The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences recently held a conference examining population decline and its manifold causes and effects. In connection with that meeting, the Rome-based news service ZENIT interviewed Riccardo Cascioli, president of Italy’s European Center of Studies on Population, Environment and Development. The full interview can be found at ZENIT’s site, in the daily dispatch for May 5.
The final question and answer summarize the state of the situation with respect to the impact of government policy and financial incentives on population growth. It speaks to the limitations of policy and the importance of religious and cultural factors:
Q: Many European countries hope to resolve the low birthrate with financial incentives and increases in the number of immigrants. During his intervention at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Benedict XVI explained the phenomenon of the demographic decline as a lack of love and hope. What is your opinion in this respect?
Cascioli: The experience of some European countries, though they have had decades of policies that favor births — with incentives to births, flexible work to be able to look after children and a network of social services — should teach us that these measures are not enough.
Undoubtedly improvements are seen in the fertility rates, but they are not sufficient to reverse the tendency to the demographic winter.
Sadly, the European Union, which soon will publish a white book on the subject, is moving precisely in this direction, ignoring the cultural factor, that is, the most profound motives for a couple’s deciding to have or not have children.
Benedict XVI has finally put his finger on the problem: The real issue has to do with the meaning we give to life, because there is no financial incentive that could convince me to have children, if I live withdrawn in myself and am afraid of the future.
And here is the great task of the Church, because only the proclamation of Christ can reawaken to life a society that is sliding inexorably towards death.
The Pope’s address sounds, therefore, as a severe call also to those sectors of the Church that, when they address the demographic question, underscore almost exclusively the political options that governments must take.
The state has indeed the duty to remove obstacles — economic and social — to my freedom to decide how many children to have, but it cannot also give me the profound reasons to have them. Love and hope are before the state.