Pope Francis recently caused something of a stir when he stated that choosing pets over babies is selfish and diminishes us. He 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. This may make people laugh, but it is a reality.”

The mainstream media jumped on the story but missed the obvious flaw in the Pope’s take on the issue. They framed the Pope’s words in terms of pet ownership rather than infertility. Take the New York Post for instance, who decided to take up the flag for dog owners! They wrote, “Dogs are fur babies, a fully integrated part of the family. The idea that dogs are unlike children is ridiculous. Custody battles break out over dogs. Short of setting up a college fund, having a dog is as heavy a responsibility, one with an expiration date, with heartbreak for the human built into the deal.”

The Pope’s stance here is simple. As the metaphorical owner of a flock, he has a vested interest in its propagation. What he is really railing against here is contraception. The choice couples make when deciding whether to build or extend a family by having children. This choice, available since the late 1950s has ever since been a bugbear for the Catholic Church, which has always made its views on it perfectly clear. So really there is nothing new to be seen here.

No choice

However, the real issue for many couples and the number is increasing is NOT the choice about whether to have children or not. It is the fact that they CAN’T have children when they are desperate to do so. It is not contraception that leads to pet ownership, it is infertility.

According to the US Census Bureau the proportion of households made up of married couples with children fell from 40% in 1970 to 20% in 2012. COVID-19 has not helped this situation. In Italy 22% fewer babies were born in December 2020 than in the same month a year earlier. In Spain the drop was 20% and in France 13%.

What part does infertility play in this?

Here are the facts:

● Many couples experience involuntary childlessness for at least one year: estimates range from 12% to 28%

● Male infertility is responsible for 20–30% of infertility cases, while 20–35% are due to female infertility, and 25–40% are due to combined problems in both parts

● Sperm counts in men from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have dropped by more than 50% in less than 40 years.

These are the statistics people should be concerned about in terms of the problem of childlessness.

It is depressing that the subject of infertility is not given the proper attention it deserves. It is a serious real-world problem that deserves far more attention than childless couples owning dogs!