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First things first: Pope Francis’ overlooked pro-birth and pro-life message

In his speech to the Forum of Family Associations, the Pontiff directly addressed Italy’s demographic winter and the drop in births in that country.

Pope Francis greets children in a Rome auditorium May 14, 2021, as he opens a meeting dedicated to Italy's declining birthrate and population. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

On May 14, 2021, Pope Francis delivered a notable opening speech to the Forum of Family Associations. The Forum was founded in 1993 as an umbrella organization embracing 500 associations, which Pope Francis calls a “family of families” that promotes and supports the family. In a nutshell, Francis’ message was pro-life, pro-family, pro-women, and pro-birth, addressing Italy’s demographic winter and the drop in births in that country.

The event reminded me of an advertisement in 2018 by Chicco – the famous Italian brand of baby products, widely known in the USA – calling for a baby boom in Italy. Even if one does not know Italian, the enthusiasm of the speaker in the ad inviting people to multiply is contagious. The advertising reads:

2018: for the first time in sixty years, Italy does not play the world championship. A tragedy, [for] the great Azura, conqueror of four world championships! Every goal, every shout of joy, every world championship won, has always ended with a baby boom, a punctual explosion of birth rate, an abundance of newborns flooded us [Italians] with optimism, making Italy an extraordinary nation. However, today, the reality is different, but the solution is obvious: let’s have another baby boom! We need children! Thousands, millions, trillions of children! Children who will help us grow, bringing Italy to the right place to be. Let’s do it for Italy!

The ad was so popular with the Italian public that it attracted as many enthusiasts as critics, with some of its critics going so far as to compare the Chicco baby boom campaign to Mussolini’s battle-for-births and the fascist pro-natalist movement, which stressed the importance of numero come forza (strength in [birth] numbers) as a strength of the fascist state.

Unlike Chicco’s advertising, Pope Francis’ pro-birth and pro-family speech did not make headlines. Many Vatican observers wondered why his speech received little press, and several others speculated about Francis’ loss of credibility with the pro-life movement. My recommendation to the critics and skeptics is this: read what Pope Francis had to say. It is a short, but a good read.

What Francis’ message and 2018 Chicco commercial both evidence is Italy’s loss of pro-birth culture, which is a plague not only for Italy but also for several other European countries, including Malta, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, and others. Those who thought that the lockdowns and COVID-19 quarantine restrictions would increase the number of births must be disappointed, as the reverse has happened. On May 3, the ISTAT (Italian Institute of Statistics) reported that the population continues to decrease rapidly everywhere in Italy. On January 1, 2021, there were 59,258,000 residents in Italy, 384,000 less than in the previous year (the population of Florence, for context, is about 382,000).

Italy registered a historic minimum of births since the 19th-century Italian Unification and a maximum number of deaths: 7 newborns and 13 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants. The old continent is shrinking; Europe has entered what scholars call the second demographic transition, which started in 1965. The principal feature of the second demographic transition is the decline in fertility from above the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman, which ensures that births and deaths will be balanced, and the population will remain stable in the long run, to a level well below replacement (see “Europe’s Second Demographic Transition”).

From the start of the of his address, Francis positions himself on the side of women, valuing their contribution to the workforce. However, he recognizes that women, unlike men (who are mostly rewarded for being a parent), are penalized when they are pregnant. Francis stated:

I also think, with sadness, of women at work who are discouraged from having children or have to hide their pregnancies. How is it possible that a woman should feel ashamed of the most beautiful gift that life can offer? Not the woman, but society should be ashamed, because a society that does not welcome life stops living.

Women hiding their pregnancies from employers even when they are already in the workforce? Yes, this is real, even in the United States, although federal law prohibits discrimination against pregnant job applicants. How many women cover up their baby bumps under loose clothes when they interview for jobs? And how many women wait until the last minute to disclose their pregnancy to their bosses? Or worse, how many women renounce motherhood altogether because of fear of losing their jobs and their careers?

Pope Francis’ speech focused on three concepts—gift, sustainability, and solidarity—as possible remedies to overcome the demographic winter overwhelming Italy and contemporary society in general. Life is a gift: the greatest gift one receives gratuitously, living proof of a free and mutual gift of the parents. According to Pope Francis, the gift of life is not to be kept to oneself; it is a gift to be shared, transmitted – a gift that we are called to pass on:

… a child is the greatest gift for everyone and comes first. To a child, to every child, is attached this word: first. Just as a child is awaited and loved before he or she is born, so we must put children first if we are to see the light again after the long winter.

The Church has always taught that children are the supreme gift of marriage (cf Gaudium et Spes, 50) and the gift of life. Francis is critical of the indifference to the gift of life which has particularly plagued the affluent countries. The second pillar in Francis’ speech is sustainability: handing down the gift of life or, as he calls it, generational sustainability:

We will not be able to nurture production and preserve the environment if we do not pay attention to families and children.

Francis is making a case for sustainable growth, which cannot be possible without sustainable births and without confidence that people will be able to find sustainable employment. The models followed by youth are far from the Christian vocation of welcoming life. Instead, money, success, individualism, and good appearances come first. The penalization of families, the culture of abortion, and the use of contraception have created the demographic cliff. Instead, Francis is calling to turn attention to firsts, to priorities: children.

Sustainability, however, comes with a great deal of responsibility for parents, who have the natural vocation to educate children so they may grow up to be responsible for themselves and for others. As Francis explained in his March 20, 2015 General Audience. But, sustainability has also a soul, which in Francis’ observation is structural-societal solidarity. The pontiff is calling on societies and governments to invest in family policies, to give stability to families, which in turn will encourage births:

There is an urgent need to offer young people guarantees of sufficiently stable employment, security for their homes, and incentives not to leave the country.

In sum, Francis is encouraging governments to put the natural family in the center of economic and social policies, to defend and strengthen the family as the cornerstone of society. The pontiff is reaffirming the goodness and centrality of the culture of life, of the family and children. His message is pro-all of these: family, birth, and ultimately life. Francis’ speech was indeed good pro-life and pro-family news that was not reported by the media. We can hope that his address will bear fruit, and that contemporary society value the gift of life, providing sustainable options for families, and sharing solidarity with those who care for others. Most certainly, Chicco and other baby product companies would not be the only beneficiaries of such a baby boom.


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About Ines Angeli Murzaku 22 Articles
Ines Angeli Murzaku (http://academic.shu.edu/orientalia/) is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Director of Catholic Studies Program and the Founding Chair of the Department of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University. She earned a doctorate of research from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome part of the Pontifical Gregorian University Consortium and has held visiting positions at the Universities of Bologna and Calabria in Italy and University of Münster in Germany. She is a regular commentator to media outlets on religious matters. She has worked for or collaborated with the Associated Press, CNN, Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Voice of America, Relevant Radio, The Catholic Thing, Crux, The Record, The Stream, Vatican Radio (Vatican City), and EWTN (Rome). Dr. Murzaku is currently writing a book on St. Mother Teresa entitled Mother Teresa: The Saint of the Peripheries who Became Catholicism’s Center Piece to be published by Paulist Press in 2020.

10 Comments

  1. He says good things at times but most always to those who he knows wants to hear it while knowing it won’t get in the headlines and at the same time he works most his energy for the intentions of pro abortion and population controllers toward their new world order.

  2. Francis insults Catholics for breeding like rabbits and has proposed setting up a committee “to restudy” Humane Vitae with the intention of perhaps “discovering” that it really meant the exact opposite of what everyone thought it meant over the past half century. Even his supporters laughed that one off.
    He orchestrates events at the Vatican to welcome and honor the work of notorious abortionists and provide them a platform to lecture humanity that having children desecrates the planet. He then reorganizes the Pontifical Academy for Life by getting rid of its most dedicated and expert pro-life experts and replaces them with cynical religion-hating pro-aborts, and then he praises the anti-family United Nations policies as a model for Catholics.
    Like millions of others around the world, I suppose I can wait till the cows come home before Francis will ever apologize for his cold-blooded indifference in not speaking out against the evilness of children buried alive among his idealized Amazonian peoples at his pretentious Synod with alleged humanitarian purposes.
    All of a sudden we’re supposed to regard Francis as a font of “wisdom” on family matters?

  3. Perhaps if Francis didn’t undo his words by inviting Anthony Fauci, Chelsea Clinton, and others to “health” conferences where they can advance pro-death ideologies, the pro-life people would trust him more.

  4. Father Matthew Habiger, O.S.B., Ph.D., past president of Human Life International, identified the underlying problem: people view babies as a direct financial drain on families and a disincentive for women to continue working. The problem, as Fr. Habiger saw it, was not to subsidize families or artificially raise pay to enable families to live on a single income. That is self-defeating, anyway, as increasing taxes for redistribution or pay without a corresponding increase in production only raises the price level, wiping out any gains. It also puts people under the control of the State that enforces redistribution and pay increases with legislation. People become “mere creatures of the State.”

    No, the real answer, and one that Fr. Habiger openly advocated, was the same one Pope Leo XIII gave in 1891, and Chesterton and Belloc in the 20th century: turn as many as possible of the people into capital owners. Frankly, wages for human labor of all kinds is only going to continue to fall in competition with advancing technology, and continue to turn children from blessings into burdens.

    There is, however, a solution. As Louis Kelso said more than half a century ago, if the machines are taking our jobs, let’s buy the machines. Whether generated by labor or capital, it’s still income, and Kelso proposed that everyone be given access to the opportunity and means to purchase self-liquidating capital that would pay for itself out of its own future profits and thereafter provide consumption income. The ESOP Kelso invented, while it has turned millions of workers into owners — and some into millionaires — is only one small part of the proposal. A way to turn the whole demographic disaster around can be found on the website of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice under the heading of “Economic Democracy Act.” Maybe it’s time to stop demanding that somebody else do something, and do something yourself:

    https://www.cesj.org/learn/economic-democracy-act/

  5. Nice attempted defense of Francis. Would be more convincing if it weren’t for Chelsea Clinton, Jeffrey Sachs and co.

  6. 1) Eliminate gov’t welfare. All of it.
    .
    2) Eliminate Social Security. All of it.
    .
    https://mises.org/library/making-kids-worthless-social-securitys-contribution-fertility-crisis
    .
    3) Eliminate all gov’t funded education (including colleges) and discourage “other” education for pK to 8th grade.
    .
    (Taxes should be lowered accordingly)
    .
    4) Develop the expectation women are use their own education and talent/brains to run their homes and educate their own pre-teen children–not outsource the job to various baby-sitters, professional teachers, nuns, religious brothers, priests, etc, while they work at a grocery store, library, or tech industry for a paycheck.
    .
    There is certainly a time and place for professional teachers: music, dancing, analytical geometry, English literature, foreign languages, etc, but most mothers can handle most of their children’s educational needs in the pre-teen years. Education in “reading, writing, & ‘rithmetic” is not separate from raising one’s children in this society. It is very much a part of it.
    .
    Return to mothers their critical task in educating and raising their own children.
    .
    And finally, put an end to no-fault divorce. A number of men (and a few women) have figured out so-called family courts work against them, and want no part of it.
    .

  7. A pope who praises women’s contribution in the workforce while lamenting the dearth of children has completely missed the plot and quite possibly the ability to reason out cause and effect.

  8. “…Francis is encouraging governments to put the natural family in the center of economic and social policies, to defend and strengthen the family as the cornerstone of society.” Naturally, let the GOV handle the problem. No, no, no, MR. GOVERMENT, get the heck out of my family soup. Families are better off without the pontiff collaborating with dirty money and dirty organizations, as he did recently with the Health Conference.

  9. Thank you –
    https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2018/june/documents/papa-francesco_20180616_forum-associazioni-familiari.html

    good to have come across the warmth and joy of the Holy Father in the midst of the flock , talking about a couple celebrating their 60 the wedding anniv. as to how they were ‘young ‘ , having married at 18 – 🙂 and agree there is the ‘mystery of iniquity ‘ as to how such good words get ignored , yet much focus and wasted words on words and incidents often twisted and taken out of context .

    His genuine love for children and compassion for women and families too comes forth vividly , the words with the good intent from the depth of his heart to be cherished as a powerful blessing – no less in worth than the blessing of the Patriarchal Fathers ..to bring forth fruit in ways we may not fathom yet but to be thankful for !

    https://radiomaria.us/learning-to-live/ – good words of wisdom as to how to hear and read things with the Heart of The Church and not to go astray – this in particular with the Divine Will writings .

    The error when visions get distorted , such as could have been from Garabandal , about the # of Popes ? playing into fear and lack of trust in the Holy Father ..

    That prophesy ? indicating ( if true ) the # of Popes before the anticipated times of the Reign of the Divine Will more fully , including the time of chastisements ..

    As we come close to the end of May , we can thank The Mother , for her beloved son who reveals the warmth and goodness of The Father , in words and deeds .

    Blessings !

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