Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Our Demographic Winter . . . Forty Years After Humanae Vitae

by R.M. Hamill


R.M. Hamill looks at Humanae Vitae in relation to the population decline in so-called advanced nations and how this may lead to demographic suicide.

Larger Work

The Wanderer

Publisher & Date

Wanderer Printing Co., St. Paul, MN, July 17, 2008

Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism as the world’s largest religion. “It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer” — Msgr. Vittorio Formenti, editor, the Vatican Yearbook.

It is now 40 years since the promulgation of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical that was arguably more detested by the powers of this world than any other Church document before or since, and more neglected than any other before or since by the holders of power and leadership in the Church herself, especially in the rapidly de- Christianizing countries of the West. “The Encyclical That Never Was,” Robert Blair Kaiser called this most controversial teaching effort by the most humble and timid Pope in recent history, a most unlikely figure to engage the world in such a dispute.

Many articles have been written on Humanae Vitae and no doubt many more will be written in this 40th anniversary year. Its teaching has been thoroughly dissected theologically and doctrinally over four decades. I do not intend to enter into those specific discussions and disputes here; rather I simply want to look at this document and its teaching in relation to what is surely one of the most startling sociological developments of our time, and perhaps in all of human history: the demographic suicide of the so- called advanced nations, and the possible extension of this suicide to the rest of the world.

The evidence of this demographic crisis is there today for anyone who has eyes to see and the reason to follow the data to their logical conclusions. Yet it is a phenomenon that few yet choose to look at straight on.

There are many reasons for that, but a decisive one, surely, is that the reception afforded to the promulgation of Humanae Vitae by most of the world’s Catholic bishops — especially in the West, the “First World”— effectively silenced the voice of the Church and blunted what might otherwise have been her prophetic influence as the demographic crisis developed.

An encyclical is a letter intended for wide distribution, to carry an important teaching to the widest possible audience, but this one was practically short- circuited at its very inception. Who can forget the embarrassed presentation of this document to the world by Msgr. Ferdinando Lambruschini, who seemed personally bent on torpedoing its teaching by taking it upon himself to state that the document was not infallible. The comment was both irrelevant and unauthorized, which became quite clear when this gratuitous remark was glaringly absent from the report of his words in L’Osservatore Romano the following day.

Yet that irrelevant statement has remained the constant refrain of those who opposed the teaching at the start and of those who continue to oppose it today, 40 years later.

The opposition seized on this meaningless ipse dixit of a Vatican press secretary as proof that Paul VI did not wish to issue an infallible teaching on artificial contraception and on that basis declared the issue still an open question for theologians, and for the laity in forming their consciences — thus rejecting 2,000 years of Church teaching on this matter.

A number of national hierarchies effectively followed suit in the area of formation of consciences, suggesting that married couples could in good conscience reject the Church’s teaching on contraception, since the question was still open. This was the socalled “pastoral solution” that left bishops off the hook on the issue of the truth of Humanae Vitae’s teaching, and it remains the position of many to this very day.

The collapse of these national hierarchies on a 2,000- year moral teaching that gravely affected marriage and family life was certainly deplorable (though perhaps somewhat mitigated by the soft treatment their rationalizations received from Rome itself; this was not to be an era of Vatican strength in correcting such corruption of Church teaching and discipline).

Anti-Natalist Orthodoxy

The timidity of these hierarchies was reinforced when the powers of this world reacted to the encyclical with fury. Pope Paul was vilified by many as an enemy of the human race and the bishops were challenged to prove their manhood by standing with the wisdom of this world against the Pope’s teaching. The vast majority of bishops in the West struck a compromise, allowing the pastoral solution to quiet consciences of contracepting Catholics, and keeping quiet on the truth and authority of the teaching itself, thus avoiding a direct conflict with the supreme authority of the Church.

It was a neat compromise, and to this day, it is the rare bishop anywhere, except in some of the poorer nations of Africa and South America, who says anything about the truth and authority of the teaching; most bishops seem to remain quite content to allow their flocks to practice contraception “in good conscience,” while they teach forcefully on other social issues that find less opposition outside or within the Church.

As a consequence, the world’s Catholic bishops have had essentially no role in calling attention to the body of facts that runs counter to the anti- natalist orthodoxy of our age. For a half century and more anti- population propagandists have promoted their agenda by crying “world population explosion” over and over again, until it is now taken as a scientific fact.

Yet the evidence suggests quite the opposite, that is, an approaching population collapse, worldwide in the long term and most immediately in Europe and certain Asian countries.1 For most people the evidence of collapse is not easy to see, because they are living today in increasingly populated urban centers. Where they live out their lives, overpopulation is not a myth, it is their daily experience. And they rarely get from the sources of information easily available to them even a hint that the overall, global situation is quite the opposite.

The media in general appear to be incapable of appreciating the seriousness of the developing demographic crisis. The degrading of the intellectual level of news sources in the West is a seldomremarked but huge problem, caused mainly by the degradation of the intellectual demands of educational institutions that produce the personnel for the media giants that dominate our airwaves and print media. Serious discussion of issues is replaced by sound bites. Political discourse — as witness the current presidential campaign — is reduced to the level of baby talk.

Nor have the Catholic media provided much of a countervailing influence in the way of any subtler appreciation of, or even attention to, the looming population collapse. Apart from a few notable exceptions with minimal reach, most Catholic publications have been largely silent on the issue. This is not surprising given that the powers that be in the broader Catholic Church — that is, the bishops’ conferences and their bureaucracies — have either swallowed the “population explosion” myth, or have simply left it unchallenged as a cover for their unwillingness to proclaim the Church’s teaching on contraception.

That silence has in turn justified a revolution in Catholic morality among the laity: the development of a contraceptive mentality and practice by upward of 80% of the Catholics in Western nations, mirroring the moral practice of the general population. They also mirror the secularized family in having fewer and fewer children, as the opening quotation from a Vatican official acknowledges.

This is truly the greatest scandal in the modern Church: the practical abandonment by the Church’s leaders of the constant moral teaching of the Church on contraception, even as they watch their flocks adopt the sterile lifestyle and even anti- life attitudes of the surrounding culture. It is the formerly Catholic countries of Europe that today have the lowest birthrates on that continent, Spain, Italy, even Poland,2 birthrates so low that they will soon be in actual population free fall, with all that this forebodes for a continent increasingly in the sights of the more fertile Muslim populations.3 Yet even today, it is rare indeed that any member of the European hierarchies dares to speak on this radioactive issue of population decline, a social phenomenon that is as certain as can be, totally verified by scientific data gathered by reliable institutions, including the United Nations itself. Compared to the way the bishops of the West are energized to speak out on the death penalty, their unreadiness and/or unwillingness to speak out on the inevitable radical decline of the native populations of whole Western nations is truly stunning.

An Earlier Consensus

But all this has a history. This episcopal silence in the face of future catastrophic decline of population, initially in the First World nations but ominously threatening to engulf all nations4, has to be traced back to the hierarchical silence (in some cases it was a muffled compromise, not silence; but rarely a positive response) that greeted the encyclical that warned of the almost certain moral and social consequences5 that flow from the contraceptive mentality.

That such consequences are, in fact, certain was not long ago the consensus of civilized thought, not merely within the Catholic Church. Take, for example, this remarkable editorial pronouncement in a secular newspaper, The Washington Post on March 22, 1931: “It is impossible to reconcile the doctrine of the divine institution of marriage with any modernistic plan for the mechanical regulation of or suppression of human life. The Church must either reject the plain teachings of the Bible or reject schemes for the ‘ scientific’ production of human souls.

Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee’s report, if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be ‘ careful and restrained’ is preposterous.” Humanae Vitae itself had briefly touched on the so- called “population explosion” in section 2, in a manner which assumed the factuality of the “population explosion” orthodoxy: “In the first place there is the rapid increase in population which has made much fear that world population is going to grow faster than available resources.”

The encyclical seems to affirm the fact of the population explosion, and is only concerned that governments should not adopt immoral means for the solution to any such problem: “Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty?” (n. 17).

So prescient in other areas of the consequences of contraceptive practices and the contraceptive mentality that follows, the encyclical never considers the possibility that a full- blown contraceptive way of life would engulf society, leading to what a later Pope, John Paul II, referred to as a demographic winter. In truth, no one foresaw back then what is occurring today, and the Church is not to be blamed for that; but the refusal today to see what is happening before our very eyes does carry real blame, and the presentday leaders of the Church cannot escape that blame when they remain silent.

Most Europeans resist acknowledging it, yet their continent is in a population death spiral today. Russia is already losing population, at about three- quarters of a million per annum, and the trend is in the same direction in most of Eastern, Central, and Western Europe. These undeniable facts have at last led some European civil leaders to begin to pay attention, largely due to the social problems looming with a growing Muslim population that is abundantly fertile, almost impossible to assimilate (as has always been the case, as H. Belloc pointed out) and the only available bail- out for the social systems that will collapse in the future without a new tax base to support them.

With their native populations in decline, European nations will have to continue to import people from the Islamic world to salvage their social programs, which depend on an expanding tax base. Europeans still do not seem to recognize that the problem has arisen out of their own folly in rejecting the evil of contraception: that the stagnation of their population is largely a consequence of selfinflicted sterility. They do fear the cultural and social chaos that threatens their world, their comfortable lifestyles, largely dependent upon tax- supported government entitlements. But they do not appear to have come to grips with the fact that the only expanding population in sight, capable of paying expanded taxes, does not appreciate their culture or lifestyle and will almost definitely change them when it becomes powerful enough.

Prosperous Westerners’ promotion of the contraceptive- based lifestyle seems impervious to change, for who wants to give up the “good life” that depends upon one’s freedom from children? And their religion, which fewer and fewer actually practice anymore, is either supportive of their contraceptive lifestyle or at least discreetly quiet about it, silently approving their moral choices. The Catholic Church leadership falls largely into that latter category, although some are even vocal supporters, ignoring completely the deadly consequences of this practice on their society’s future.

The looming demographic winter will chill Western Europe first, and it is almost certainly already too late to fend it off. Even if Europe’s native peoples were to undergo a sudden conversion — which is unlikely, given the ignorance of the problem and the silence of the normal agencies of moral conversion, the churches and their leadership — the future has largely been determined by the last few decades of birthrate decline, since fewer and fewer mothers will be available in the years ahead to give birth at all.

It will be one of the terrible ironies of the modern age if the very Church that paid such a great price (in terms of defections of the faithful in fact if not in open apostasy) by remaining faithful to the constant moral teaching of the whole Christian tradition (including the whole Protestant world until the last century) will have by the silence of its leaders on this moral issue helped condemn the world to moral and social chaos within the lifetime of souls already born.

We are now able to see clearly the catastrophic, even suicidal, effects on whole societies of the massive rejection of the moral teaching of the Church, and yet her leaders still remain largely silent. Their pacifism in the face of aggression from militant terrorists who would destroy even what is good in Western society and replace it with a savage despotism tied to religion — something never yet experienced in the West — is matched only by their abject silence in the face of a practice of birth control at a level that is, quite literally, suicidal for their own civilization.

Uncomfortable as it may be to do so, it would be irresponsible not to ask: How can this silence continue among so many of the Church’s leaders? Is their silence caused simply by an inability to read the demographic signs of the times? Or must we conclude that it is due to a failure to believe that the Church’s moral teaching is really true, that is, that contraception is truly evil, not because it breaks a law, but because it harms married love and the universal common good?

A Great Gift

Generosity toward life — the core spirit of Humanae Vitae — is the true guarantee of the survival of every society. And for a believing Christian, generosity toward life has yet another, more sublime purpose, the greatest purpose of all: the possibility of all those children populating the Kingdom of God and enjoying an unending beatitude with God. Moreover, this same generosity is the foundation of married love and life, and thus grounds the private good of the couple as well as the good of society as a whole. Humanae Vitae, looking back, was a great gift to the world, offering the moral guidance that could protect the happiness and stability of marriage and — as we shall soon discover the hard way — the moral foundation for the very stability and survival of human societies. There is indeed a primary purpose to marriage, safeguarding the universal common good, and nations deny that purpose only to their own self- destruction. But tragically it was rejected by the world, and unfortunately that rejection was supported by many of the Church’s most vocal theologians, and much more destructively by the muffled rejection of some bishops and the deafening silence of most of the others, at least in the West.

But more shockingly, this rejection of the gift of Humane Vitae continues today, even after the data that portend the collapse of whole societies is undeniably conclusive (far more so, incidentally, than the so- called scientific “consensus” about global warming).

A New Generation Of Bishops

The dominant stance on Humanae Vitae of bishops in the U. S. and Europe is still silence, timidity, a fear to offend, perhaps a trade- off for support on the abortion issue, whatever. Today a new generation of bishops is emerging and this offers an opportunity to break the silence. If they really and truly believe that moral acts are evil because they harm persons and the common good, not just because they are “rules,” then they must see that contraception is evil because it harms couples and harms the good of society, truths the Church has always taught, and surely charity demands that they no longer leave people in ignorance about such a grave matter that threatens their personal lives and their society’s future.

In the United States, the silence of most Catholic Church leaders on the birth control issue is particularly scandalous due to the failure of the bishops, so far, to make any serious effort to confront their government on the issue of promoting birth control and population reduction worldwide, for it is a fact that it is the United States government that is by far the biggest financier and propagandist worldwide of the Planned Parenthood myth that population growth poses the greatest threat to human survival (or to our standard of living) facing mankind.

We have used our AID programs for 40 years — and both parties are behind this — to cajole and even to coerce the poor nations of the world to use every form of contraceptive device available and thus reduce their family size to match our own, the presumed ideal.6 Interestingly, the model program for all this took place in Iran, where the United States successfully convinced the puppet regime of the Shah to adopt and implement the most comprehensive and radical population program, with massive propaganda, revision of the educational curriculum to emphasize “population education” and “sex education,” and massive distribution of contraceptives and legalization and implementation of abortion and sterilization, all forced upon a Muslim culture that now largely hates us and considers us the great Satan. I can’t imagine why. Needless to say, the Iranian revolution that threw out the Shah threw all this out, too, though it has begun to return in part, the contraceptive part.

Where have the bishops of the Catholic Church been since all this population imperialism began in the ’ 60s? More important, where are they now, when our own government continues full steam ahead with this mad population control agenda, in spite of the growing evidence that it is leading to social and economic chaos as virtually the whole world drops below replacement levels of births?

Population planners are the vanguard of the new totalitarian governing elites who are determined to remake the human race,7 despite the demographic damage they have already done in so many parts of the world. Yet the leaders of the Catholic Church in the U.S. seem to be unaware of the grave threat posed by these totalitarian elites.

It’s time for the Church’s leaders to stop being embarrassed by her own teaching on contraception as proposed in documents like Humanae Vitae and Casti Connubii.

The institution of marriage is in shatters in our day, largely due to the adoption of a contraceptive lifestyle that distorts the meaning and purposes of marriage as a divine institution. As stated above, one of these purposes has to do with the universal common good, the ordering of marriage by God to the continuance of the human race. The separation of sex and procreation from marriage, through contraception, leads to an inability to identify procreation as a true social good necessary for the survival of every human society.

It may be easy to convince people not to have children, or at most to have one or two children, but once the birthrate drops below replacement, which is almost inevitable, it is not so easy to reverse that population decline.

Nation after nation has learned this lesson over the last century, and today the whole world is about to learn it. In a global economy based upon consumption, what happens when population begins to severely decline? In societies with large welfare systems, where medical care, Social Security, and other pension programs are largely tied to taxes, what happens when the tax base begins to shrink, because fewer and fewer children are being born, while the beneficiary populations continue to grow?

We are about to discover what the real threat to human survival is, who the real enemies of the human race are: not Pope Paul VI or John Paul II but population ideologues who are entrenched in the United States government and government- funded institutions.

The Church has paid quite a price in allowing her people to adopt a contraceptive lifestyle with little real opposition — when is the last time you heard your bishop speak out on this issue? They seem to think it’s just one among many moral issues and is best left alone. But it is not just another moral issue. It strikes right at the heart of the family which is the foundation of both Church and state. Fewer and fewer children logically means fewer and fewer vocations; acceptance of false moral principles related to married life was bound to leak into the priestly and religious life, and it has, as we see in the problems of child abuse and homosexuality that the Church is reeling from today.

Now we see the devastating consequences for whole societies as their birthrates tumble out of control, even as the United States and United Nations continue to promote population decline.

The Church has here a golden opportunity here, to be on the side of humanity and to be seen as on the side of humanity . . . especially on the side of the poor, who are being bullied into drinking the suicidal mixture by having contraception and abortion relentlessly promoted in their cultures by the rich and by their rich governments, led, to our shame, by the United States.

Unfortunately, most liberal Catholics don’t want to acknowledge the coming demographic winter because they are blinded by having bought into the contraceptive lifestyle lock, stock, and barrel, while many conservative Catholics don’t want to identify the U.S. as the leading agent of this catastrophe because they believe to do so would be unpatriotic.

We can only pray that a new generation of bishops will seize upon this “teaching moment” and instruct their people to transcend this political dialectic and effectively oppose our government’s disastrous antinatalist policies and funding. Only in this way will the U.S. cease being an enemy of mankind when it comes to population control and all its evil effects. Only in this way will the Church in many places survive a growing and militant Islam and a Western secularism that is just as deadly.

All this will require taking up again and this time taking to heart the true message of Humanae Vitae.

+ + + (R. M. Hamill is the nom de plume of a former contributor to Triumph magazine. He holds an STD in moral/ systematic theology and has been teaching theology professionally for many years.) + + +


1. On this point and for a powerful analysis of the population crisis facing Europe today, see Stein Ringen, “Fewer People: A Stark European Future,” Times Literary Supplement

(May 13, 2003).

2. Birthrates in all three countries are below 1.3, among the lowest in Europe. See Fewer, Ben J. Wattenberg, Irvan R. Dee, Chicago, 2004; p. 25; The Birth Dearth, Ben J. Wattenberg, Ballantine, New York, 1987; The Empty Cradle, Philip Longman, New America Books, New York, 2004; The Last Days of Europe, Walter Laqueur, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2007.

3. Even some of the Muslim nations are now caught up in this birth control mentality imported from the West. See Fewer, p. 50. That may explain some of the fundamentalist Muslims’ hatred of the West.

4. Ben Wattenberg, among others, makes this point, that this demographic crisis will soon be a global crisis: “I date the advent of the new demography from that moment. After decades of dillydallying, the UN population division bit the bullet. Finally the world official source showed as its median projection that the less developed countries would emulate the more developed nations and fall below the replacement level. Then, according to the UN, world population would decline in the latter part of the 21st century” ( Fewer, p. 14).

“Simply put, the UN had announced that henceforward it would assume that average fertility in the poor countries would fall not just to 2.1 children per woman, as it had rigidly assumed through the 2000 volume. For the 2002 volume it would fall to 1.85 children per woman” (ibid., p. 15).

5. See section 17 of the encyclical, which warns of the dire consequences.

6. President Johnson brutally withheld grain from India during a famine in 1966 until they agreed to his plan for them to use contraceptives and promote population decline. See the account of this horror story given by Joseph Califano, a special assistant to Johnson at the time and his senior domestic policy aide, in The War Against Population by J. Kasun, professor of economics at Humboldt State University, Ignatius Press, 2nd ed. 1999, p. 115.

7. Just read this snippet from Mary Calderone, a hero of sex education movements and population control fanatics: “If man as he is, is obsolescent, then what kind do we want to produce in his place and how do we design the production line? — that is the real question facing . . . sex education.” Professor Kasun goes on to explain this comment: “She went on to stipulate that this production process would be ‘consciously engineered’ by society’s ‘best minds’ and would provide the ‘conditioning’ of attitudes and behavior is deemed desirable by, of course, the leaders of her movement.”

© 2008 The Wanderer Press

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