“Today … we see a form of selfishness. We see that some people do not want to have a child, but they have dogs and cats that take the place of children.”–Pope Francis (translated)

The priest welcomed us
into his home: a rust-colored
Victorian I’d passed as a child,
next to the ancient church.
Inside, he led us to a worn
brown sofa. My fiancée and I
sat close. The priest frowned
to begin his lecture on the
dangers of premarital sex
and cohabitating before
marriage. The fireworks
of his anger crescendoing
into a diatribe about same-sex
marriage shot off at us,
sensing (correctly) that we
had faith in civil unions.
He took a break to offer us
each a white Fresh Mint
from a Tic Tac box the size
of a small window. The pill,
a taste of his life stung
our young tongues. His orange
tabby cat leaped down,
startling us. He pet her
lovingly and we could see
she was his closest companion.
He carried her on his
shoulder into the kitchen
for a bowl of water.
I wouldn’t call it selfish,
his desire to remain single
and childless in this big
empty house. I wouldn’t
call it selfish to find comfort
in a cat, or God, or solitude.

About the Poem

This week, Pope Francis gave a speech lamenting low birth rates and calling childless couples selfish for raising fewer children, or remaining childless, preferring to care for dogs and cats instead. As a former Catholic, I couldn’t help but recall the pre-cana meeting my (now) husband and I had with a priest. The only time this gentleman smiled was when he held his companion: a cat. How ironic to hear the Pope – a single man – lecture young people who (like him) have decided not to conceive. In times like these, shouldn’t we all have more compassion for the love we show each other, humans and animals alike?

About the Author

Katie Kemple (she/her) is a poet, parent, and consultant based in San Diego. Her poems have appeared in recent issues of Longleaf Review, The West Review, and The Shore Poetry.

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