The Pope takes a dogged look at parenthood


Last week I could have sworn I heard a loud rumbling sound like a chasm opening up in the earth. Put it down to an overactive imagination but it might as well have been the real thing given Pope Francis’ remarks about pets taking the place of children which opened a yawning gap between a thinking rooted in the past and current reality.

The Pontiff, named for St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the natural environment, may well have a point when it comes to the zoomorphism of pets but what he said in his deliberations on parenthood was deeply insensitive to many groups and disparaged those who don’t have children.

Commenting during a general audience at the Vatican in Rome Pope Francis said.

“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. The practice is a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity,” he said.
Raising the next generation is one of the cornerstones of society but it seems the most extraordinary statement to suggest that people who don’t have children or have only one lack humanity compared to those who do. In an overcrowded planet facing environmental catastrophe maybe those who decide not to have children are being unselfish.

There are couples who may not be able to have children – about one in six in Ireland experience infertility although they may go on to succeed thanks to fertility treatment. Others may not find a partner with whom to have children or may remain single by choice, or may be gay, surely it must be offensive to them to be described as having diminished humanity.

Part of that humanity is our ability to evolve for the better. Long ago practices such as torturing and killing people of different faith, slavery or burning witches were acceptable. Thankfully our thinking has changed but the Pope’s beliefs about fertility and the necessity to have children regardless, remain rooted in the past and unrelated to current reality for both parents and the planet.

In defence of pets and dogs in particular they make the most faithful companions and animals are a great way for kids to learn about caring for other creatures. In his comments Pope Francis seemed annoyed by the way pets are being treated as human: taking away from the dignity and doggedness of dogs as it were.

The Pontiff has a point. Christmas jumpers for dogs are one thing- jokey but embarrassing for dogs — but getting married to your dog as one woman, 49 years old Elizabeth Hoad, did when she wed her Labrador Logan on a UK TV show two years ago, is a bark too far.

In SA’s Western Cape I once saw an odd couple in a restaurant with a hooded pram, peeping under the hood as they left, I saw not a baby but a poodle wearing a frilly dress and bonnet. That’s a lot to ask of a dog.

PS. Last week as schools opened, I listened to Minister for Education Norma Foley responding on RTE radio to questions about teachers’ Covid related demands for medical grade masks and for Hepa ventilators to control air quality and avoid freezing class rooms. Minister Foley kept referring to medical advice and using the phrase “what I would say to you…”

I would hope that Foley would do rather than say and have fought tooth and nail in advance of schools opening for the equipment that teachers need to keep themselves, their pupils and their classrooms safe.

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