Doggone it: When a papal point misses the mark

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Context is everything. But sometimes Pope Francis assumes people know him and the context of his words.

When they don't, hackles are raised.

One case in point has garnered huge publicity, again: Pope Francis' view on couples having pampered pets instead of children.

The nervous laughter in the Vatican audience hall Jan. 5 should have tipped him off that he was heading for a mishap.

Speaking at his general audience about the importance of parenthood, both literal and spiritual, Pope Francis again brought up his concern about a "demographic winter," especially in Europe, where birthrates are consistently below death rates.

The pope spoke about the suffering of couples who cannot have children and about the bravery of those who choose to adopt.

But what stuck in many people's craw was when he said that "many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one -- but they have two dogs, two cats. Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children."

When people laughed, he responded, "Yes, it's funny, I understand, but it is the reality. But this denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity."