Statement on Population

NationalConference of Catholic Bishops


November 12, 1973

The United Nations has designated 1974 as U.N. Population Year, and has invited member nations to initiate programs of population education and to work toward the development of population policies throughout the year and beyond. At this point we take a positive attitude toward the U.N. Population Year. We hope that those conducting and participating in the public discussion will do so with objectivity, humility and honesty.

Population questions must be considered within the larger context of man's total relationship to the entire human family, that is, in terms of his relationship to the human and social environment of our world. The population discussion must include a recognition of moral and ethical principles, convictions about human rights and the good of society and a determination to preserve the true values of marriage and family life. The population discussion cannot be reduced to a simple discussion of demographic facts, economics or patterns of social organization. We must remember that our ability to make accurate predictions about the distant future is limited, and the picture can be seriously distorted unless equal attention is given to man's ability to solve social problems, to discover or invent new resources, and to change patterns of consumption.

We believe that the Church can make a valuable contribution to the discussion of population by calling attention to the Gospel message and to her social teaching which applies the Gospel to the changing situations of man's life on earth. Indeed, as Pope Paul has stated in the encyclical On the Development of Peoples, "A renewed consciousness of the demands of the Gospel makes it the Church's duty to put herself at the service of all men, to help them grasp their serious problem in all its dimensions, and to convince them that solidarity in action at this turning point in human history is a matter of urgency."[i]

The Church, in unfolding her social teaching, focuses on the dignity of man, the need for worldwide equality and social justice, and the pressing urgency for a new unity among nations. Existing in this world and taking her place in human history, the Church must "foster the human progress of the nations to which she brings faith in Christ."[ii] Such progress demands that all men attain a decent standard of living, which includes the availability of employment and educational opportunities, adequate nutrition, health care and housing facilities. But the fulfillment of human desires also demands an "acknowledgement by men of supreme values, and of God—their source and their end."[iii] Indeed, this acknowledgement is the most important aspect of human development. For "faith, a gift of God accepted by the good will of man"[iv] creates an attitude toward the problems of daily living and relates this present life to the life of complete unity with God in heaven.

In proposing solutions to the various aspects of the population question, Christians must emphasize the need for human solidarity, for social justice, and for universal charity.[v] Men and women must come to realize that we are our brother's keepers, that we hold a common responsibility to increase the access to the banquet of life and to assure all persons an equitable share in the goods provided there.[vi]

In light of these considerations and in anticipation of the activities of U.N. Population Year, we wish to make some basic observations and to restate some principles that contribute to understanding the population issue and the formulation of population policies.


The following facts provide a context in which to approach population questions.

1.The population challenge does not affect all nations in the same way. Some nations have a high and uneven rate of growth that complicates or inhibits the development process. Other nations need an increase of population to enhance development. In some nations, the relocation of population resulting from urbanization creates a special problem. Most of the developed nations, and particularly the United States, do not have the problem of rapid population growth. In fact, the United States birth rate has continually declined over the past 10 to 15 years, resulting in a low rate of population growth.

2.Population growth must be analyzed in the larger context of concern for the development of peoples. It must take into account the care and improvement of the human and physical environment.

3.Population projections must be based on an accurate presentation of demographic factors. They must include sound projections of resource development and of the discovery of new natural resources or synthetic materials.

4.Migration policies can help solve some of the problems resulting from a maldistribution of population. Thus, international and national migration policies should be examined and perhaps changed in light of population concerns.

5.In many nations, shortages of food, housing, schools and jobs generate extraordinary pressure on governments trying to develop dignified and equitable living standards for their people. Rapid population growth may gravely aggravate these pressures. However, population control alone is not the proper solution. Each situation should be met with specific policies and programs which favor human and social development.

6.Developing nations will hardly be able to reach their potential without the aid and cooperation of the already developed nations. This is not simply a matter of sending food, medicine, clothing and financial assistance, but also of granting access to world markets, enabling these nations to draw credit in the financial centers of the world, assisting them in the education and training of their people, entering into partnership in helping them tap their own resources and encouraging imports of necessary but absent raw materials.

7.Natural resources, especially the precious resources of air and water, and the delicate biosphere of life on earth are not infinite. They must be preserved, protected and used as a unique patrimony belonging to all mankind.[vii]


In order to provide a moral perspective, we affirm the following principles derived from the social teaching of the Church.

1.Within the limits of their own competence, government officials have rights and duties with regard to the population problems of their own nations—for instance, in the matter of social legislation as it affects families, of migration to cities, of information relative to the conditions and needs of the nation. Government's positive role is to help bring about those conditions in which married couples, without undue material, physical or psychological pressure, may exercise responsible freedom in determining family size.[viii]

2.Decisions about family size and the frequency of births belong to the parents and cannot be left to public authorities.[ix] Such decisions depend on a rightly formed conscience which respects the divine law and takes into consideration the circumstances of the places and the time. In forming their consciences, parents should take into account their responsibilities toward God, themselves, the children they have already brought into the world and the community to which they belong, "following the dictates of their conscience instructed about the divine law authentically interpreted and strengthened by confidence in God."[x]

3.Public authorities can provide information and recommend policies regarding population, provided these are in conformity with moral law and respect the rightful freedom of married couples.[xi]

4.Men and women should be informed of scientific advances of methods of family planning whose safety has been well proven and which are in accord with the moral law.[xii]

5.Abortion, directly willed and procured, even if for therapeutic reasons, is to be absolutely excluded as a licit means of regulating births.[xiii]


We strongly urge our Catholic people to take a positive approach to the question of population. We encourage research and education efforts in Catholic educational institutions, in order that discussions of population and social development may be carried on in light of a value system rooted in sound ethical and moral principles. To this purpose, intensive discussion of the central themes of the U.N. Population Year—family, development, environment and human rights—should be carried on with the dignity of the family and social justice as the focal points.

Finally, we urge the United States Government to increase foreign assistance programs to the developing nations, especially to those nations where population problems are complicating economic and social development. We must all realize that policy decisions governing the activity of the United States government agencies at home and abroad will be the focus of attention throughout 1974 and beyond. We have rights and responsibilities as citizens and as Christians to contribute to the creation of government policies which respect human dignity and the moral law.

[i] On the Development of Peoples, Paul VI, March 27, 1967, #1.

[ii] On the Development of Peoples, #12.

[iii] On the Development of Peoples, #21.

[iv] On the Development of Peoples, #21.

[v] On the Development of Peoples, #44.

[vi] Cf. Address of Paul VI to UN General Assembly, October 4, 1965.

[vii] Cf. Justice in the World, Report of World Synod of Bishops, 1971.

[viii] Cf. Statement of NCWC Administrative Board, November, 1966.

[ix] Cf. Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965, #50, 87; On the Development of Peoples, #37.

[x] On the Development of Peoples, #37.

[xi] Cf. Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #87; On the Development of Peoples, #37; On the Regulation of Birth (Humanae Vitae), #23

[xii] Cf. Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #87.

[xiii] On the Regulation of Birth, #14.