Pope Francis Ducks the Population Issue

By John Seager | 18 June 2015
Population Connection

Editor’s note: John Seager is the President of Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth or ZPG), the largest grassroots population organization in the United States. He has written a letter for Population Connection about Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change, which fingers his church’s consistent unwillingness “to break the doctrinal chains that prevent the Vatican from recognizing the impacts of population growth”. This is a truly brilliant statement, worthy of wide distribution.

Pope Francis’ Papal Encyclical on Climate Change is more than 150 pages long with lots of commentary on climate, water scarcity, waste, the state of humanity, poverty, consumption, justice, morality and technology. But for all the encyclical’s reliance on peer-reviewed science and state of the art environmental analysis, there is only one brief mention by Pope Francis of the massive population growth that has overwhelmed many countries in the past 50 years as a direct result of Catholic teaching. And there are just 11 mentions of women. (Source: Pope’s climate change encyclical glosses over role of population growth / The Guardian) (Image: Dreamstime)

Dear Friend,

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

John Seager is the President and CEO of Population Connection. Before joining Population Connection, he was with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton Administration. A veteran of more than 50 political campaigns, Seager has published op/eds and articles on population growth for news outlets like Huffington Post, GlobalPost, and RH Reality Check.

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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  1. 6/23/15
    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

    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.”[45]

    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. End of quote

    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.

  2. I think the issue of overpopulation is too important to leave out of any area, be it politics, religion or even the books and movies we consume to entertain ourselves. For this reason, I have written a new political thriller on this very subject. Entitled 'The Hydra' it is the story of a man who invents an infertility virus which goes pandemic. He's caught and put on trial and the trial explores the issues of overpopulation in a suspenseful way.

    This is only my small contribution, but I do believe that starting a more vocal public debate on this issue is an important first step for us to find the right policy solutions to ensure our species goes from being an infestation to being a balanced part of the ecosystem on which it depends.


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