Pope Francis has been issuing all kinds of epic sounding messages including a new encyclical on the urgency of fixing our ailing planet’s climate.
There was massive press response to this recent one. Here is one article as reference: Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change, by Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein.
Those of us who have for years been recommending actions to limit human numbers were recently treated to an outstanding prescriptive message for His Holiness from the President of Population Connection, formerly known as Zero Population Growth of ZPG. Through its substantial network of contacts, Seager’s statement has been sent to some 480,000 recipients.
You can access PC’s web site and learn more about its program which has a main focus on educating young people about population and the environment. It is a lively site with many enlightening articles on improving our lives. www.popconnect.org
Here is what PC’s President, John Seager had to say:
While Pope Francis took a welcome step in the right direction with his just-released encyclical on climate change, he remains unwilling to break the doctrinal chains that prevent the Vatican from recognizing the impacts of population growth.
He dodged the population question by setting up a false dichotomy between those dedicated to “resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different” and unspecified “others” who “can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.” Only? No responsible observer believes that smaller families are a panacea. Of course, consumption matters. It is the Pope who is ducking the issue here.
Pope Francis goes on to claim that “developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health.’” Certainly, grants and loans are proffered for a wide variety of purposes. As head of a global institution that denies basic human rights (such as the right to marry) to those who fail to accept its edicts, Pope Francis is in no position to lecture others about “pressure.”
The Pope writes that to “blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.” Again, Pope Francis sets up a straw man. It is his own refusal to address population growth that is both obstinate and unrealistic.
Pope Francis states the “attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density, on both national and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste treatment, loss of resources and quality of life.”
According to the UN, Africa’s population may quadruple to four billion by 2100. How many millions will suffer and die because the Vatican places a higher value on doctrinal purity than on the lives of innocent people? This is not merely a matter of “complex regional situations,” as the Pope would have it. It’s a matter of life and death for millions of people and for so many others among what the Pope would term God’s creatures.”
Appreciation of the Pope’s stand on climate change must be tempered by a recognition that, as the head of an institution wholly governed by men, he has yet to recognize that, without access to modern contraception, women remain prisoners of medieval ideology.
John Seager, President
When I wrote to Mr Seager to compliment him on this powerful statement, he responded with comments some of which I now offer:
This Pope seems like an improvement in some ways over his immediate predecessors, but, with popes, one must grade on a very sharp curve.
Were he to invite me to lunch, I’d ask him to reconcile his comments about population with the following language elsewhere in his encyclical:
“This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that ‘an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed.’”
Humane Vitae, the 1968 encyclical against artificial contraception, is based on the premise that the purpose of sex is procreation:
Observing the Natural Law
11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, “noble and worthy.” (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (12)
Endnote 12 references: CASTI CONNUBII
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XI
ON CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE (1930) which states:
54. But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.
55. Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, “Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it.”
That endnote in turn references the writings of St. Augustine. I can’t read what Augustine wrote about this topic in Latin since my two years of that language are about a half century in the past, and it would take much more study than that to read Augustine. The one English translation I could find rendered the text cited by Pope Pius quite differently than in his encyclical. But the gist of both versions is that the purpose of marriage is procreation, that (as I read Augustine) not having sex is better than having sex, but it’s OK if one is married. But seeking to prevent procreation is wrong.
I could go on, but delving into Catholic theology in depth would take years, if not decades, and I’ve gone as far down this rabbit hole as time permits.
Clearly, with tongue in cheek and condoms at the ready, as the PC’s site tells of its ardent commitment to open sex education for youngsters, he need not tell us that nearly all of the Pope’s parishioners in the US do not follow his strictures. Sadly, far too many of them lack access to modern methods or even education about them. Even in the USA, the Guttmacher Institute reports that 49% of the children born to American women in 2013 were unintended and nearly 500,000 women resorted to abortions.
Let me again point out the power of what Seager wrote in his statement to his constituency.
First, it is clear that making such a statement shows both great perspicacity as well as great leadership in writing about Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change. And Seager says it all in one pithy page!
I am delighted that the Church and State web site finds this truly insightful statement worthy of wide distribution.
While the author generously gave the Pope a tip of the hat for taking “a welcome step”, he immediately fingered Francis’ tribe’s consistent unwillingness “to break the doctrinal chains that prevent the Vatican from recognizing the impacts of population growth”.
And then he hit on exactly the “false dichotomy between those dedicated to ‘resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different’ and unspecified ‘others’ who ‘can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.’”
As noted at the outset, many of us long time battlers in the population arena are not surprised!!
Then, the Pope claims “developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health.’” It is an utterly false canard, as Melinda Gates learned in her extensive travels in developing nations, when she asked those women what they needed most, many said access to family planning. At one point a woman offered Mrs. Gates her recently born baby because the woman had other children and couldn’t care for the new one! A powerful message to Mrs. Gates, a practicing Catholic, who took that experience to heart and changed the direction of the Gates Foundation to provide family planning widely.
Great example for Francis to follow.
Of course, the record of the Catholic Church with basic human rights including the right to marry and the treatment of youngsters in RC churches gives Francis no standing to lecture anyone.
As Seager says when the Pope writes that to “blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues,” he does indeed set up “a straw man.”
Not enough of those leaders involved in the field of reproductive rights have had the courage to say as Seager does, “It is his own refusal to address population growth that is both obstinate and unrealistic.”
And then underline the Pope’s continuing obfuscation when, as the author notes, “Francis states the ‘attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density, on both national and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste treatment, loss of resources and quality of life.’” Ye, gods, what Jesuit rhetoric!
We know about the huge projected population growth, more intense in Africa than elsewhere but no responsible expert believes we can reach 11 billion without massive deaths and disorders.
However, to me, the strongest and most powerful lines in Seager’s statement come when he predicts what already has happened and will happen in the future, “How many millions will suffer and die because the Vatican places a higher value on doctrinal purity than on the lives of innocent people? This is not merely a matter of ‘complex regional situations,’ as the Pope would have it. It’s a matter of life and death for millions of people and for so many others among what the Pope would term God’s creatures.”
I wish I had written that statement!
His final paragraph hits hard as well. “Appreciation of the Pope’s stand on climate change must be tempered by a recognition that, as the head of an institution wholly governed by men, he has yet to recognize that, without access to modern contraception, women remain prisoners of medieval ideology.”
After reading this statement, I found it most interesting to explore PC’s excellent web site which offers many cogent ideas and educational articles on the urgent need to limit our numbers, help our environment and encourage human behavior that is not destructively impacted by religious views that are both antiquated and dangerous.
It is to be hoped that the present Pope will enhance the good works which the Catholic Church now offers by issuing a new encyclical which will overturn the disastrous 1968 Humanae Vitae from Pope Paul VI, so that full reproductive freedom can be embraced without guilt by Francis’ flock.
Back in 1991, the NGO Don Collins founded in 1976, International Services Assistance Fund (ISAF), co-produced a TV quality 22-minute film called “Whose Choice?” which Ted Turner arranged to broadcast on September 21, 1992 in prime time on his then independent Turner Broadcast System (TBS). Other outlets such as PBS and several of its affiliates Collins and his colleagues contacted then refused to run it because of its forthright treatment of the abortion issue, arguing for all women’s right to choose not to have a baby. ISAF has made a new edition of that DVD. The purpose for reissuing this 3rd version of “Whose Choice?” was simply to show the historical urgency that attended those times, still blocked and attacked over 40 years after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. This video is available for public viewing for the first time.
John Seager: World Population, the Environment and Social Equity (AHA Conference 2015)
Professor Paul Ehrlich: Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?
What Melinda Gates would tell the Pope
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