12/15/2004, 00.00
VATICAN - PHILIPPINES
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Cardinal Lopez Trujillo: a more humane economy is the real challenge faced by States

by Lorenzo Fazzini

With the collapse of the "demographic myth", policies like those being put forward by Manila encouraging unnatural birth control are unacceptable.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The challenge facing states today is that of being able to create more humane economies that respond to the needs of families.  In an interview with AsiaNews, Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, stresses that, with the demise of the "demographic myth" and its predictions of a highly overcrowded world not able to withstand its population, other problems have emerged such as the so-called "demographic winter" which has hit wealthy countries, including European nations.  Taking his cue from the "unacceptable" two-child law being proposed in the Philippines, Cardinal Lopez says that, with the new realities that the United Nations is also acknowledging, the Church expects States to make political choices that tackle the problems of poverty, without however advancing outdated policies aimed at limiting births.

Though it is by now clear that concerns for excessive increments in population were unfounded, some states continue to promote programmes aimed at limiting births.  In the Philippines for example a "two-child law" has been proposed, by which the State must gratify those families that set themselves limits on the number of children they have, since, the reasoning goes, demographic growth is a "cause of poverty" in the country, therefore population growth must be limited, even through the subsidization of companies producing birth control products.

The demographic policies of a State -- Cardinal Lopez Trujillo replies -- must have a profound sense of realism and responsibility, with constant and due respect for the interests, good, and freedom of the family.  In terms of realism, it must be emphasized that, fortunately, the demographic myth has undergone a profound change, so that today there is no longer any reason to be bridled by the unwarranted fears of past years.  We need to recognize, in the name of objectivity in relation to demographic policies, that the Malthusian theories, by which population grows at a geometric rates and resources at an arithmetic rate, no longer stands up to basic critique.  Data over recent years show that the basic presumptions that were once held to be reliable and scientifically based, today are no longer so.  It is very interesting to see how this is recognized by the United Nations itself, and specifically by its Population Division.  Last September 27, Newsweek magazine published a number of pages on data taken from various studies that induce this sort of reflection (pp 56-53).  Our own experts around the world have also been holding for some time that this demographic myth had collapsed, and that today there are other challenges.  In Europe, for example, there is the so-called "demographic winter".  Nations cannot have a future this way and will suffer a tragic loss of population that constitutes, as has been said, suicide.

But don't you also think that it is necessary to take into account differing realities?

It is well worth examining the various situations around the world.  It could well be that in some, as is the case of the Philippines, there still exists a certain amount of pressure and a real, local challenge is being faced.  But in such cases demographers must make a special effort to carry out a real evaluation of the problem, in accordance to economic, political and cultural means.

What are the problems arising from the collapse of the demographic myth?

This question would need a long answer.  But 10 years ago, predictions were that, by the year 2025, the world's population would be as high as 11.5 billion.  There was also an average forecast which was lower.   Instead, today, in all reality, no demographer thinks along the lines of the worries of past years, but rather along the lines of Professor Gérard François Dumont of the Sorbonne, and also the French Demographic Institute: they hold that a population of 9 billion will not even be reached by 2100.  So, concerning the possibility that I mentioned regarding 2025, today it is highly held that we will not even reach a figure of 8 billion.  The difference between what was expected in the past and what can be responsibly expected today is considerable.

Going back to Newsweek magazine which made reference to very recent U.N. data, it is interesting to see some very significant aspects. The report says that Europe as a whole and neighbouring countries have a total fertility rate of 1.4 on average (p. 58).  At one time, Europe's population pyramid was normal and regular, with a wide base and narrow peak.  Today, this pyramid is being turned upside down, as various studies have shown, in the sense that, as Professor Dumont says, the base is losing its width and the peak is broadening, with all the related problems arising from this: the future holds a heavy burden for the few young people who will have to support an immense population of elderly people.

There are also other realities such as China's.

The situation in China must be looked at carefully: its fertility rate went from 5.8 in 1970, to about 1.3.  According to Newsweek, UN data predicts that, as of 2050, population figures will drop by somewhere between 20 and 30% with every generation (p. 59).  For a nation with one of the world's greatest population growth, this reduction with be highly significant.  In various nations today, the intention of governments is to instead help families to invert predictions on demographic collapse – this is the case in France, Holland, Scandinavia, Singapore etc.

The "two-child law" is being proposed in a country, the Philippines, which is famously Catholic.  Birth control theories are taking hold in a country which is profoundly influenced by Catholicism: what do you make of that?

It seems likely that what has happened in many nations will happen in the Philippines as well, which is to say progressive population reduction.  There will still be growth in the short run.  But subsequently, as is happening globally, the situation will stabilize and then take a downturn.   We are well aware that the Catholic Church does not ask, in an uncritical and irresponsible way, that people have more children, but to guarantee the responsibility of spouses so that they reply to their procreative mission, in all its true humanity, taking into account their means for ensuring that their children have an education and security in terms of health, lodgings, eventual work, etc.  It is also well known that, under serious circumstances, spouses can resort to natural methods, which the Holy Father has referred to on various occasions (cf. especially Familiaris Consortio 35 and 72, Evangelium Vitae 88 and 97, and Catechism of the Catholic Church 2370; cf. also publications of the Pontifical Council for the Family, especially Natural Methods for the Regulation of Fertility: Authentic Alternatives, Vita e Pensiero Publisher, Milan 1994).  The most important problem is to ensure that the state knows how to act as such, that it knows how to create a more humane economy and one that is more conducive to the needs of family.

Some say that having fewer children is a way to fight poverty.

The greater poverty is the birth of children outside the family context.  This is the challenge of poverty which in some cases amounts to utter misery.  But hardships should not cause spouses to reject the responsibility of their mission to have the children that, before God and their conscience and with the criteria offered by the Church, they can.

It seems to me that to set a limit, as a demographic policy of the State, of two children per family, does not correspond to the duties of the State, but to the responsibility of spouses, who must always be helped by the state in their mission.

According to the Philippine's draft law, the country's poverty is caused by demographic growth.  How can it be made understood that one does not fight poverty with methods that go against the human person and human life?

It is an unacceptable approach, as demographers and economists have shown.  It is the failure of a State policy, a convenient distribution, a humane globalization.  And often wars and a certain corruption in various countries are the causes of difficulties.  Demographers should be able to examine more concretely the situation in the Philippines, free of the temptation to impose inhumane birth control against the soul and the religious culture of a Catholic population, something that government authorities cannot overlook.

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