Is Pope Francis still doing right by his namesake? (St. Francis was the patron saint of animals.) During daily Mass on Monday, the pope offered a word of advice to a group of 15 married couples worshipping at the Vatican: treating pets like kids will leave the childless feeling lonely and sad. Discussing the three most important qualities of a successful Christian marriage -- and placing special emphasis on the third quality, fruitfulness -- Pope Francis warned against leading child-free, petcentric lives:
These marriages, in which the spouses do not want children, in which the spouses want to remain without fertility. This culture of well-being from ten years ago convinced us ... it might be better -- more comfortable -- to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. ... then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.
It might not be a rallying cry against pets altogether, but the pope's counsel against treating dogs and cats as children contrasts his previous animal-friendly attitudes. Earlier this year, Pope Francis disregarded protocol by allowing a guide dog into the Vatican, then went on to offer the canine a special blessing; he also notably blessed a parrot named Amore after his peace doves were attacked in January. And, of course, selected his papal name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
It's possible the pope's counsel signifies his desire for worshippers to go forth and multiply above all else -- but it's also an unfortunate failure to extend human acceptance to other living things. Study after study has shown that animals -- cats, dogs, birds, horses, and countless others -- are much more like us than we previously thought. They think; they feel. It might not be so wrong to consider pets family, after all -- and it's certainly unlikely to leave us feeling alone.