Faith, Religion, Culture, and Population
June 23, 2015
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Desmond Tutu, Former Anglican Archbishop of CapeTown
...Ayatollah Ali Khomenei
August 09 , 2012, This is Kent
The Christian church's record on teaching sexual morality is patchy.
While Jesus taught the indissolubility and exclusivity of marriage, quite early in Christian history some Church leaders began to show a distaste for sexual intercourse which has had damaging results. They taught that celibacy was a higher way of life than marriage, and that sexual intercourse should be undertaken solely and exclusively for the procreation of children. They excluded the possibility that sexual union might be undertaken simply as an expression of affection and intimacy.
While few people today would argue that celibacy is superior to marriage, but there is still some disagreement over the place of sexual intercourse.
Nearly all Christian denominations teach that sexual union within marriage has a wider function that the production of children, but the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church adds that nothing artificial must be done to prevent conception.
Anything beyond planning a family by "natural" means - such as avoiding intercourse at times when the woman is most fertile - is sinful.
Very few Roman Catholics in western countries feel bound by their church's teaching in this respect; and they use artificial contraceptives, but in the developing world the teaching has what many would see as a damaging effect.
An initiative recently begun by the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide family planning facilities for many millions of women who were previously denied them was intended to prevent unwanted pregnancies which often endanger the mother's health or produce another mouth which it will prove hard to feed.
But official Roman Catholic church strenuously resists initiatives of this kind, both on grounds of doctrine and by arguing that the money involved could be better spent in other ways.
Many Christians take another view, saying that it has been conceded that sexual intercourse has a wider purpose than procreation it is hard to see why artificial contraception within marriage should be forbidden.
Jesus All About ToleranceSeptember 2010, Sacremento Bee LTE by Margaret Loehr
Once again, fear and hatred mask themselves as religion and loudly encourages intolerance in the name of Jesus.
Jesus never mentioned homosexuality or abortion.
Nor did he ever suggest that there was a "right" religion or that the purpose of religion was to judge others and get them to do what we want them to do.
Rather, he taught tolerance for the divinity in all.
He railed against hypocrisy. He realized that the reason we condemn others is to distract ourselves from clearly seeing our own improprieties.
If we sincerely want to heal the woes of humanity, we cannot do it through hatred and intolerance. Our hope lies in our ability to move into acceptance of our own humanity and the humanity of others. Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Socrates, Gandhi, Jesus and many others all emphasized this simple message.
2000, New York Times*
Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and most of Judaism and Christianity see responsible parenthood in marriage, including the use of contraception, as a moral good. Highly respected religious leaders, including two Nobel laureates, have opened the door to admit abortion in some circumstances. Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu supported the South African constitutional provision legalizing abortion. And the Dalai Lama, while generally opposed to abortion, said in a New York Times Sunday Magazine profile, "I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to the circumstances." Indeed, in mainline Christianity, fairly widespread support exists for population stabilization (not a women's-rights issue) and for family planning and even abortion, as necessary, to save the planet.
January 2006, Bruce Sandquist
The population boom in Gulf countries in recent years is alarming. In order to meet the challenge to improve services for citizens, we must have balanced population growth.
We have to ask ourselves: Do we want more children just for the numbers? Do we have the mental, physical and the material capability to raise them? Do we have time for all of them? Are we able to cater to their emotional needs? With the rising number of handicapped children, many due to intermarriage between close relatives, are our educational and health services capable of providing them with the basic services they require?
As Muslims, we do believe that God provides for all. But God also expects us to use our reason and logic. I see in supermarkets, airports and public places the tired faces of women, some in their early 30s, dragging seven or eight screaming children along, snapping at them and occasionally slapping one of them. Last week, I saw a father twist the arm of his seven-year-old son as three younger siblings cowered in fear.
In a region where water scarcity is a major concern, our top priority should be to preserve our resources and balance our population in order to enhance the quality of life and ensure a better future for the younger generation.
The topics of contraception and sexual education are largely avoided in many Muslim countries. And many countries in the Middle East have laws against the purchase of oral contraceptive pills.
However, the Holy Quran does permit contraception as long as both partners consent, it's not permanent, and it doesn't cause bodily harm. Education is needed in order to change the perception of policy makers, and this education needs to be respectful of their traditional values while reassuring them of the benefits of making contraception available to young people.
Middle Eastern traditions and Shariah (Islamic) law dictate that pre-marital sex (even between consenting adults above the age of 18) is punishable by law. This often brands all contraceptive methods as instruments for having sex out of marriage. The uses, risks, and contraindications are not discussed and are unknown to adult women. The general view is that these topics promote sexual behavior among unmarried men and women.
Doctors are an exception and can provide contraceptive advice to married couples. Unmarried men and women have no access to contraceptive knowledge and are at risk of unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Unmarried pregnant women may even attempt suicide when they feel they have no options.
Also, emergency contraception is not widely available, which has led to an alarming rise in cases of fake and often dangerous pills that are purchased online.
Progress in introducing the topics of contraception and sex education may be slow, but every step forward is significant.The significance of providing contraception and improving overall healthcare must be linked. Experts will impart knowledge and train peer educators, to construct policies and to negotiate with government agencies.
Basic awareness-raising can begin through the Friday Islamic congregational prayer and the sermons, while keeping the Islamic law according to the Quran and Hadith in the forefront.
Peer educators also need to be selected on the basis of sex, nationality, language, and communication skills so they can be specifically tailored for specific groups, particularly with the men and women separately.
Feedback from participants is also important to help educators improve their teaching, answer the relevant questions, and dispel the common myths and misconceptions about contraception. Social media and the internet can also serve this purpose.
In Pakistan it is not uncommon for a man to have more than one wife and as many as 20 children, even though 70% of the country is largely illiterate and resides in rural areas lacking the most basic services, says the UN and even though 60% of Pakistanis living on just $2 per day, says the World Bank.
Akbar Laghari of Pakistan's Department of Population Welfare says large families are fueling a population explosion that is fast becoming the country's most dangerous crisis, having grown from around 33 million in 1947 to more than 180 million people in 2012, making it the sixth most populous country in the world.
Only 20% of Pakistani women use modern birth control and the UN estimates the country will become the world's third most populous country after China and India by 2050.
"I consider the population problem the biggest problem of this country," Laghari said. "The future is bleak because of this." He said the government has not done enough to offer effective family planning services and teach people about birth control. The government is not giving it top priority because of the political upheavals in the country and frequent changes in government.
With widespread poverty, an energy crisis, woeful public services, and a bloody, resource-draining insurgency, Pakistan can ill afford to see this rapid growth continue, Laghari warned.
Zeba Sathar, Pakistan country director for the Population Council, a non-profit organization that specializes in public health research in developing countries says many people are unable to make informed decisions because support services such as family planning are lacking. "The poor end up with many children because they don't have access to right kind of information." she said.
"We're doing a lot of research where women say 'we didn't want that many children,' or they wanted to have them later but they just didn't find the services. ... The philosophy is we're not into controlling the number of children. If you can bring up a healthy family with 20 children, kudos to you. It's a question of running out of resources. It's when the 15th one suffers."
In the case of the family with 20 children, the family can only afford to send four of their offspring to school, the rest have to work to support the family.
While Pakistan is a deeply conservative country where many view birth control as un-Islamic and some say "The process of reproduction will go on until God stops it. Why should a Muslim worry about the increase in population when God has taken responsibility for everyone's care?" - and women are deprived of the right to make important decisions such as whether to have a child - one the other hand, other Muslim countries with similar problems to Pakistan, including Bangladesh and Iran, have introduced measures to curb their growing populations. Those countries started with the political will to do something and spent a lot of time and resources on family planning efforts.
According to WHO Government field workers and satellite clinics were the two crucial elements in the campaign in Bangladesh - which saw its population grow from 75 million when it gained independence in 1971, to more than 142 million currently. There Family Welfare Assistants provide door-to-door visits giving millions of couples family planning support and sexual health education.
Until recently the subject of family planning in Niger was taboo, but commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union's top humanitarian-aid official, was pleasantly surprised this time to see a project teaching women about contraception and the importance of spacing births.
The local Imam where she visited "was quoting the Koran saying there's a verse that says there has to be time between the birth of children so the children and mother can recover and be strong."
The support of the local religious leaders at the health centre she visited in Bambey, in western Niger, was crucial for bringing down the high rate of population growth, she said. The growth was putting a strain on a country that is among the poorest in the world, that struggles with a harsh climate and is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Since independence in 1960, Niger's population has risen from less than 2 million to 15 million plus.
Now there is "remarkable openness to address family planning". "At the level of the president, prime minister, ministers and cabinet there's an openness to discussing family planning. There's an openness that 3.3-percent population growth is not sustainable," she added.
"There are already activities on the ground (for) family planning in a very community-based and respectful manner … The topic is not taboo anymore."
Mothers need to space their children to avoid back-to-back pregnancies which contribute to malnutrition and keep mothers weak. "That's where there is potential to work hand in hand with community leaders and religious leaders. It has to be culturally acceptable to work."
The annual hungry season in Africa's Sahel countries is expected to begin in late February or early March - several months earlier than usual. Aid agencies say between five and nine million people are at risk.
Talking about population growth in relation to food shortages is a sensitive issue, partly because large families are considered important in many cultures, particularly where people rely on their children to help on the land and to support them in old age.
Many argue that the real causes of food shortages are political and economic. Georgieva says a food crisis is looming in the Sahel due to poor rains, bad harvests, food-price hikes and the return of migrants from Libya, among other factors.
But she also argues more generally that it is time for the world to pay more attention to managing population growth in fragile environments. When she visited Kenya last year she realised that in 1963 it had more or less the same population as her own country Bulgaria - well below 10 million. Today Bulgaria is at 7.5 million whereas Kenya's has soared to 40 million.
The populations of other affected countries had also grown five times and this meant that when there were droughts the impact was all the more severe.
For a very readable look at some of the arguments on why population growth is not the cause of famine, take a look at this article published by Al Jazeera: Famine in the Horn of Africa: Malthus beware. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/08/20118178844125460.html
by Asghar Ali Engineer of Mumbai, Islamic scholar
Many people ask if family planning is permissible in Islam, saying the imams and ulama say Qur'an prohibits family planning and quoting a verse which says, "And kill not your children for fear of poverty - We provide for them and for you. Surely the killing of them is a great wrong." (17:31). .... This does not refer to family planning because you can only kill one who exists.
Some people suggest that it refers to the practice of burying the girl child alive when they cannot provide for them, but as Imam Razi suggests, it refers to both male and female children being kept ignorant. Not killing the body but killing the mind which is as bad as killing the body. The word used here is 'awlad' i.e. children which include both male as well as female and not only female.
In fact a large family means children cannot be properly educated by poor parents and hence parents kill them mentally by keeping them ignorant. They cannot even clothe them properly. In such circumstances one cannot have good quality Muslims and better quality is more desirable than mere quantity.
In early days the problem of family planning did not exist. It is a modern problem. Most of the nation states in third world do not have economic means to support a large population, including feeding them, educating them and also providing proper health services. These are basic duties of modern nation states.
The paucity of resources require the adoption of family planning. When Qur'an was being revealed there was neither any properly organized state nor education or health services being provided by any state agency. It is important to note that Qur'an which shows eight ways to spend zakat, does not include education or health which is so essential for the state to provide today. Thus what Imam Razi suggests is not only very correct and also enhances importance of family planning in the modern times as small family can support better education and health services.
Verse 4:3 is usually interpreted: do not marry more than one so that you may not do injustice. But Imam Shafi'I renders it as 'so that you do not have large family'.
In understanding the Qur'an, even very eminent imams and great scholars differed from each other. One should not impose one single meaning of a verse on all Muslims. It could be interpreted differently by different people in their own context and circumstances. Family planning being a modern need one should not reject it out of hand and quote Qur'anic verses out of context.
The Qur'an also suggests that a child be suckled at least for two years and it is well known that as long as mother suckles she would not conceive. Thus indirectly the Qur'an also suggests spacing of a child.
Even in hadith literature we find that the Prophet (PBUH) permitted prevention of conceiving in certain circumstances. When a person asked Prophet for permission for 'azl (coitus interrupts) as he was going for a long journey along with his wife and he did not want his wife to conceive while travelling the Messenger of Allah allowed him. In those days 'azl was the only known method for planning of birth of a child. Today there are several methods available like use of condoms.
Imam Ghazzali, a very eminent theologian and philosopher allows termination of pregnancy if mother's life is in danger and shows several methods for termination. He even allows termination of pregnancy on health grounds or if mother's beauty is in danger provided it is in consultation with her husband.. Some scholars say that verse 23:14 concludes that one can terminate pregnancy up to three months as this verse describes stages of development of sperm planted in mother's womb and it takes three months for life to begin.
Nearly 4 million babies are born in Pakistan every year, and most are born into poverty. The World Bank says 60% of Pakistanis live on less than $2 a day, according to a new government survey,
Yet clerics in religiously conservative Pakistan tell the Muslim majority that the Quran instructs women to keep bearing as many babies as possible and say that modern family planning is a Western convention that offends Islam.
But a woman can temporarily put off becoming pregnant. The mufti says the Quran encourages mothers to space their pregnancies and to breast-feed their babies for prolonged periods. During that time the man may also use condoms and the rhythm method.
The mufti Zakaria says being poor should in no way limit having babies. Referencing the Quran, he says, "God will provide the resources and no one will starve." The Quran also instructs that children must not be deprived of a proper upbringing. However, in Pakistan 38% of all children under 5 are underweight, and according to government data, malnutrition is widespread among mothers.
The mufti answers: "Every society has its own value system. You should not judge us by yours. Children in the West lead a luxurious life. Earth is their heaven. Our children should not be compared with them," the mufti says. "Muslims don't pay much heed to the mundane pleasures of this world. Our reward will come in the next life."
The mufti adds that the West has taken modern contraception too far by removing the fear of getting pregnant and therefore removing women's sexual inhibitions. In Pakistan, "if a woman's fear is removed," says the mufti, she will stray into bad behavior "and offend God."
70% of married women use no birth control method at all. While the government is ineffectual in promoting family planning, Dr. Yasmin Raashid, a leader in obstetrics and gynecology in Pakistan says if properly followed, the Quran's teachings about spacing pregnancies would automatically mean smaller families. She says more than anything else illiteracy undermines family planning in Pakistan.
"Educated mothers limit their families," she says. "The tragedy in our country has been that the majority of women in Pakistan are not educated." She says educating young girls is the single best policy for reducing the country's high fertility rate and for achieving smaller, healthier families.
In Sri Lanka the literacy rate is 91%. and the fertility rate is 2.3, compared with Pakistan, where it is 3.9. In Pakistan, infant mortality is nearly six times as high as in Sri Lanka - a smaller, poorer country.
"And the only thing that you see different there is that women are educated there," Raashid says. "They know about their rights. They know what has to be done where their children are concerned. They know what to do where their own health is concerned.
In Pakistan, less than 1% of GDP is spent on health care. 12,000 mothers die in childbirth in Pakistan each year. Pakistan must invest in more midwives. Only 25% of women being delivered by skilled birth attendants.
Islamic law prevalent in Pakistan says the soul is deemed to come into the fetus at four months, and so up to four months, abortion may be induced for "good cause." But abortion has become a dangerous form of birth control as women submit themselves to unskilled practitioners. It's the fifth-leading cause of maternal death in Pakistan because of the infections related to incomplete abortions and septic abortions.
On woman the interviewer met said she was already ill and overburdened with seven children. But she's pregnant again. She wants to stop having babies, and told her husband so. But her husband wanted a second daughter.
In just one decade Iran dropped its near-record population growth rate to one of the lowest in the developing world.
In 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini assumed leadership in Iran and launched the Islamic revolution. He dismantled the well-established family planning programs and instead advocated large families wanting to increase the ranks of soldiers for Islam in the war against Iraq.
Fertility levels climbed, pushing Iran's annual population growth to 4.2% in the early 1980s, probably the biological maximum. This enormous growth began to burden the economy and the environment, the country's leaders realized that overcrowding, environmental degradation, and unemployment were undermining Iran's future.
In 1989 the government restored its family planning program. In May 1993, a national family planning law was passed, encouraging smaller families. Iran Broadcasting raised awareness of population issues and of the availability of family planning services. 70% of rural households had TV sets. Religious leaders crusaded for smaller families. 15,000 health clinics were established to provide rural populations with health and family planning services.
Iran introduced a variety of contraceptive measures, including vasectomy and sterilization, all free of charge. Couples were required to take a course on modern contraception before receiving a marriage license. In addition Iran launched an effort to raise female literacy, raising it from 25% in 1970 to over 70% in 2000. Female school enrollment increased from 60% to 90%. Women and girls with more schooling are likely to have fewer children.
Family size in Iran dropped from seven children to fewer than three. From 1987 to 1994, Iran cut its population growth rate by half.
The bad news is that in July 2010 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the country's family planning program ungodly and announced a new pronatalist policy. The government would pay couples to have children, depositing money in each child's bank account until age 18.
After visiting the Philippines, Pope Francis made strong statements supporting the church's ban on artificial means of birth control. He also said Catholics should practice "responsible parenthood" and don't have to breed "like rabbits."
Speaking with reporters on a flight Monday from the Philippines to Rome, Francis encouraged the use of church-approved contraception.
The National Catholic Reporter described the pope's remarks this way:
"Telling the story of a woman he met in a parish in Rome several months ago who had given birth to seven children via cesarean section and was pregnant with an eighth, Francis asked: 'Does she want to leave the seven orphans?' ... " 'This is to tempt God,' he said, adding later: 'That is an irresponsibility.' Catholics, the pope said, should speak of 'responsible parenthood.' "
" 'God gives you methods to be responsible,' the Pope said.
Pope Francis Says Children Should Be ‘Welcomed, Cherished and Protected’January 18, 2015, Wall Street Journal By: Deborah Ball
During the Pope's recent week-long trip to Asia, those looking for a statement changing the church's policies on birth control instead had to settle for subtle hints that Pope Francis may view the issue a little differently than his predecessors.
While family-planning programs in Asian nations such as South Korea and Thailand have helped to rein in population growth, U.N statistics show Filipino women having, on average, 3.1 children, higher than many other developing countries. Only about a third of women of childbearing age use modern methods of birth control, and fertility rates among the poorest quartile -- many of whom cannot afford birth control -- are three times higher than for rich Filipinos. A 2012 law expanded the availability of birth control. Family-planning advocates viewed the law as an important step in helping poor women to control the size of their families, but the Filipino church has continued to preach against artificial birth control.
The Pope offered a mass in Manila which drew an estimated six million people despite steady rain. In Manila, Pope Francis touched upon population control and seemed to support the local Clergy's stand. On the final full day of his visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis said "the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred. … We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected, and we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets."
However, during his Asian tour the Pope highlighted themes that he and developing world bishops consider top priority: social justice, the stress that migration places on families, poverty and income inequality.
While visiting Tacloban, which was hit by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Pope said again that climate change is disproportionately affecting the developing world. He is preparing an encyclical on the environment for this summer and has hinted lately that he may throw his weight behind those who say human activity is a major cause of global warming change — a stance not welcomed by climate change skeptics. "This country, more than many others, is likely to be seriously affected by climate change."
Catholic Church's Influence in Population GrowthJanuary 16, 2015, WOA website
Q. Wouldn't you way that the Roman Catholic Church is the biggest driver of population grown in the world?
A. I would not say the Catholic Church is the biggest driver of population growth. For one thing, there are only 1.2 billion Catholics in the world (leaving 6 billion not under its influence), and in some Catholic countries the fertility rate is as low as 1.4 (Spain and Italy). In Brazil, which has more Roman Catholics than any other country in the world - about 123 million - the fertility rate is 1.8. Peru and Venezuela are at 2.4. Chile is at 1.83, and Argentina is at 2.19. Mexico is at 2.2. Ecuador is 2.38, Paraguay is 2.06. Columbia is 2.12. If the Catholic Church had influence in these countries, the fertility rate would be 3 or 4 or higher.
Last year the Church lost the battle against contraception in the Philippines.
Also the average age of Catholic parishioners in the U.S. is 52 - which is beyond child-bearing years, and is an example of the decline of Roman Catholic influence.
The BIGGEST driver of population growth, in my opinion, is the failure to meet the unmet need for affordable (free in many cases), accessible, and most effective forms of contraception.
50% of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. (40% in the world)
The average woman in the U.S. spends 30 years trying to avoid pregnancy.
The New York Times recently published an article showing the chance of getting pregnancy with the use of each of the following forms of birth control over 10 years:
* Spermicides 96%
* Fertility awareness-based (ovulation method) 94% (allowed by the Catholic Church)
* Sponge (after giving birth) 94%
* Withdrawal 92%
* Condom (female) 91%
* Condom (male) 86%
* Diaphragm 72%
* Sponge (prior to any births) 72%
* Pill, Evra patch, NuvaRing 61%
* Depo-Provera 46%
* Copper IUD 8%
* Female sterilization 5%
* Levonorgestrel IUD 2%
* Male sterilization 2%
* Hormonal implant 1%
16% of women using birth control use the pill, while 15.5% use female sterilization, 9.4% use male condoms, and only 7.2% use IUDs or implants, although this number is growing.
11% of women at risk of unintended pregnancy are not currently using any contraceptive method. 18% of these are teens.
The Vatican blamed its own priests for much of the problemJune 26, 2014, Toronto Star By: Nicole Winfield
In June this year, the Vatican conceded that most Catholics reject its teachings on sex and contraception as intrusive and irrelevant. This October a debate will be opened on the topic of marriage, sexuality, abortion, and divorce, but core church doctrine isn't expected to change.
The Vatican sent out a 39-point questionnaire seeking input from ordinary Catholics around the world about their understanding of, and adherence to, the church's teaching on sexuality, homosexuality, contraception, marriage and divorce. Thousands of ordinary Catholics, clergy and academics responded.
A working document for the October synod discussions said "A vast majority" of responses stressed that "the moral evaluation of the different methods of birth control is commonly perceived today as an intrusion in the intimate life of the couple and an encroachment on the autonomy of conscience."
“Many responses recommend that for many Catholics the concept of ‘responsible parenthood' encompasses the shared responsibility in conscience to choose the most appropriate method of birth control."
Pope Francis is seeking to redirect his ministers to offer families, and even gays in civil unions, a “new language" that is welcoming and responds to their needs.
The document laments that the media and its own priests have failed to communicate the “positive" aspects of the Vatican's key document banning artificial contraception, the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. And it stresses that what is needed is better pastoral outreach and a “new language" to communicate the complete vision of marriage and family life that the church espouses.
“Some observations inferred that the clergy sometimes feel so unsuited and ill-prepared to treat issues regarding sexuality, fertility and procreation that they often choose to remain silent," the document said.
The document also acknowledged that the church had a credibility problem. “Responses from almost every part of the world frequently refer to the sexual scandals within the church (pedophilia in particular)," it said. “Sex scandals significantly weaken the church's moral credibility."
Hefty Global Goals From a Vatican Meeting: Stabilizing the Climate, Energy for All and An Inclusive EconomyMay 15 , 2014, New York Times By: Andrew C. Revkin
A group statement from the Vatican meeting of scientists, economists, theologians and others divides humanity's task into the technical and scientific enterprise of nurturing human societies with sustainable sources of clean energy and food -- which the participants deemed "available or within reach," and the much greater challenge of building the moral commitment and governmental and financial structures that can reduce inequity, profiteering and other social ills.
Human action which is not respectful of nature becomes a boomerang for human beings that creates inequality and extends what Pope Francis has termed "the globalization of indifference" and the "economy of exclusion" (Evangelii Gaudium), which themselves endanger solidarity with present and future generations.
Extreme poverty can be ended through targeted investments in sustainable energy access, education, health, housing, social infrastructure and livelihoods for the poor. Social inequalities can be reduced through the defense of human rights, the rule of law, participatory democracy, universal access to public services, the recognition of personal dignity, a significant improvement in the effectiveness of fiscal and social policies, an ethical finance reform, large scale decent work creation policies, integration of the informal and popular economic sectors, and national and international collaboration to eradicate the new forms of slavery such as forced labor and sexual exploitation. Energy systems can be made much more efficient and much less dependent on coal, petrol and natural gas to avoid climate change, protect the oceans, and clean the air of coal-based pollutants. Food production can be made far more fruitful and less wasteful of land and water, more respectful of peasants and indigenous people and less polluting. Food wastage can be cut significantly, with both social and ecological benefits.
Our economies, our democracies, our societies and our cultures pay a high price for the growing gap between the rich and the poor within and between nations. And perhaps the most deleterious aspect of the widening income and wealth gap in so many countries is that it is deepening inequality of opportunity. Most importantly, inequality, global injustice, and corruption are undermining our ethical values, personal dignity and human rights.
A line about “redistribution of wealth" will surely raise hackles in some circles. And there was no mention of the words population or fertility, even though there were long discussions of demographics at the meeting demonstrating that both population and consumption growth matter.
Francis is like a breath of fresh air in the Vatican. I hope that he continues to shake up the status quo, including the doctrines affecting women's access to contraception and abortion.April 26 , 2014, Durango Herald By: Richard Grossman
Originally posted in the Durango Herald
Roman Catholic nuns and priests were a substantial proportion of the populace in past centuries. Their celibacy acted to slow population growth.
Starting in the 12th century priests and nuns had to take vows of chastity in order to be considered pure. For some, however, abstinence is a goal that is difficult to achieve.
Today there are far fewer nuns and priests. Many places have imported clergy from other countries, and some churches have shut their doors due to lack of a priest. This decrease in clergy has increased population growth, although probably only slightly. There is a more important factor. In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical letter Humanae Vitae ("Human Life"), which reemphasized the Church's constant teaching that it is intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence. In many parts of the world this is largely ignored. Catholic women in the USA and most western European countries use artificial birth control about as often as Protestant women.
In poorer parts of the world, where most Catholics live, people are more obedient to Church doctrine; as a consequence their birth rate is much higher. Since Roman Catholicism is one of the most numerous world religions (numbering about 1.2 billion adherents), avoidance of the most effective family planning methods leads to many unwanted pregnancies and high growth rates.
The Philippines provides a good example. Women there bear an average of more than 3 children, while the average for all of Southeast Asia is just 2.4. The country boasts that it is the only Christian country in Asia, and over 80% Filipinos are Catholic. The Church has a strong hold on politics: abortion is essentially totally outlawed—but common, nonetheless. The Church opposes the Filipino Reproductive Health Law because it would increase the availability of contraception, even though it stands to prevent hundreds of pregnancy-related deaths. Fortunately the Filipino Supreme Court just approved the Law earlier this month despite strong pressure from the Church. Although currently fewer than 40% of Filipino women use a reliable, modern method of contraception, the Law will make birth control available to all.
The following appeared last month in the British "Catholic Herald": ‘Responding to the question of whether the Church should revisit the issue of birth control, Pope Francis replied: "It all depends on how the text of Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, towards the end, recommended that confessors show great kindness and attention to specific situations.
"His genius proved prophetic: he had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a ‘brake' on the culture, to oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing doctrine, but to go into the depths, and ensuring that pastoral take into account people's situations, and that, which it is possible for people to do."'
(I do not agree with the comment about neo-Malthusianism, but will not debate that here.)
Francis did something that no other Pope has done before—survey his flock. The Global Survey of Roman Catholics asked 12,000 people in 12 countries throughout the world a variety of questions. It is not surprising that his ratings were extremely high—Catholics and non-Catholics alike appreciate him.
There is discontent among his flock, however. Quoting the first point under the heading "Findings" in the executive summary:
"n Alarming Trend for the Vatican"
The majority of Catholics worldwide disagree with Catholic doctrine on divorce, abortion, and contraceptives. Additionally, the majority of Catholics in Europe, Latin America and the United States disagree with established doctrine on the marriage of priests as well as on women entering the priesthood. Taken together, these findings suggest an extraordinary disconnect between the church's basic teachings on the fundamental issues of family and pastoral responsibilities and the viewpoints currently held by many of the world's more than 1 Billion Catholics. Perhaps more alarming, are the generational divides found in the analysis of the data which show that younger Catholics are even more likely to hold views contrary to church teachings than Catholics as a whole."
Pope Francis' openness, modesty and integrity are a breath of fresh air. He is following in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi—the patron saint of ecology. Let us hope that Francis will recognize that the press of the growing human population not only harms humans but also damages Creation, and that Pope Francis will allow more of his flock to use effective contraception.
In a petition addressed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Coalition of American Nuns recently came out in support of the Affordable Care Act's provision for contraception coverage. The Court will hear oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, next week. Both involve for-profit companies refusing to provide their employees with mandated coverage because the companies' owners do not believe in birth control. In the petition, which has nearly reached its goal of 5,000 signatures, the nuns wrote, "We want to make clear that the sin is not a person using birth control. The sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families."
Sister Donna Quinn, the head of NCAN, told ReligionDispatches.org that "it isn't faith and freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business." The petition also says: "We know that religious freedom means that each person has the right to exercise their own religious beliefs." It "cannot mean that an individual or a corporation gets to impose their religious beliefs on their employees."
Opposition to Philippines' RH law may add to HIV cases, they claimFebruary 07 , 2014, UCAnews.com By: Joe Torre
Philippine Catholic bishops have been stalling implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, which the Congress passed in December 2012 after more than 13 years of heated debate. One provision of the RH Law allows state funding for contraception. It passed despite pressure from religious groups and other sectors. Church leaders say that provisions promoting artificial contraceptives make the law "anti-life."
Last week, leaders of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives called on the Supreme Court to uphold the law's constitutionality, saying that an adverse ruling would veto the will of the majority. But, to date, various groups opposed to the law have filed 15 petitions before the court. The bishops say the Supreme Court should go slow on making its decision. Bishop Leonardo Medroso of Tagbilaran advised the court not to be pressured by Congress. He said, the decision "cannot be hurried up."
The Philippines has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Southeast Asia. According to government figures, about 5,300 mothers die from child birth every year. Stalling the law will also worsen the growing number of HIV cases. The Philippines remains one of three Asian countries where HIV is worsening, with an increase of 820% from 2001 to 2010. Congresswomen Luzviminda Ilagan, of the women's party Gabriela, attributes this rise to an "utter lack of education about its nature and modes of transmission. This ignorance begets irresponsible sexual behavior. The unequal relationship between men and women prevents women from demanding the use of condoms." She believes the RH Law can help a lot.
Some legislators from the House of Representatives expect the court to declare the law unconstitutional. "I hope [the judges] are really weighing and studying this issue because the moment they declare [the law] constitutional or unconstitutional will be a defining moment for our Supreme Court," said Fr Melvin Castro, Executive Secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.
Dr. Ruben Siapno, Assistant Regional Director of the health department in Manila, said family planning services can still be provided even if the law is declared unconstitutional. "We will still provide maternal health care and other services and also the parents how to care for their children, parenting and all these things," he said, adding that funding for contraceptives and instruction of young people on sexual health is a necessary requirement.
Capitol Hill should be a reflection of the needs and values of all Americans -- not just those with the loudest voices or the strongest lobby. Often, religious voices are used to impose or support the most conservative policies, despite the diversity that exists among people of faith.
The Catholic Declaration on Religious Freedom declares "the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom." Though we come from different backgrounds, all of us share the belief that women should have the right to make their own choice about abortion, in particular, and reproductive health choices in general.
These choices are under fire in Congress. Even though Catholics disagree fundamentally with positions that the bishops have taken on these matters, the U.S. bishops have been the greatest obstacle to women exercising these choices.
For Catholics, the preferential option for the poor calls us to protect the least among us. The 'No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act' (S. 906/H.R. 3) would permanently bar any federal money from being spent on abortion, thereby singling out those women who depend upon Medicaid, Medicare, or the Indian Health service, or are in the military or receive healthcare from other federal healthcare programs.
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