The Church's Position Regarding the UN Population Conference

Author: J. Michael Venditti


All of you are probably aware that the United Nations is sponsoring an international conference in Cairo on the subject of population control; most of you are probably aware that the proposed draft of the resolution that the conference members will be considering has been pointedly criticized by the Vatican; some of you may be aware that the Holy See has singled out the United States as the chief instigator of those provisions in the draft that it considers morally repugnant; but, it's a sure bet that none of you are aware of exactly what the objections of the Catholic Church are to this draft resolution, or what the Catholic Church is trying to say on this subject. The reason you're not aware of that is because the major networks and cable news companies, which are, after all, puppets of the current administration, have conspired to keep this information from you. The news media report on the Catholic Church only when they see an opportunity to portray the Church as a group on the fringe of the mainstream of society, unyielding in its dogma, undemocratic in its authoritarianism, unappealing in every way. To make their stories digestible, the media tend to boil every story down to its least common denominator; so, rather than give a complete and nuanced presentation of Catholic teaching, they simply inform us that the Church is causing trouble at the conference because of its rigid stance on contraception and abortion, and leave it at that. The impression given is one of a static, monolithic institution which is out of touch with the problems of the day, and which cares more about preserving its obscure and rigorous dogmas than it does about helping people. As you have already guessed, I have set myself today to the task of informing you of the truth, correcting the lies told to you on television, and defending the teaching of the Church. If you are one of the millions of cafeteria Catholics, those who like to pick and choose from the teaching of the Church only what they want to believe, then you won't like what you hear. If, on the other hand, you believe that the Church has received from Christ the authority to teach on moral matters, and is guided by the Holy Spirit in doing so, you will be interested.

We should begin by recognizing that the question of population control is nothing new in our epoch. Plato, in the Republic, and even more strongly in the Laws, called for a static population as necessary to maintaining a high quality of life. Aristotle agreed, but sought to temper Plato's idea by suggesting that superfluous children should not be killed outright, because that would be murder, but they should rather be abandoned in the wilderness so that their fate would be in the hands of the gods. But it's as well to remember that the problem hasn't always been seen as one of too many people: prior to the first World War, the alarm was being raised over the fear of not enough people; and well into this century, even in the 1930s, the growing practice of contraception was widely denounced--particularly in France--as making for "national suicide," this being chiefly seen in terms of not enough soldiers. And today, even amidst the current sensitivity over the alleged problem of over-population, France has embarked on an ambitious program, by means of financial incentives, to encourage families to have as many children as possible. The reason? Because a falling birth-rate causes a larger and ever-growing geriatric population to depend for support on a continually shrinking work force of younger citizens.

You may not be aware of this, but about ten years ago the United States, primarily due to the legalization of both contraception and abortion, succeeded in achieving zero population growth. Since then, our birth-rate, compared with the survival rate of our elderly, has dropped into negative numbers. This does not mean that our population is static; it does mean that our old people now far outnumber our young people, and the gap is becoming wider. Now, if this doesn't appear to you to be a problem, just think of it in terms of your social security benefits. You are aware, of course, that when you pay into social security, you aren't paying into a type of bank account from which you will draw later; the money you pay into social security now is being used to pay the benefits of those who are retired now. When you retire your money will have already been spent; you're benefits will be paid by the young people who are working when you retire. And as the number of people in the work force continues to shrink and the number of people demanding benefits continues to grow, it becomes more and more difficult to keep the system solvent. I don't know if you've every watched "Adam Smith's Money World," but if do, you may be aware that many economists believe that by the time my generation reaches the age of 65--and I'm 37 years old--, there won't be any benefits for us. For the small number of young people that will be in the work force to support my generation when we're 65, they'd have to fork over two-thirds of their salary to social security. And you can bet they're not going to do that. By the year 2050--which is not that far off--many economists believe there will be no such thing as social security. It will simply become impossible for so few people to provide benefits for so many. You might want to keep that in mind as Congress debates this idea of universal health care. If the social security system is already doomed to collapse in upon itself, then what effect will a nationalized health care plan have? That's one of the reasons that many European countries, who have had the kind of health plan the president wants, are now abandoning those plans in favor of the kind of privatized system we've had for years. They simply can't afford it anymore. There just aren't enough people in the work force to pay for it.

But, this is a homily at Mass, and it's more appropriate to focus on the spiritual than the political. And the objections of the Vatican to the proposed draft to be considered in Cairo are not based on a concern for the economy. They are based upon what we know about the sanctity of human life as revealed by God in the Scriptures and in the teaching of the Church. Now, when you say that, many people will react by saying, "Doesn't your belief in the sanctity of human life require you to be concerned for those in poverty? Isn't it necessary to do something to help alleviate to suffering of the poor?" The answer, of course, is "Yes." The problem is with regard to the means.

First, we have to clear the air of some myths; and the first myth we need to dispense with is the notion that there isn't enough space on the planet for five billion people. Any elementary student of geography can tell you that that's not so. Our population hasn't yet reached five billion; but, if you were to take five billion people and stand them shoulder to shoulder, back to chest, in one spot, they wouldn't cover half of Long Island. Even in our own country, where we have millions of people crammed into large cities like so many cattle, we also have large tracts of uncultivated land in our mid-west that are standing idle and empty. Space is not the problem.

More to the point, perhaps, is the myth that there aren't enough resources on the planet to support any more people. This is a myth almost universally accepted by most people, and which is supported by the fact that there are people all over the world that are starving. When you see people in third world countries who are starving, it's very easy to conclude that there are just too many people in the world. But is that, in fact, the truth? You realize, of course, that most people do not have more than one set of clothing; most people have never seen an automobile let alone owned one; most people in the world have no concept of things such as air conditioning, refrigeration, a daily bath, central heat in winter, paved roads, tooth paste, permanent press, books, electricity, etc. You do understand, I hope, that almost 90% of the world's wealth and natural resources are in the hands of less than 2% of the world's population. And even though you may not consider your financial situation to be the best, and may even consider yourself to have fallen on hard times--out of work or whatever--, the fact is that you are part of that 2%. If you have never gone hungry, or lost a child to starvation or malnutrition, then you are one of the world's wealthy. Most people in the world cannot make that claim.

Now, consider the United Nations proposal for dealing with this problem: rather than redistributing the wealth of the world so that more of the world's people share in more of the world's resources, the United Nations proposes, instead, to provide the poor with family planning and abortion. It other words, we will eradicate poverty by eliminating the poor. This way, the white, 2% minority that controls 90% of the world's resources, can assuage their guilty consciences and say they've dealt with poverty without sacrificing one iota of what they have. Instead of sending food to the third world, we throw condoms at them; and that way everyone gets to eat their nice big dinners on Thanksgiving Day with a clear conscience. On the surface we are told that the concern here is for the poor; in reality, the real concern that motivates those who constantly cry about the problem of over-population is the maintenance of their own comparatively opulent standard of living. Listen carefully, and they will betray it themselves, every time you hear a population liberal use the phrase "quality of life." And don't think that I'm being a communist here. The privileges that we enjoy in the Western world are excellent things, and I wish everyone could enjoy them; but, the fact that most people in most parts of the world do not enjoy them does not make life in those places not worth living. What it does is impose an obligation on me, who has much, to share what I have with those who have less. That's from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The irony here is that the people who are the subject of the population conference in Cairo are the very individuals who have not been invited to participate. Don't think for a moment that the people you see on television, in places like India, Ethiopia, Rwanda, etc., are in anyway desirous of receiving family planning from the West. They come, after all, from cultures that value children and family life, even if they're not Christian. To them population control is not the answer; us giving them some of what we have is.

So when some commentator on the evening news gives you the impression that the Vatican is agitating at the Cairo conference because it simply is trying to defend it's dogmas or is somehow lost in time, remind yourself of the facts. The Vatican is agitating in Cairo because it refuses to accept the notion that people are a problem. Poverty is a problem. The unequal distribution of wealth in the world is a problem. Starvation and famine are problems. People are never a problem. You do not eliminate people's problems by eliminating them.

Population control is nothing more than a cheaper alternative to charity; a "final solution," to use Hitler's words, which the rich white nations of the world want to impose on the poor black and brown nations of the world; a way to assuage our consciences without sacrificing our privileges. If it is allowed to continue, it will become a sin crying to Heaven for vengeance, if we, in our fat gin-sodden affluence, instruct the poor to have fewer babies and not to reproduce in such unmanageable and unsightly quantities. I hope, during this Mass, that you will join me in praying, with our Holy Father, Pope John Paul, that the truth about the sanctity of life will be heard in Cairo, and that the United Nations, supported by our president, will be prevented from carrying out its "final solution."