The Pope can certainly provoke a debate

The Pope can certainly provoke a debate The Pope’s remarks about pets at his weekly general audience provoked controversy. Photo: CNS

One of the welcome things about the extended holiday period is that we get a greater variety of presenters, on the radio shows in particular.

And so it was that Katie Hannon stood in for Joe Duffy on Liveline (RTÉ Radio One) last week. Thursday’s show was dominated by a discussion of Pope Francis’ words on children and pets, especially the suggestion of selfishness in married couples having pets instead of children. Most of the contributions were nuanced and thought-provoking.  One caller suggested the Pope’s words were a catalyst for debate, and if so it certainly worked. Another caller said she preferred dogs to humans. She thought the Church needed people to go back to Mass and this wasn’t going to help. Katie Hannon suggested there was “a real issue at the heart of what the Pope is saying”.


One caller was particularly angry, but I think he missed the point – Pope Francis was decidedly not getting at couples who couldn’t have children, or that had pets and children. This caller didn’t help his case by going way over the top – at one stage he said a dog of his had been stolen and suggested the culprit was probably “one of the Pope’s gentlemen”! Towards the end of the show a woman called for courage and trust for the future, for couples to be generous in their attitude to having children.

The issue was raised again on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio One, Thursday) when Sarah McInerney spoke to papal biographer Fr Michael Collins. It was a cheerful discussion, as he usefully pointed out that the context was a papal address with a sensible message about St Joseph and caring for children through adoption, but that he had “kind of spoiled the message” by going off the cuff, with his trademark unpredictability. This approach made him different to other Popes (for sure!). He also said it was good idea to write down and rehearse what you were going to say if speaking in public, otherwise you could put your foot in it. He did agree with the pontiff’s related warnings about a demographic winter.

But the media wasn’t done with the story yet. Matt Cooper revisited the topic on The Last Word (Today FM, Friday) with journalists Mark Paul (The Irish Times) and Martha Brennan (The Echo) reviewing the stories of the week. Mr Paul pointed out, usefully, that the Pope’s words were in the context of low birth rates, but I thought he was somewhat dismissive when he said that he wasn’t sure people take much notice of what priests say about parenthood – obviously some do, and let’s not forget priests are also part of families. Ms Brennan said she wasn’t offended by the remarks, but remarked tongue-in-cheek (at least I think I detected whimsy!) that it was all over Twitter, warning against the perils of messing with what she called ‘pet parents’.


The subject was still exercising the media at the weekend. On Sunday (BBC Radio 4) stand-in presenter Emily Buchanan spoke to two Catholic writers. Caroline Farrow thought the Pope was maybe “a little tone deaf” but wasn’t going to “blast” him for restating Catholic teaching on being open to life and children. It wasn’t a binary choice between children and pets. Tina Beattie accepted that the Pope had ethical concerns and referenced him previously commenting on people spending more on pets than on hungry children. But in this case she was irritated and felt his comments were unhelpful.

On a more positive note, last Sunday was the feast day of the Baptism of Jesus, and Songs of Praise (BBC One, Sunday) had a special on Baptism for the occasion. Sean Fletcher reported from Liverpool cathedral where the main baptismal font was quite impressive. It was near the entrance to the cathedral and featured several tableaux in stone as well as a symbolic water feature on the surrounding floor area. There was also a colourful icon of Jesus’ Baptism, among the several artistic depictions of the event. It was great to see young couples enthusiastic about having their babies baptised, with young Godparents conscious of their responsibilities.

We saw several total immersion baptisms, from a Pentecostal Church and an Orthodox Ethiopian community whose celebrations were dramatic and colourful. Most of the songs were from packed congregations pre-coronavirus, though my favourite was a recent outdoor performance by vocal group Stellina, who sang, appropriately, Wade in the Water.

Pick of the Week
The Sidewalk Chronicles EWTN Sunday January 16, 9pm

Documentary about women in crisis pregnancies, and the pro-life movement heroes who reach out to them with love and support.

Father Brown BBC One Monday January 17, 2.15pm (and daily, weekdays)

A mysterious saboteur tries to stop Kembleford winning the three counties choir competition.

March for Life EWTN Friday January 21, 2.30pm

Complete coverage of the pro-life event, live from Washington, D.C.