Pope Francis and the Idolatry of Spending on Pets

IMG_3881We have pets — two dogs and a cat — and the occasional visiting toad. We have three hens who lay eggs for us. We care for them, but we recognize that our pets are not people.

Today I came across this article: More Books Suggest Heaven Is for Real for Dogs (and Cats, Horses and Birds Too) (Title suggestion: Heaven is for Real, Wilbur, by Mr. Ed). Here in the First World, money is spent on such things as literature concerning animal afterlife, offered by sellers in the hope to realize some of the $60 billion per year spent by Americans on their pets.

Pope Francis has an opinion regarding spending on pets, which is consonant with the magisterial teachings of the Church. He connects it with the idolatrous attitudes of paganism such as “relativism, narcissism, consumerism. They are completely foreign to worship of the True God”.

From an interview given by Pope Francis (before he became Pope)(linked here), an excerpt of which (at around the 3:00 mark) is transcribed here, he says:

One interesting fact about this paganism….. the amount spent on non-necessities worldwide. Let’s put aside spending on necessary things such as food and medicine. Of those things that are not necessities, or superfluous things, the greatest amount is spent on pets. The most unnecessary spending is made on pets. Pets are idolized. And there’s the idolatry to buy, to rent, to have a feeling to give as I want, where I want, without needing a response, isn’t that true? It’s all a caricature of love. And the second largest amount of money is spent on cosmetology. Cosmetics. I don’t remember exactly the amounts worldwide, but there are millions and millions spent on these two things. Meanwhile the Pope is talking about children who are dying of hunger in underdeveloped continents like Africa, Asia and America. First come pets. And then if there is something left we throw it to the children…..”

Pope Francis is not raising a new issue. The Catechism states that it is “…unworthy to spend money on them [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.” (CCC 2418).


A “Roman Ruin” Cat

The Catechism specifically states that animals “…may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure” (CCC 2417) and that we must treat them with kindness (CCC 2416). Taken from the proper context, it’s likely true that the Holy Father is not referring his comments absolutely to all pet owners and all forms of spending on pets.

Idolatry can take many forms. In the case of spending on pets, Francis is speaking about attitudes that prioritize the use of our resources for animals at the expense of the care due our fellow human beings, and which tend to disregard human suffering.

My interpretation is also that what we spend on pets is merely a symptom of the larger problem brought on by the “relativism, narcissism, [and] consumerism” of pagan culture. When we personify our pets, when we devote and expend our best energy and attention on their care and attention, at the expense of other people, then we have gone too far. It becomes narcissism — a form of self-love — only “a caricature of love” — that involves satisfying our own desire to love and think ourselves loved.

First, people. Then, pets.

St. Francis, pray for us!

16 thoughts on “Pope Francis and the Idolatry of Spending on Pets

  1. i couldn’t agree more! i have seen the “stress relieving pro-biotics for hamsters” sold at Petco. here in Chicago, we have a huge and beautiful building on LaSalle to help animals (the anti-cruelty society) and a dumpy building a mile up LaSalle for killing babies (planned parenthood). what a crazy world we brought our children into. i’m often at a loss for explaining it.

  2. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I have 6 cats in my house and one I’m supporting who lives outside. These creatures are all rescues and are in my care. I’m directly responsible for their little lives. Veterinary bills, food, kitty litter are all my responsibility. Other than the occasional treats or cat nip and scratching posts, I don’t go hog wild buying and building structures for them, but they are still my family that I’m responsible for.

    Am I committing idolatry?

      • How do I tell? It’s not a grudging responsibility I bear for these lives in my care, I love them like they are my own kids (childless, btw, never married). Yes, I’m attached to them and being an older person, I’ve made arrangements for their continued care should I predecease them. I don’t go spending a fortune on them unless it’s vet bills (like the virus that went through my house these past couple of weeks). I’d like to see more about how idolatry is defined. I do give to food kitchens in my local community and other places where help is needed after natural disasters, etc. No, the more I think about it, idolatry does not describe me. At least not in this case.

  3. It’s been noted that those who show charity toward animals exhibit the same toward their fellow man/woman. Abuse of animals is linked to spousal and child abuse. I am wary of individuals who lack of compassion or concern for any of God’s creatures.

    • I’m with you, Linda. Compassion for our fellow creatures should extend to animals. I take in people who have no place to go, so I’m certainly not going to turn away the cats that show up at my door. Believe you me, St. Francis of Assisi has been hearing from me a lot these past couple of years. :) I think there is a problem when people have all kinds of compassion for animals but none for their fellow human beings. Or vice versa. We should love and care for them all, it’s our duty as Christians and as stewards of this marvelous world God created for us.

      • I’m sorry, but leaving money for care of pets should one die is absurd. Animals do not have souls. How about leaving your money for the care of human orphans? Or becoming a foster parent to take care of children instead of investing so much time and money taking care of cats? Such love of animals is disordered. I hate to think of all the money you have poured into those cats that could have been used to feed hungry babes. By the way, I have 2 dogs, but if something should take out my whole family, they would go to the pound. We care for them, but we understand they are not people.

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  7. Good Post. I have seen too many people deliberately with multiple pets and no children. We have four children and two small to mid size dogs, but the dogs get basic food and care, and the dogs are for the children. Let’s keep things in perspective.

  8. When you live alone, and it is very dark and stormy or I’m depressed my cats keep me company. They have a special diet (cannot eat any commercial food at all), I bring them to the vet, feed them, play with them (cat nip), and all the rest. I’d have more but I can’t afford it.

    I do not even kill bugs (unless a fly or a wasp is in the house).

    While I have them, it is my responsibility to take these creatures that God made.

    What I think the pope means is the hotels for cats (not boarding houses), buying gourmet food (believe me they exist…but then again I feed them a taste of “people food”), and the excesses that are excess even for humans!

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