Friday, July 29, 2011

A Cardinal Speaks: "The Crisis of Young People"

The Catholic News Agency reported on July 25th, 2011, that Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela expressed his concerns, in anticipation for World Youth Day, that “Spain and Europe are suffering from a ‘crisis of young people’ because of the country’s low birth rate.” According to the CNA report, Cardinal Varela went on to say that the percentage of the population between 0-22 years of age is “low” and is one of the reasons why there are few vocations, not only in the Church “but in many other areas.”

Bishop Fulton Sheen gave a prophet utterance about this very crisis 63 years ago when he said, “If our birthrate should again decrease as it did 15 years ago [1933], and that decrease should continue, would we not become the prey of other nations? History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis…The decline of the population always begins with the economic top; those who could most afford to have children do not. The group less economically blessed produces more. Soon the infection against the family spreads from those in high economic brackets to those below, and a civilization goes into decline.”

“There is no doubt,” he continues, “the State will claim more power for itself as the family declines, but the state and society are not identical. As the vital energy of society goes into decline, the mechanized bureaucratic machinery grows by leaps and a bounds…Invasion was a possibility from the time Roman morals began to decline.”

As for the United States, in recent years many Americans have made the personal decision not to have children. Today, however, even more people, sold on the myth that the earth is overpopulated, have made it clear that it is a civic duty for couples to have only a few children, if any. What was once a personal decision to have a small family is now a social mandate to discourage couples from having many children. In the twenty-first century, it has been customary for families with five or more children to either get lectured, sneered at or to be given looks of disapproval by perfect strangers at the local grocery store.

It is a true marvel of human nature that many or even the majority of people can be so zealously opposed to that which is absolutely necessary for survival and happiness. Materialism and secularism can so twist human thinking that people can hate what is positively good for them and love what is positively bad. Such is the mystery of sin and the effect it has on the soul.

I’ll leave it to Steve Mosher and The Population Research Institute to provide all the statistical data why America and Western Civilization is headed for a demographic collapse (see: The point here is that once people cross a certain threshold of prosperity, three trends usually follow: First, materialistic lifestyles set in. Second, the appetite for sacrifice decreases. And third, a child becomes to be seen as a mouth to feed instead of one more person to love and two more hands to help out around the house.

It is usually at the tail end of this development that the State sees that a childless nation is not in its best interests. Historically, declining tax revenue and the disproportionate ratio between the young and the elderly are but natural results of a low birthrate. Secular institutions such as the military and hospitals are the first to feel its effect. But even the Catholic Church, in terms of her priestly and religious vocations, is feeling the pinch too. One priest who teaches at a seminary in the Mid-west told me that in ten years the average priest will have to oversee two parishes.

In response to this demographic pyramid (a top-heavy one at that) where elderly people out number the young workers and tax payers at the bottom, governments have typically offered incentives to reverse these trends; but by the time the harm of a childless nation was felt by the State it was often too late for political remedies.

Not only has the State been slow to respond to this crisis but I regret to say that the Church has been slow to speak about this as well. In the last forty years, Catholics- both clergy and laity –have been embarrassed about what may prove to be the most prophetic and important doctrine of our times: the truth of contraception. As a result, very few teachings at the diocesan level- and even fewer sermons at Sunday Mass -have been quiet about the impact contraception has had on souls, marriage, the family and culture. Our silence has left the door wide open for the propaganda that children are a burden to society. And it is most unfortunate that many, perhaps even most, have bought into this myth.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception will undoubtedly be vindicated when the demographic winter has peaked. And we are just beginning- only just beginning -to feel the effects of that winter. We have to pray for our bishops, priests, and all of those whose duty it is to communicate Faith that they may lead the way in encouraging married couples to be generous with God; that is, in terms of having children. It is incumbent on all Catholics, but especially the Fathers of our Faith, to articulate what a childless nation portends.

What the family loses, the State gains. When families shrink and breakdown, the State only increases and becomes more powerful. History bears witness to this fact. Just when the deterioration of the family had reached an all time low in the 3rd century A.D., the political administration of the Roman Empire went from 350 public employees in 200 A.D. to a WHOPPING 35,000 in 300 A.D!! The present day challenge of American citizens to retain their liberty and prosperity can be traced (although not exclusively) to the breakdown of the family and the unwillingness of couples to have children. On the other hand, if the American people were to value an abundance of children, this would be a sign of recovery; a harbinger of better things to come.

I will conclude with this list of just a few nations (w/birthrate) that are facing a demographic crisis:

US 2.06
Ireland 2.02
France 1.96
UK 1.91
Australia 1.78
Norway 1.77
Denmark 1.74
Finland 1.73
Sweden 1.67
Belgium 1.65
Canada 1.58
China 1.54
Spain 1.47
Switzerland 1.46
Georgia 1.45
Russia 1.42
Georgia 1.45
Germany 1.41
Austria 1.40
Italy 1.39
Greece 1.38
Poland 1.30
Lithuania 1.25
Japan 1.21

Can it be said of any Christian nation today what the Word of God said about Israel? "But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them." (Ex 1:7) And is the Church exercising her prophetic office and using every means possible so as to draw the attention of the world to this crisis of young people?