Pope laments Italy’s declining birth rates, fails to mention abortion, contraception
ROME, May 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Italy’s truly catastrophic birthrate was at the center of the “Estates General of Births” this Friday: An unprecedented multi-partisan meeting that took place at the grand Auditorium of the Via della Conciliazione that leads from the Tiber to Saint Peter’s Basilica. Mario Draghi, president of the council of ministers, and other politicians, as well as pro-family activists and experts gave multiple talks, but the event was most notable because of the presence of Pope Francis himself, who spoke openly of the “demographic winter” that is currently slowly depleting Italy of its population.
One of the main organizers of the event was “Forum delle associazioni familiari,” the “Forum of family associations,” led by Gianluigi De Paolo.
Conferences and round tables led by mainstream politicians, journalists, statisticians, and entrepreneurs all agreed that with a birthrate that dropped to 1.27 child per woman of childbearing age in 2019, Italy is set to disappear — or at least to face bad trouble in the near future.
In a developed country, the basic birthrate for the replacement of generations is 2.1 children per woman of childbearing age. At less than 1.3, only two thirds of a given generation will be replaced and the number of young women able to give birth will also fall, increasing the risk of falling into a spiral of birth dearth.
That is the situation in which Italy now finds itself: Between 2014 and 2019, having reached the worst birthrate in Europe, Italy has lost 705,000 inhabitants and is also facing the rapid aging of its population, with disastrous consequences in the offing. Over 5,620 munipalities out of a total of 7,500 are now less populated than five years previously. This means less consumption of goods, less economic activity, a shift towards new types of spending for the needs of the elderly who have less reason personally to invest in the future.
During the talks, it was stressed that in 2020 Italy registered just over 400,000 births, in a nation with a population of over 60 million; this is expected to drop to little more than 350,000 annual births by 2050. The 2019 numbers are not even clear indicators for the future due to COVID-19, which statisticians expect will have dire after-effects.
One of the reasons given for the decrease in births is the even more spectacular decrease in marriages: In 2020, numbers plummeted from 184,088 in 2018 to 96,687 in 2020. While the circumstances certainly led many young people to put off their marriage because of the difficulties of inviting friends and family, Gian Carlo Blangiardo, head of the official statistics agency of the Italian state, ISTAT, stressed that in Italy, two thirds of all births still occur within marriage. He believes, though, that reaching the number of 500,000 births per year is not unrealistic if the number of marriages rises again and women reach a fertility rate that is 0,6 point higher than the dismal 1.27 child per woman Italy now welcomes. He acknowledged that this would require a “change of culture.”
The Pope also pleaded for more generosity towards life, but not even the Pope, in his otherwise quite satisfying talk that opened the meeting, spoke of some of the most evident causes of the collapse of births in Italy: the rise of contraception and abortion. Coupled with an unfavorable economic and fiscal environment and a complete lack of family-friendly policies for many decades, they have played a role in offering couples the possibility of “choosing” their number of children (although the question remains whether children-loving Italians are actually happy with this situation).
That there is a problem is by now completely undeniable, leading to the presence of seasoned politicians such as Mario Draghi (himself a father of two), who in the past has done nothing in favor of families. Contrary to the situation in neighboring France, where the birthrate was 1.88 per woman of childbearing age (with a chunk of that due to immigrants, to be sure), in Italy there are few child benefits and income taxation does not take a family’s number of children into account. The effect is double: families have a hard time making ends meet if both spouses are not in paid jobs, often leaving them with little time and money to look after more than one or two children at the most, and the benefits of a younger generation strong in numbers are lost to the general public because childbirth is not valued properly.
Many political parties have, over the years, suggested to address this situation, but none has done or been able to do much about it. However, genuinely conservative parties, who have not had a chance to date to implement measures favoring Italian births, were not present during the debates. The most conservative parties such as Mario Salvini’s Lega and Fratelli d’Italia were not represented, though.
Pope Francis proved very outspoken on the issues at hand, stressing that many young Italians “dream” of having children but adding: “Their dreams of life, shoots of rebirth of the country, clash with a demographic winter still cold and dark: Only half of young people believe they will be able to have two children in their lifetime.”
“Italy has thus found itself for years with the lowest number of births in Europe, in what is becoming the old continent no longer because of its glorious history, but because of its advanced age. This country of ours, where every year it is as if a city of more than two hundred thousand inhabitants were disappearing, in 2020 reached the lowest number of births since national unity: not only because of COVID, but because of a continuous, progressive downward trend, an increasingly harsh winter,” stated Pope Francis.
Having recalled the difficulties linked to COVID, that were even harder on families with young children requiring a lot of attention, Pope Francis mentioned the “sacrifices” that are being required of parents and grandparents.
In a noteworthy section of his speech, the Pope said:
In order for the future to be good, it is therefore necessary to take care of families, especially young families, assailed by worries that risk paralyzing their life plans. I am thinking of the bewilderment caused by the uncertainty of work, of the fears caused by the increasingly unaffordable costs of raising children: these are fears that can swallow up the future, they are quicksand that can sink a society. I also think, with sadness, of women at work who are discouraged from having children or who have to hide their tummies. How is it possible that a woman should feel ashamed for the most beautiful gift that life can offer? Not the woman, but society should be ashamed, because a society that does not welcome life stops living. Children are the hope that lets a people be born again! At last, in Italy, it has been decided to make into law an allowance, defined as unique and universal, for every child that is born. I express my appreciation to the authorities and hope that this allowance will meet the concrete needs of families, who have made and are making so many sacrifices, and will mark the start of social reforms that put children and families at the center. If families are not at the center of the present, there will be no future; but if families restart, everything restarts.
“If families are not at the center of the present, there will be no future”: This is a profoundly true statement that is quite comforting at a time when so many family values are demeaned and ridiculed.
Pope Francis listed the three thoughts he considers “useful” in the present demographic winter. First: “Every gift is received, and life is the first gift that everyone has received. No one can give it to himself. First of all, there was a gift. It is a before that in the course of life we forget, always intent on looking to the after, to what we can do and have. But first of all we received a gift and we are called to pass it on. And a child is the greatest gift for everyone and comes first. To a child, to every child, this word is attached: first. Just as a son is waited for and loved before he comes into the light, so we must put children first if we are to see the light again after the long winter.”
“We have forgotten the primacy of giving — the primacy of giving! — the source code of common living. This has happened above all in the more affluent, more consumerist societies. In fact, we see that where there are more things, there is often more indifference and less solidarity, more closure and less generosity,” he said. He also recalled that life is “the first gift of God.”
The Pope’s “second thought” revolved around “sustainability” and investing in education. He said:
In education, example does a lot. I’m also thinking of the worlds of entertainment and sports. It’s sad to see models who only care about appearing always beautiful, young, and fit. Young people do not grow thanks to the fireworks of appearance, they mature if attracted by those who have the courage to pursue big dreams, to sacrifice themselves for others, to do good to the world in which we live. And staying young doesn’t come from taking selfies and [doing] touch-ups, but from being able to look into the eyes of your children one day. Sometimes, however, the message goes out that being fulfilled means making money and success, while children seem almost like a distraction that should not hinder one’s personal aspirations. This mentality is gangrene for society and makes the future unsustainable.
In a vein more reminiscent of recent declarations regarding the health crisis which has so efficiently dashed the hopes of economic progress and independence of young people starting out in life, the Pope said: “Today, too, we find ourselves in a situation of restart, as difficult as it is full of expectations: we cannot follow short-sighted models of growth, as if preparing for tomorrow required only a few hasty adjustments. No, the dramatic birth rate figures and the frightening pandemic figures call for change and responsibility.”
Unfortunately, what is being pushed by the globalist authorities is consistently anti-family and anti-population, but the Pope did not recall that.
Lastly, the Pope asked for “structural solidarity”: “Just as we need generational sustainability, so we need structural solidarity. The spontaneous and generous solidarity of many has enabled many families, in these difficult times, to get by and cope with growing poverty. However, we cannot remain in the realm of the emergency and the temporary, it is necessary to give stability to the structures supporting families and helping births. What is needed are policies, economics, information, and culture that courageously promote childbirth.”
In this section of his speech, he called for “far-reaching, forward-looking family policies: not based on the search for immediate consensus, but on the growth of the common good in the long term.” He added, “Here lies the difference between managing public affairs and being good politicians. There is an urgent need to offer young people guarantees of sufficiently stable employment, security for their homes and incentives not to leave the country. It is a task that also closely concerns the world of economics: how wonderful it would be to see an increase in the number of entrepreneurs and companies that, in addition to producing profits, promote life, that are careful never to exploit people with unsustainable conditions and hours, that come to distribute part of the revenues to workers, with a view to contributing to priceless development, that of families! This is a challenge not only for Italy, but for many countries, often rich in resources, but poor in hope.”
Will these Estates General have any effect at all on the population which seems collectively so intent on avoiding the “risk” of childhood?
And how seriously will the Pope’s talk be taken, when it made not a single mention of abortion, contraception, divorce, and other issues, nor condemn the hedonistic lifestyle which has made a number of highly publicized women over forty have recourse to artificial procreation? Nor did the Pope speak of truly numerous families, who are necessary to preserve a healthy birthrate in any country because of the irrepressible number of women who choose not to marry for various reasons, or find no husband, and those who face the sadness of sterility or hypofertility.
The Pope concluded: “Dear friends, finally I would like to say the simplest and most sincere word: thank you. Thank you for the Estates General of Births, thank you to each one of you and to all those who believe in human life and in the future. Sometimes you will feel as if you are shouting in the desert, fighting against windmills. But go ahead, do not give up, because it is good to dream, to dream well and build the future. And without birth, there is no future. Thank you.”