Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center
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Population Growth “The Church recognizes the serious problem of population growth in the form it has taken in many parts of the world and its moral implications.” + Saint John Paul II  Human Life is a Splendid Gift One thinks, for example of a certain panic deriving from the studies of ecologists and futurologists on population growth, which sometimes exaggerates the danger of demographic increase to the quality of life. But the Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God's goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life... Thus the Church condemns as a grave offense against human dignity and justice all those activities of governments or other public authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of couples in deciding about children. Consequently any violence applied by such authorities in favor of contraception or, still worse, of sterilization and procured abortion, must be altogether condemned and forcefully rejected. Likewise to be denounced as gravely unjust are cases where, in international relations, economic help given for the advancement of peoples is made conditional on programs of contraception, sterilization and abortion. The Church is certainly aware of the many complex problems which couples in many countries face today in their task of transmitting life in a responsible way. She also recognizes the serious problem of population growth in the form it has taken in many parts of the world and its moral implications. However, she holds that consideration in depth of all the aspects of these problems offers a new and stronger confirmation of the importance of the authentic teaching on birth regulation re- proposed in the Second Vatican Council and in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. + Saint John Paul II, apostolic exhortation on the family, "Familiaris Consortio," 1982

An Utmost Sense of Responsibility

When considering the problems of environment and development one must also pay due attention to the complex issue of population. The position of the Holy See regarding procreation is frequently misinterpreted. The Catholic Church does not propose procreation at any cost. It keeps on insisting that the transmission of, and the caring for human life must be exercised with an utmost sense of responsibility. It restates its constant position that human life is sacred; that the aim of public policy is to enhance the welfare of families; that it is the right of the spouses to decide on the size of the family and spacing of births, without pressures from governments or organizations. This decision must fully respect the moral order established by God, taking into account the couple's responsibilities toward each other, the children they already have, and the society to which they belong. What the Church opposes is the imposition of demographic policies and the promotion of methods for limiting births which are contrary to the objective moral order and to the liberty, dignity, and conscience of the human being. At the same time, the Holy See does not consider people as mere numbers, or only on economic terms. It emphatically states its concern that the poor not be singled out as if, by their very existence, they were the cause, rather than the victims, of the lack of development and of environmental degradation.  Serious as the problem of interrelation among environment, development and population is, it cannot be solved in an over-simplistic manner and many of the most alarming predictions have proven false and have been discredited by a number of recent studies. "People are born not only with mouths that need to be fed, but also with hands that can produce, and minds that can create and innovate." As for the environment, just to mention one instance, countries with as few as 5% of the world population are responsible for more than one quarter of the principal greenhouse gas, while countries with up to a quarter of the world population contribute as little as 5% of the same greenhouse gas.  A serious and concerted effort aimed at protecting the environment and at promoting development will not be possible without directly addressing the structural forms of poverty that exist throughout the world. Environment is devastated and development thwarted by the outbreak of wars, when internal conflicts destroy homes, fields and factories, when intolerable circumstances force millions of people to desperately seek refuge away from their lands, when minorities are oppressed, when the rights of the most vulnerable - women, children, the aged, and the infirm - are neglected or abused.  The poor, to whom the earth is entrusted no less than to others, must be enabled to find a way out of their poverty. This will require a courageous reform of structures, as well as new ways of relating among peoples and States.  + Excerpts from a statement of H.E. Archbishop Renato R. Martino, Head of the Holy See Delegation to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 4, 1992 

The Responsibility of Parents

It is true that too frequently an accelerated demographic increase adds its own difficulties to the problems of development: the size of the population increases more rapidly than available resources, and things are found to have reached apparently an impasse. From that moment the temptation is great to check the demographic increase by means of radical measures. It is certain that public authorities can intervene, within the limit of their competence, by favoring the availability of appropriate information and by adopting suitable measures, provided that these be in conformity with the moral law and that they respect the rightful freedom of married couples. Where the inalienable right to marriage and procreation is lacking, human dignity has ceased to exist. Finally, it is for the parents to decide, with full knowledge of the matter, on the number of their children, taking into account their responsibilities towards God, themselves, the children they have already brought into the world, and the community to which they belong. In all this they must follow the demands of their own conscience enlightened by God’s law authentically interpreted, and sustained by confidence in Him. + Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), March 26, 1967

The problems associated with population growth

44. The notion of rights and duties in development must also take account of the problems associated with population growth. This is a very important aspect of authentic development, since it concerns the inalienable values of life and the family. To consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment is mistaken, even from an economic point of view. Suffice it to consider, on the one hand, the significant reduction in infant mortality and the rise in average life expectancy found in economically developed countries, and on the other hand, the signs of crisis observable in societies that are registering an alarming decline in their birth rate. Due attention must obviously be given to responsible procreation, which among other things has a positive contribution to make to integral human development. The Church, in her concern for man's authentic development, urges him to have full respect for human values in the exercise of his sexuality. It cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the “risk” of procreation. This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality, a meaning which needs to be acknowledged and responsibly appropriated not only by individuals but also by the community. It is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure, and likewise to regulate it through strategies of mandatory birth control. In either case materialistic ideas and policies are at work, and individuals are ultimately subjected to various forms of violence. Against such policies, there is a need to defend the primary competence of the family in the area of sexuality, as opposed to the State and its restrictive policies, and to ensure that parents are suitably prepared to undertake their responsibilities. Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. Populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates; this has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies. The decline in births, falling at times beneath the so-called “replacement level”, also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified laborers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs. Furthermore, smaller and at times miniscule families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity. These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness. It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person. In view of this, States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character. + Pope Benedict XVI, ENCYCLICAL LETTER CARITAS IN VERITATE OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF BENEDICT XVI TO THE BISHOPS PRIESTS AND DEACONS MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS THE LAY FAITHFUL AND ALL PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL ON INTEGRAL HUMAN DEVELOPMENT IN CHARITY AND TRUTH. Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 29 June, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in the year 2009.

Health Care, Social Development, and Education

Clearly, the question of population is closely linked to that of human promotion, but false solutions that threaten the dignity and inviolability of life abound and present a special challenge to the Church... It is perhaps appropriate at this point to recall the Church's contribution to the defense and promotion of life through health care, social development, and education to benefit peoples, especially the poor.  + Saint John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia

A New Form of Oppression

One cannot deny the existence, especially in the southern hemisphere, of a demographic problem which creates difficulties for development. One must immediately add that in the northern hemisphere the nature of this problem is reversed: here, the cause for concern is the drop in the birthrate, with repercussions on the aging of the population, unable even to renew itself biologically. In itself, this is a phenomenon capable of hindering development. Just as it is incorrect to say that such difficulties stem solely from demographic growth, neither is it proved that all demographic growth is incompatible with orderly development. On the other hand, it is very alarming to see governments in many countries launching systematic campaigns against birth, contrary not only to the cultural and religious identity of the countries themselves but also contrary to the nature of true development. It often happens that these campaigns are the result of pressure and financing coming from abroad, and in some cases they are made a condition for the granting of financial and economic aid and assistance. In any event, there is an absolute lack of respect for the freedom of choice of the parties involved, men and women often subjected to intolerable pressures, including economic ones, in order to force them to submit to this new form of oppression. It is the poorest populations which suffer such mistreatment, and this sometimes leads to a tendency towards a form of racism, or the promotion of certain equally racist forms of eugenics. This fact too, which deserves the most forceful condemnation, is a sign of an erroneous and perverse idea of true human development. + Saint John Paul II, SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS, December 30, 1987

"Zimbabweans must have fewer children."

Strong pressure groups from overseas, through their local representatives, tell us that the first thing Zimbabweans must do is to have fewer children. We keep hearing a very simple message: Have plenty of children and remain poor, cut down on children and be prosperous. In other words:  Let us eliminate poverty by eliminating the poor. Women of child-bearing age are considered dangerous to society. Children are no longer welcomed, but considered superfluous. People are one-sidedly seen merely as eaters and consumers, as if they were vermin. But first and foremost people are an asset and a resource, potential producers and creators of new wealth. They say, for instance, that the annual population growth rate is around 3 % and the annual economic growth rate around 2 %; therefore, the population growth rate must be brought down to 2 %. In other words: the people must be adjusted to the economy. We ask: why not adjust the economy to the people? Why not bring up the economic growth to the population increase? We do not say "The more people, the better". The world population has grown within the last 150 years more than ever before in human history. In the last hundred years the population of Zimbabwe has increased at least tenfold. We may be lagging behind in building enough schools, hospitals, social services, workplaces, houses, means of transport etc. for all of them. But if people are our main concern, we will not say "Have fewer people". Fewer people will not build more houses, hospitals, schools. People are not so much a threat and a danger to the earth's resources. They are a resource themselves. "Indeed, besides the earth, man's principle resource is man himself. His intelligence enables him to discover the earth's productive potential and the many different ways in which human needs can be satisfied" (Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991, p. 62). So we will ask: How can we make the best use of our human potential? What effort is needed, nationally and internationally, to feed, educate, treat medically and house everyone?   We are told that our land cannot support our population by people who consume much greater amounts of energy, water, and most other resources than we do. From a global perspective, the developed nations have as much reason to question their excessive consumption as the developing nations have to ask how they can feed their people. But they do not. Refusing to change their lifestyle, they hold us alone responsible for the imbalance between rich and poor nations. The question is not one of production (Do we produce enough for all?) but of distribution (Who has access to what is being produced?). "Between 1950 and 1980 total world food production doubled and, at the present time, 'globally there is enough food for all'. The fact that people continue to starve despite this shows that 'inequitable access is the main problem'" (World Hunger, Vatican, p.30). We are told by our own leaders that we need a "population policy", apparently accepting the one-sided message coming from the developed countries unquestioningly. We would like to ask: Have the people in our country ever been asked whether they want a "population policy"? How do people feel about it in the light of their culture and spiritual outlook? "Embarking upon costly social and economic policies, without taking into account the perception of reality by the most humble members of society, can eventually lead to extremely costly dead-ends for the whole world" (World Hunger, Vatican, 1996, p. 38). Do we need a "population policy" by which we understand a campaign to sharply reduce the number of births, considering that the fertility rate is already falling, the mortality rate is going up due to AIDS and there is a possibility that the population may stop growing anyway? Rebuild the family and beat poverty we propose, instead of a population policy, a family policy, i.e. a campaign to restore family life, considering that the family is the heart of our culture, "the basic unit of society" and the "domestic church". These are [some of] the basic elements of our family policy: 1) "Not international bureaucrats, nor agents of aid organizations, nor politicians or governments decide on family size, but parents," we said in 1994. We need responsible parenthood within the family, not population control imposed from outside. Responsible parenthood goes together with natural family planning (NFP). We ask government and non-governmental organizations to make NFP available to the general public. It is free of side-effects and woman-friendly. 2) "Human life must be respected from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death" (Pope John Paul II). Young people must be taught respect for human life in the family and in school. The "unspeakable crime" of abortion (The Gospel of Life, John Paul II) must never be considered as a means of family or population planning. 3) We need to create a new culture of mutual respect between men and women. We need to create a new culture of self-discipline which abhors sexual abuse and honors abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within marriage. The purpose of the Creator's gift of sexuality is to be an expression of faithful and committed love and to procreate new life... + Excerpts from the Zimbabwe (Africa) Catholic Bishops' Conference, April 1997

Natural Family Planning Involves Respect for Nature

Using the natural methods requires and strengthens the harmony of the married couple, it helps and confirms the rediscovery of the marvelous gift of parenthood, it involves respect for nature, and demands the responsibility of the individuals. According to many authoritative opinions, they also foster more completely that human ecology which is the harmony between the demands of nature and personal behavior. At the global level this choice supports the process of freedom and emancipation of women and peoples from unjust family planning programs which bring in their sad wake the various forms of contraception, abortion, and sterilization. + Saint John Paul II, January 22, 1997 issue of L'Osservatore Romano.

Social and Economic Development

Regrettably, advantaged groups often seem more intent on curbing Third World births than on restraining the even more voracious consumerism of the developed world. We believe this compounds injustice and increased disrespect for the life of the weakest among us. The key factor, though not the only one, in dealing with population problems is sustainable social and economic development. Technological fixes do not really work. Only when an economy distributes resources so as to allow the poor an equitable stake in society and some hope for the future do couples see responsible parenthood as good for their families. In particular, prenatal care; education; good nutrition; and health care for women, children, and families promise to improve family welfare and contribute to stabilizing population. Supporting such equitable social development, moreover, may well be the best contribution affluent societies, like the United States, can make to relieving ecological pressures in developed nations. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that rapid population growth presents special problems and challenges that must be addressed in order to avoid damage to the environment and to social development. In the words of Pope Paul VI, "It is true that frequently an accelerated demographic increase adds its own difficulties to the problems of development: the size of population increases more rapidly than the available resources." In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II has likewise noted "One cannot deny the existence, especially in the Southern Hemisphere of a demographic problem which creates difficulties for development." He has gone on to make connections between population size, development, and the environment. There is "a greater realization of the limit of available resources," he commented, "and of the need to respect the integrity and cycles of nature and to take them into account when planning for development."   Even though it is possible to feed a growing population, the ecological costs of doing so ought to be taken into account. To eliminate hunger from the planet, the world community needs to reform the institutional and political structures that restrict the access of people to food. Thus, the Church addresses population issues in the context of its teaching on human life, of just development, of care for the environment, and of respect for the freedom of married couples to decide voluntarily on the number and spacing of births. In keeping with these values, and out of respect for cultural norms, it continues to oppose coercive methods of population control and programs that bias decisions through incentives or disincentives. Respect for nature ought to encourage policies that promote natural family planning and true responsible parenthood rather than coercive population control programs or incentives for birth control that violate cultural and religious norms and Catholic teaching.   Finally, we are charged with restoring the integrity of all creation. We must care for all God's creatures, especially the most vulnerable. How then, can we protect endangered species and at the same time be callous to the unborn, the elderly or disabled persons? Is not abortion also a sin against creation? If we turn our backs on our own unborn children, can we truly expect that nature will receive respectful treatment at our hands? The care of the earth will not be advanced by the destruction of human life at any stage of development. As Pope John Paul II has said, "protecting the environment is first of all the right to live and the protection of life." + United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing the Earth, 1991

Waterways of the Human Body

So it was that Pope Paul VI felt himself obliged to overrule a majority of his advisory committee, and issue his famous encyclical against the contraceptive pill. In the light of the potential population explosion in some parts of the world, that document encouraged the regulation of births to a level the earth could support - but only through non-interventive methods (and he encouraged the scientific improvement of those methods). The Pope's decision reaffirmed the Church's whole latent, positive teaching on the body as a vital element of the human person. It reaffirmed the principles of ecology in the most intimate environment known to humankind. If the Pope had encouraged the use of the Pill, he would have been encouraging couples to pollute the waterways of the human body with chemicals, deliberately to prevent the body from functioning in a healthy way. A profane, industrial mentality would have been extended into the most sacred, private sphere.           + Stratford Caldecott, "Second Spring," edited from the Centre for Faith & Culture at Westminster College, Oxford Global Climate Change and Population Growth The global climate change debate cannot become just another opportunity for some groups - usually affluent advocates from the developed nations - to blame the problem on population growth in poor countries. Historically, the industrialized countries have emitted more greenhouse gases that warm the climate than have the developing countries. Affluent nations such as our own have to acknowledge the impact of voracious consumerism instead of simply calling for population and emissions controls from people in poorer nations.  A more responsible approach to population issues is the promotion of "authentic development," which represents a balanced view of human progress and includes respect for nature and social well-being.   Development policies that seek to reduce poverty with an emphasis on improved education and social conditions for women are far more effective than usual population reduction programs and far more respectful of women's dignity. We should promote a respect for nature that encourages policies fostering natural family planning and the education of women and men rather than coercive measures of population control or government incentives for birth control that violate local cultural and religious norms. + Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, a statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, June 15, 2001 Read more ->  
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