In his jubilee audience over the weekend, Pope Francis said that Christians should be careful not to confuse feeling sorry for animals with love for one’s neighbor.
“How many times we see people who are attached to cats to dogs, and then ignore their neighbor in need, and that’s not right” the Pope lamented.
During his audience before tens of thousands of people in Saint Peter’s Square Saturday, Francis said that the Christian virtue of piety and mercy shouldn’t be confused with the compassion we feel towards our pets. It sometimes happens, he said, “that we have these feelings toward animals, and yet remain indifferent in the face of the suffering of our brothers and sisters.”
This isn’t the first time the pontiff has expressed concern that people pay more attention to animals than to human beings.
A year ago, the Pope expressed his bewilderment when he read about what people spend their money on, saying that it reflects how twisted people’s values are.
“After food, clothing and medicine,” he said, “the fourth item is cosmetics and the fifth is pets. That’s serious.”
In fact, for an “environmental pope,” Francis seems to think that people pay altogether too much attention to pets.
“Care for pets is like programmed love,” he said. “I can program the loving response of a dog or a cat, and I don’t need the experience of a human, reciprocal love.”
The Pope said this kind of trade-off is “worrisome.”
Pope Francis is also on record for counseling married couples not to have pets instead of children. At a special Mass for 15 couples in the Vatican in 2014, the Pope cautioned couples against substituting cats and dogs for children, saying it will only lead to solitude and the “bitterness of loneliness” in old age.
During his homily, the Pope said that owning pets may be “more comfortable” than raising children, but did not offer the same opportunities for love and godliness.
For its part, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that animals “are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity” while at the same time encouraging humane treatment and gentleness.
“Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness,” it reads. “We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.”
The Catechism also states, however, that it is “unworthy” to spend money on animals that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. “One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons,” it says.
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