He added that choosing to keep pets instead of becoming parents ' takes away our humanity'
Speaking to a general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, 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."
He added that choosing to keep pets instead of becoming parents was “a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity”.
As a consequence, he said: “Civilisation grows old without humanity because we lose the richness of fatherhood and motherhood, and it is the country that suffers.”
Pope Francis said that couples who are unable to have children for biological reasons should consider adoption, but that he urged potential parents “not to be afraid” of embarking on parenthood.
"How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them. Having a child is always a risk, either naturally or by adoption,” he said.
Francis suggested that couples who make this decision are contributing to declining birth rates around the world, he said: “But it is riskier not to have them. It is riskier to deny fatherhood, or to deny motherhood, be it real or spiritual.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a decline in the birth rate across Europe. In Italy 22pc fewer babies were born in December 2020 than in the same month a year earlier. In Spain the drop was 20pc, and in France 13pc.
In 2014 Francis told Il Messaggero newspaper that having pets instead of children was “another phenomenon of cultural degradation”, and that emotional relationships with pets were easier than the “complex” relationship between parents and children.
The Pope has, however, been photographed with many animals over the years. He's been seen petting dogs, a koala and a tiger, holding birds and carrying a lamb on his shoulders.