My Google Alerts for the subject of “overpopulation” are always filled with articles, op-ed pieces and blog postings from the Philippines. I don’t usually pay them much mind since I barely have time to deal with items in the U.S. But this article is noteworthy because it’s a pretty good summary of the Church’s position on birth control and reveals some little known facts about just how close the church came to approving birth control and population management during Vatican II in the 1960’s. Before I go further, as a frame of reference, you should know that the Philipines is a very densely populated and poor country, with 717 people per square mile and a per capita GDP of only $5,000 (compared to a population density of only 83 people per square mile and a per capita GDP of $40,000 in the U.S.). So it’s only natural that they are very concerned about the subject of overpopulation.
Here’s a brief summary of the Church’s current postion on birth control:
Although the Catholic Church believes that sexual intercourse should only be engaged in by heterosexual married couples for the purpose of procreation and never for recreation, the Church does not oppose birth control. But the Church will only support the natural family planning (NFP) method of birth control.
The article includes an excellent example of how overpopulation is perpetuated by those ignorant of its causes and effects:
Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Lito Atienza, an avowed devout Roman Catholic and head of Pro-Life Philippines, believes that a population boom will pave the way for prosperity, and birth rates will drop as a by-product of wealth.
It’s difficult to imagine that there are those in power, supposedly educated people, who still believe such things – that we can escape the effects of overpopulation by further expanding it.
Now here’s the part that I think is important for all Catholics to read:
… the Roman Catholic Church was very close to changing its moral position on sex and birth control when the Second Vatican Council was convened in the early 1960s to reexamine church teaching on this issue. Began by Pope John XXIII, and continued by his successor, Pope Paul VI, the Vatican created a Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control, composed of 15 cardinals and bishops and 64 lay experts representing a variety of disciplines.
After a two-year exhaustive study, the Papal Commission voted decisively, 69 to 10, to change the Church’s anachronistic position on birth control. Unfortunately, the minority report was written by the Polish archbishop, Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. When he became Pope, he adopted his own report and rejected any change in the Church’s position.
In his minority report, Archbishop Wojtyla warned: “If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930.” It should likewise have to be admitted that for half a century the Spirit failed to protect the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error.
This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned.
Face and Papal infallibility trumped all other considerations.
Thus, the Church’s current position on birth control is a matter of saving face for the Church. But as the problems of the world intensify – food and energy shortages, environmental degradation and ever-rising unemployment and poverty – is the Church’s attempt at saving face being trumped by a growing perception that it’s still mired in the Dark Ages?