Once again Pope Francis has entered the fray regarding decreasing child bearing rates.  This follows his 2014 outcry that not having children was a  "phenomenon of cultural degradation".  This time he says that people who do not choose to have a child, and instead choose to have a pet, are exhibiting a "form of selfishness". The pontiff went even further adding "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."

He was incensed by individuals who let pets “take the place of children” for leaving civilization “without humanity,” stating they deprive society of “the richness of fatherhood and motherhood.”  An interesting precept and perspective from a man not known for being a great lover of animals in general.  But what exactly is going on here?  Should the world hark the words of the pontiff?

It is clear that couples are choosing not to have children.  While a global phenomena, the trend is particularly acute in the developed countries.  France's birth rate is down 26% since 1982, with most of the acceleration occurring after 2010.  Couples are choosing to have fewer children, the less educated the lesser children they seem to want.  The correlation between college graduates and non graduates is particularly striking. Unintuitively mothers with graduate degrees had children at ALMOST TWICE the rate of non high school graduates.  Pet ownership by education is somewhat flat across education classes,  as 64% of high school diploma or less have a pet vs 59% of college graduates.

What does all this indicate and why has the pontiff waded into the waters certainly the domain of personal choice?  Firstly he is talking to the churches' audience, less educated tend to be more religious.  Additionally the statistics above indicate 'his audience' is choosing not to have children.  Why?  "It's the economy ****".  In today's highly specialized job market, the less educated are at dearth to find stable, well paying jobs.  While they tend to be believers, they counterbalance that with the financial impact of having children.

The pope's reply is to call them "selfish".  Apparently he is unconcerned with human overpopulation, the climate crisis that has been propelled by such overpopulation and specifically the happiness and welfare of his dominions.  How can this be?  Pope Francis seems to be a caring and gentle man, known for his practicality and intelligence.  The answer lies in the dogmatic religiosity the Catholic church forces all its adherents to abide by.  While a perfectly sound argument can be made that we need to "de-populate", that most of the evils we face today emanate directly from human overpopulation, the Catholic church has always stood for more children --no matter the cost to humanity other animals and the planet.

Of course the statistics confirm many childless women confer their maternal instincts on to pets, loving them and caring for them as though they were their children.  The reality is that in an enlightened world 'motherhood' takes on a variety of forms, just as love itself confounds observers with its myriad of shades.  However, the devotion to a pet is heretical to the pontiff when it replaces the love and caring of a child.  According to him, we exist in order to have children, confirming the instincts of most animals and all insects. When we break the chains, instead of finding a source of personal freedom and enlightenment we become a "phenomenon of cultural degradation".  Personal choice plays no part, much as the teachings of the church, consistently remain against any form of abortion.

One thing we can absolutely say about Pope Francis and the Catholic church is that they are at least consistent.  While to many the church is a relic of the checkered past of humanity, a minority still fervently adheres to and listens to the pontiff.  Sadly as the world edges closer to the precipice our moral leaders cling to ancient books as though only the past confers wisdom and knowledge.

Reality be damned!