Pope to couples: Raise kids, not pets

Pontiff raises eyebrows by telling couples not to substitute dogs and cats for children

Pope Francis is raising eyebrows for telling married couples not to substitute dogs and cats for children.

Addressing a group of couples during his daily Mass on Monday, the pope told them staying childless will ultimately bring them nothing but "the bitterness of loneliness," according to Vatican Radio.

He stressed the importance of three qualities to a successful Christian marriage -- faithfulness, perseverance and fruitfulness.

"This culture of well-being from 10 years ago convinced us: It's better not to have children! It's better! You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be care-free … it might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or is this not? Have you seen it? Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fruitful, it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes His church fruitful."

The pope's remarks come just a week after Italy announced a record low birthrate for 2013, dropping 64,000 over the past five years.