Two stories on USCatholic.org in the past month or so have generated loads of comments: a blog post by Assistant Editor Meghan Murphy-Gill on Catholic women and birth control (74 comments), and a Catholic News Service story on a government-funded family planning program currently under consideration by the legislature of the Philippines and opposed by the country's Catholic bishops (116 comments). Comments tend to digress, of course, but it just goes to show how much Catholic energy there is in this issue.
Enter a United Nations report issued last week that projects a human population of more than 10 billion people by 2100, with no end to the growth in sight. (The current human population will reach 7 billion by the end of this year; previous projections saw the human population top out at about 9 billion.) Most of that growth will occur in places not ecologically or economically equipped to handle it, with 2.6 billion additional people in Africa alone. While it may be possible to feed everyone--though we're not having great success now--there is good likelihood that the battle for resources will erupt into war.
This has to be an issue for religious communities, since population, in addition to other factors, continues to drive poverty and other forms of human misery. When Humanae Vitae was issued in 1968, the world's population was about 3.5 billion, half what it will be by the beginning of 2012. In only 42 years, the word's population doubled.
Humanae vitae, of course, is not to blame, but it is an obstacle in those places where Catholic teaching holds sway--especially Africa and Latin America. The Catholic Church, through both its charitable efforts (providing about 25 percent of medical services in the developing world) and its moral voice, could encourage an approach to family planning that would slow growth and empower women, who throughout the world generally express a desire to have only two or three children. The key is giving them the power to make decisions about their own fertility.
With human population such a force in matters of poverty, war, and environmental degradation, isn't it time for at least a review of Humanae vitae in light of these signs of the times?