Pope Benedict XVI recently released an encyclical, a long letter to the Catholic Church and “all people of good will” about progress and development. Coming as it does in the middle of an economic crisis the media reported it as a critique of the market economy and the benefits of globalisation.

But anyone reading the document, called Caritas in veritate (“Charity in truth”) as another government white paper will be disappointed. The Pope’s focus is theology, human rights and social morality, not policy-making. The key message is that “The truth of development consists in its completeness: if it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development.” In other words, economic and technological progress is incomplete if it stunts personal growth. As Benedict puts it, “There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people's spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul.”

So it’s not surprising that he deals with the population control and global ageing. Not surprisingly, he endorses the view that human ingenuity will eventually overcome the problems associated with population growth:

“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 labourers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs.”

He also predicts that smaller families will put a strain on social capital:

“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.”

And, unlike most demographers, who normally take an interest in numbers of individuals, the Pope insists that governments should take families in account.

“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.”

It is dense document but inspiring because of its emphasis on “integral human development”. Check it out.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.