What the Catholic Church really teaches about population control
December 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Has the Catholic Church suddenly joined mainstream ‘climate change’ doomsayers who push for global population control that they say will save the environment, save numerous animals verging on extinction, and ultimately save the planet? If you listen to recent statements from the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, or the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, you might think so.
One month prior to Pope Francis’ May 2015 release of Laudato Si, an encyclical in which he calls all people of the world to take "swift and unified global action” against environmental degradation and what he calls “global warming,” the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences asserted that there is a knowable sustainable global population, and that the common good requires maintaining that number as a level population.
"During the last two centuries, however, our numbers have grown at an unprecedented rate from one billion to more than seven billion people, with expectations for ever-increasing consumption rising even faster than the populations themselves.... To save as much of the sustainable fabric of the world as possible, we need to take many steps, among them reaching a level and sustainable population,” stated a text prepared by 12 authors including controversial ‘climate change’ activists Jeffrey Sachs and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.
Earlier this month — in relation to the UN climate change talks in Paris — Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that Pope Francis “has called for a certain amount of control of birth,” while specifying that this would not include methods like the birth control pill.
The Cardinal referred to people as “mouths to feed.” He later back peddled on his comment, stating that he regretted using the term “birth control” when what he meant was spacing of births or “responsible parenthood.”
These two statements stand in stark contrast to positions on population control taken by the Church and various popes in the past 65 years.
‘God's gift to man’
Instead of seeing people as ‘mouths to feed,’ ‘pollution producers,’ or ‘carbon footprint makers,’ the Church sees each and every person as a unique and unrepeatable gift from God who is made in the image and likeness of God, who is filled with the greatest dignity and transcendence as a son or daughter of God, and who is ultimately called to eternal beatitude in the Kingdom of God.
Humans utterly surpass all other creatures in excellence and dignity because of their supreme calling and final end in God. The Church has always viewed humans as the pinnacle of creation, the splendor of the cosmos, and a special revelation of God’s glory.
The Church has always defended the natural family founded on marriage between one man and one woman as integral to every kind of human flourishing. Saint John Paul II emphasized this point in his pontificate time and again by calling the family the first and vital cell of society.
Demographic questions ultimately affect the family with regard to the freedom and responsibility of married couples in their God-given task of being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth (Gen. 1:28).
In answer to the dire “population bomb” scares of 5-6 decades ago that never materialized, the Church and her popes emphasized anthropological principles and moral norms in reference to a couple and the size of their family that must be upheld if human dignity is to be honored and respected. Here are some highlights of what they said.
• 1961, Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra. He speaks about the problems of food and demographic trends. “But whatever be the situation, we clearly affirm that these problems should be posed and resolved in such a way that man does not have recourse to methods and means contrary to his dignity, which are proposed by those persons who think of man and his life solely in material terms.”
• 1965, Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes. The Vatican II Fathers, in relation to population trends, advocate the right and duty of “responsible parenting” in relation to the “signs of the times.” “It is the married couple themselves who must in the last analysis arrive at these judgements before God,” they state.
• 1965, Pope Paul VI, address to the U.N. General Assembly. “You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not rather favor an artificial control of birth, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.”
• 1967, Pope Paul VI, encyclical Populorum Progressio. The pope states about demographic realities that public authorities can “intervene,” but only “within the limits of their competence,” such as by making available “appropriate information.” Any measure must “respect the rightful freedom of married. Where the inalienable right to marriage and procreation is lacking, human dignity has ceased to exist.” He makes it clear that it is parents alone who must “take a thorough look at the matter and decide upon the number of their children.”
• 1968, Pope Paul VI, encyclical Humanae Vitae. The pope affirms the couple’s mission of “responsible parenthood” in terms of respecting the “biological processes,” exerting control over the “tendencies of instinct and passion,” determining family size according to “physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions,” and above all, growing in a “more profound relationship to the objective moral order established by God.”
The pope warns rulers of countries to “not allow the morality of your peoples to be degraded; do not permit that by legal means practices contrary to the natural and divine law be introduced into the fundamental cell, the family. Quite other is the way in which public authorities can and must contribute to the solution of the demographic problem: namely, the way of a provident policy for the family, of a wise education of peoples, in respect of the moral law and the liberty of citizens.”
• 1980, Synod of the Family, Message to Christian Families in the Modern World. The bishops of the world condemn “violence to families” in the name of demographic solutions. “Often certain governments and some international organizations do violence to families…. Families are compelled — and this we oppose vehemently — to use such immoral means for the solution of social, economic, and demographic problems as contraception or, even worse, sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia.”
• 1981, Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. The pope critiques what he calls a “certain panic deriving from the studies of ecologists and futurologists on population growth, which sometimes exaggerate the danger of demographic increase to the quality of life.”
“But the Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God's goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life….Thus the Church condemns as a grave offense against human dignity and justice all those activities of governments or other public authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of couples in deciding about children.”
“Consequently, any violence applied by such authorities in favor of contraception or, still worse, of sterilization and procured abortion, must be altogether condemned and forcefully rejected. Likewise to be denounced as gravely unjust are cases where, in international relations, economic help given for the advancement of peoples is made conditional on programs of contraception, sterilization and procured abortion.”
• 1987, Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. The pope notes how demographic growth is compatible with “orderly development” and calls “systematic campaigns against birth” a “form of oppression.”
“One cannot deny the existence, especially in the southern hemisphere, of a demographic problem which creates difficulties for development. One must immediately add that in the northern hemisphere the nature of this problem is reversed: here, the cause for concern is the drop in the birthrate, with repercussions on the aging of the population, unable even to renew itself biologically. In itself, this is a phenomenon capable of hindering development. Just as it is incorrect to say that such difficulties stem solely from demographic growth, neither is it proved that all demographic growth is incompatible with orderly development.”
“On the other hand, it is very alarming to see governments in many countries launching systematic campaigns against birth, contrary not only to the cultural and religious identity of the countries themselves but also contrary to the nature of true development. It often happens that these campaigns are the result of pressure and financing coming from abroad, and in some cases they are made a condition for the granting of financial and economic aid and assistance. In any event, there is an absolute lack of respect for the freedom of choice of the parties involved, men and women often subjected to intolerable pressures, including economic ones, in order to force them to submit to this new form of oppression. It is the poorest populations which suffer such mistreatment, and this sometimes leads to a tendency towards a form of racism, or the promotion of certain equally racist forms of eugenics. This fact too, which deserves the most forceful condemnation, is a sign of an erroneous and perverse idea of true human development.”
• 1991, Pope John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The pope criticizes the “widespread opinion” that population control is the “easiest method” of solving the problem of availability of the world’s resources for its people.
“The urgency of the situation must not lead into error in proposing ways of intervening. To apply methods which are not in accord with the true nature of man actually ends up by causing tragic harm. For this reason, the Church, as an ‘expert in humanity’ upholds the principle of responsible parenthood and considers it her chief duty to draw urgent attention to the morality of the methods employed. These must always respect the person and the person’s inalienable rights.”
“Population growth has to be faced not only by the exercise of a responsible parenthood which respects divine law, but also by economic means which have a profound effect on social institutions.…People need to rediscover the moral significance of respecting limits; they must grow and mature in the sense of responsibility with regard to every aspect of life.…”
“It is the responsibility of the public authorities, within the limits of their legitimate competence, to issue directives which reconcile the containment of births and respect for the free and personal assumption of responsibility by individuals….”
“Man, ‘the only creature on earth whom God willed for its own sake’, is the subject of primordial rights and duties, which are antecedent to those deriving from social and political life. The human person is ‘the origin, the subject and the purpose of all social institutions’, and for this reason authorities must keep in mind the limits of their own competence. For her part, the Church invites the human family to plan its future, impelled not just by material concerns but also and especially by respect for the order which God has placed within creation.”
• 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace message. The Pope states that poverty in developing countries is often the result of an underdeveloped population, not because of overpopulation. "In other words, population is proving to be an asset, not a factor that contributes to poverty," the Pope said.
“Poverty is often considered a consequence of demographic change. For this reason, there are international campaigns afoot to reduce birth-rates, sometimes using methods that respect neither the dignity of the woman, nor the right of parents to choose responsibly how many children to have; graver still, these methods often fail to respect even the right to life. The extermination of millions of unborn children, in the name of the fight against poverty, actually constitutes the destruction of the poorest of all human beings.”
• 2015, Pope Francis, encyclical Laudato Si. The pope lays out a “human ecology” in which he argues that it is impossible to effectively care for the environment without first working to defend human life. He criticizes population control as an appropriate means to fighting climate change or general environmental degradation.
“Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate….Yet ‘while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.’ To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”
‘Popes cannot subscribe to alarmist views’
In these highlights from the Church and popes in the past 60 years on the topic of demographics, the golden thread running through all of them is an understanding of the sacred nature of human life which is a gift to the world from God the creator, from conception to natural death. In all these statements, the Church emphasizes the parents’ responsibility to transmit human life and determine appropriate family size, parental rights, human freedom, and the crucial role of marriage and family life to a flourishing society.
Reflecting on papal teaching on the demographic question, the Pontifical Council for the Family stated in 1994: “In answer to the supporters of population control and without denying realities, the Church takes the part of justice by defending the rights of women and men, of families and young people and those called with the beautiful term “nascituri,” i.e., babies who have been conceived and are yet to be born and have the right to be born. Noting how population control can in no way be a substitute for the true development, the Popes affirm the rights of all people to profit from the abundant resources of the earth and human intelligence.”
The Pontifical Council stated at that time that because population control movements are often ideologically driven the “popes cannot subscribe to alarmist views concerning the different world population trends.” Because of this, the “popes have regarded what is sometimes called the ‘population crisis’ only with great prudence,” the Council stated at that time.
For Pope John Paul II, the world’s potentialities along with human ingenuity are more than sufficient to satisfy present and future human need.
“Indeed, besides the earth, man's principal resource is man himself. His intelligence enables him to discover the earth's productive potential and the many different ways in which human needs can be satisfied,” he wrote in in his 1991 encyclical Centesiumus Annus. “Man…is God's gift to man.”