find it rewarding to "raise" both; 

* Some couples simply cannot have their own biological children for health reasons. Others might be open to adoption but perhaps fear that route might be fraught with peril;

* Domestic animals, those who aren't equipped to live outside in the elements, need human kindness to survive. I'm hardly an evolutionary biologist, but my understanding is that dogs and cats descended from wild animals, and humans domesticated them and have benefited from their presence for centuries -- so in may ways, we owe them. To take them in and treat them as members of the family is an act of God's love, a truly "unselfish" act.

* This should be obvious, but children don't fall out of the sky with a snap of the fingers. It requires two processes -- pregnancy and childbirth -- that fall 100 percent on women and can be filled with complications, even life-threatening danger. We should think twice before declaring that giving birth is a requirement of womanhood. Women should not feel forced to take on roles that some might not want to handle.

* In an act of self-honesty, some people probably realize that they might not be good parents -- or that their circumstances would make parenting extremely difficult. Is it a bad thing if these people choose to pass on parenting and perhaps engage in activities that they find rewarding and also boost society? I would say no.

In a world where many people have come to appreciate the many emotional and physical benefits pets bring us, the Pope's words did not sit well with many. From a report at The Guardian

Whether millennials prefer to raise plants and pets over children for financial and environmental reasons or because they’re lazy and entitled has been hotly discussed in recent years. Now Pope Francis has waded in, saying that not having children is “selfish and diminishes us” and that people are replacing them with cats and dogs.

Pet owners have reacted angrily to the comments, made during a general audience at the Vatican. They argue that animals have a lower environmental footprint than children, enable them to lead a life that is different but equally rewarding, and compensate for financial or biological difficulties in having children, rather than directly replacing them.

On social media, people pointed out that the pope himself chose not to have children and said there was hypocrisy in such comments, coming from an institution which has grappled with a legacy of child sexual abuse. 

Guardian readers who responded to a call-out asking for their views were similarly critical of the pope’s comments, which were branded “out of touch” and “sexist”.

Sophie Lusby, a 48-year old NHS manager in Belfast, said they were “really naive and insensitive” and failed to reflect that not everybody can or should have children. As a Catholic, she has struggled with feelings of shame about her inability to have children for medical reasons, given her religion’s emphasis on motherhood. “That’s what’s quite triggering about the pope’s words.”

She added that although she has two pets, which are “great company when you live on your own”, she doesn’t see them as substitutes for children, and instead has found meaning in her relationships with her nephews, nieces, siblings and parents. “If Catholicism is about family, I’ve been very successful at being a great family member and I don’t need to be told off.”

Estee Nagy, a 27-year-old jeweller from London, said that “having a child in today’s world is a luxury” because of lower earning power and a more challenging labour market. “It’s easier for those who were simply lucky and are rich or have more money than an average salary, but it gets harder when there isn’t enough.”

Stef, who works in education, said that in her home town of Brighton “loads of people have dogs and treat them like kids”. She has taken her rescue dog, Boss, on holiday to 11 countries, including the Vatican, and feels that he is “part of the family”. 

“I don’t think anybody decides to have a dog instead of a child, you have a dog and you take care of the dog and it becomes like a child.”

People’s feelings about their pets may reflect the immense psychological benefits of pet ownership, especially of cats and dogs, said Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queen’s University, Belfast. Studies have shown that it results in increased companionship, feelings of self-worth and self-esteem and reduced depression, loneliness and isolation.

Wells added that there was no evidence people were using pets as replacements for children, but rather the analogy applies in the sense that they are also dependents that need to be cared for, and many owners develop “an enormous bond of attachment”.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the Pope made the child-pets remarks in an impromptu general audience. I'm taking that to mean he was speaking off the cuff. Maybe he should stick with prepared remarks.

legalschnauzer said...

You might be right, @10:37. I'm not certain about the format, but it sounds kind of like a question-answer session. Not sure if Popes generally do that kind of thing or not. But it does sound like he didn't think his thoughts through very well.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that this Pope has made these sorts of comments before. You'd think he would learn to riff on something else.

legalschnauzer said...

Yes, it's just a topic filled with minefields. To my ears, the whole child-pets comparison sounds like what you might call a false equivalency. I'd say that makes the argument doomed from the start.

legalschnauzer said...

I suspect the Pope would be better off by focusing on the value of all life, rather than placing one form over another.

legalschnauzer said...

A number of commenters have noted the comments are odd coming from a Pope who is generally seen as progressive and draws high marks for building good will -- as with his remarks about marital communication.

Anonymous said...

I think the Pope's biggest problem comes from labeling childless couples as selfish. There's just no reason to do that.

legalschnauzer said...

You make a great point, @11:00. Take the "s word" out of the discussion, and the comments probably go over quite a bit better.

legalschnauzer said...

Lots of comments at Twitter re: Pope Francis. Here is a sampling:

This public school teacher who chose not to have children but has devoted her life to other people's kids and helping animals wou

legalschnauzer said...

The Beaverton
"Not having kids is selfish" says man who lives alone in golden palace

legalschnauzer said...

Current world population:


Not sure lack of humans is a problem.