Catholics and fertility rates

15 March 2013 | Leicester Mercury

(Headline by Leicester Mercury)

Global birth rates are down, but are hardly in free-fall

“The truth is fertility rates globally are in free-fall” writes Francisca Martinez. (‘Population problem does not even exist’ Mailbox March 6th). I wonder. In 1965-1970 the world fertility rate, expressed as children per woman, was 4.85, and in 2005-2010 it was 2.52. Can this be called free-fall?

Much of this fall is due to China where, over the same 40 years, the rate really has been in free-fall from 5.94 to 1.64. And some is due to Brazil – the world’s most populous Catholic country – where the rate fell from 5.38 to 1.9. That also might be called free-fall, and prosperity is on its way.

On the other hand, in those 40 years, the fertility rate fall in Africa and in several countries in the Middle East and elsewhere has been small: in Africa it fell from 6.68 to 4.64 children per woman; in Pakistan from 6.6 to 3.65; and in Afghanistan from 7.7 to 6.62; and consequently, unless they obtain effective family planning, populations will double, and the great distress we see in these areas will continue.

Ms Martinez also notes that “contraception and the Catholic Church’s position on this” has come into the correspondence. The billions of words expended on this subject come down to this: The Vatican maintains that the use of artificial contraception is a grave sin, while the majority of Catholics – such as myself – believe it is not a sin at all.

This last statement is supported not only by the dramatic fertility rate fall in Brazil, where contraceptive use is similar to that in the UK, but also by the fact that Catholic countries such as Poland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Austria have fertility rates well below that of the United Kingdom.

On population, the most authoritative teaching for Catholics comes in Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical ‘The Progress of Peoples’ where, after warning us of the dangers of the accelerated rate of population growth, he writes: “it is for parents to take a thorough look at the matter and decide upon the number of their children. This is an obligation they take upon themselves, before their children already born, and before the community to which they belong”

It could hardly be put better.