By John-Henry Westen

ROME, January 31, 2006 ( – The UK Ambassador to the Vatican got an earful from a Vatican Cardinal at a Rome conference ten days ago for refusing to acknowledge facts about fertility decline and its serious implications.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the President of the Pontifical Council on the Family was the keynote speaker at the conference titled “The Family in the New Economy: Reflections on the Margins on Centesimus Annus”. The conference, sponsored by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, was also addressed by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, a Senior Fellow in Economics at the Institute.

Morse presented the facts on the below-replacement fertility rates for the whole of Europe and the dire social and economic consequences that would ensue. In an article based on her talk she wrote: “The fertility rates in the western industrialized countries are well below the replacement rate of 2.1 babies per woman. For the European Union as a whole, the estimated 2005 fertility rate was 1.47 babies per woman. In some countries, the rate is even lower. However, in France, approximately one birth in three is to a Muslim family. Stripped of the Muslim influence, the fertility rate of the native-born or traditionally European French would be 1.2, similar to the rates in Italy and Spain.” (see the full write-up here:Â )

In a column, describing events at the conference, Morse writes, “Some, who were involved in politics in their respective countries, claimed that my analysis had nothing to do with their countries. The demographic situation wasn’t nearly so dire. And anyway, the non-dire fertility decline would surely be solved by state programs providing family support.”Â

National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent John Allen was on hand at the conference and reports that the doubting Thomas was none other than Francis Campbell, the Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the Holy See. Campbell, reports Allen, said that fertility rates were cyclical and the current state reflects such a cycle.

For her part, Morse offered a conciliatory response, but she recalls, “Cardinal Lopez Trujillo wouldn’t have any part of that.”

The Cardinal supported her findings with statistical data accumulated by the Vatican. “He assured the audience that his office at the Pontifical Council on the Family had been gathering world-wide demographic data for a long time. The trends were absolutely as devastating . . . Fertility rates have been falling for decades. Differences in state support for families made some difference, but not a significant difference in fertility rates. This is not a short-term phenomenon that can be easily reversed. Rather, the decline in fertility is a complex phenomenon in which economic incentives and cultural attitudes are deeply intertwined,” reports Morse.

Allen records some of the words used by Cardinal Trujillo in response to Campbell’s remarks. Trujillo insisted upon the “frightening fact” of demographic trends in Europe, reports Allen.

“We are realizing the worst prophecies of aging and demographic implosion, and European politicians are seeing this with alarm,” said the Cardinal. “The myth of over-population has collapsed.”

Reflecting on the exchange Morse writes, “I thought to myself, it isn’t every day that I have a Cardinal to take my part in a debate. And not only that, but the churchman was taking a much more realistic position than the politicians. While much of the secular world assumes religious people are pie-in-the-sky-dreamy-eyed, here it was the politicians who were whistling past the graveyard, dodging reality at all costs. The Cardinal was taking the long-term view, facing the problem on its own terms, which includes both economics and attitudes.”