UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

94-04-23: Statement of Pope John Paul II (Holy See)

Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations

Address of Pope John Paul II

To Dr. Nafis Sadik, Secretary General of the 1994 International

Conference on Population and Development and Executive Director

of the United Nations Population Fund

on March 18, 1994, Vatican City

1. I greet you, Madam Secretary General, at a time when you are

closely involved in preparing the 1994 International Conference

on Population and Development, to be held in Cairo in September.

Your visit provides an occasion for me to share with you some

thoughts on a topic which, we all agree, is of vital importance

for the well-being and progress of the human family. The theme of

the Cairo Conference takes on a heightened significance in the

light of the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor of

the world continues to widen, a situation which poses an ever

increasing threat to the peace for which mankind longs.

The global population situation is very complex: there are

variations not simply from continent to continent but even from

one region to another. United Nations studies tell us that a

rapid decrease in the global rate of population growth is

expected to begin during the 1990s and carry on into the new

century. At the same time, growth rates remain high in some of

the least developed nations of the world, while population growth

has declined appreciably in the industrialized developed nations.

Basic Ethical Principles

2. The Holy See has carefully followed these matters, with a

special concern to make accurate and objective assessments of

population issues and to urge global solidarity in regard to

development strategies, especially as they affect the developing

nations of the world. In this we have derived benefit from

participation in the meetings of the United Nations Population

Commission and from the studies of the United Nations Population

Division. The Holy See has also participated in all the regional

preparatory meetings of the Cairo Conference, gaining a better

understanding of regional differences and contributing to the

discussion on each occasion.

In accordance with its specific competence and mission, the Holy

See is concerned that proper attention should be given to the

ethical principles determining actions taken in response to the

demographic, sociological and public policy analyses of the data

on population trends. Therefore, the Holy See seeks to focus

attention on certain basic truths: that each and every person ~

regardless of age, sex, religion or national background ~ has a

dignity and worth that is unconditional and inalienable; that

human life itself from conception to natural death is sacred;

that human rights are innate and transcend any constitutional

order; and that the fundamental unity of the human race demands

that everyone be committed to building a community which is free

from injustice and which strives to promote and protect the

common good. These truths about the human person are the measure

of any response to the findings which emerge from the

consideration of demographic data. It is in the light of

authentic human values ~ recognized by peoples of diverse

cultures, religious and national backgrounds across the globe ~

that all policy choices must be evaluated. No goal or policy will

bring positive results for people if it does not respect the

unique dignity and objective needs of those same people.

Human Development and the Family

3. There is widespread agreement that a population policy is only

one part of an overall development strategy. Accordingly, it is

important that any discussion of population policies should keep

in mind the actual and projected development of nations and

regions. At the same time, it is impossible to leave out of

account the very nature of what is meant by the term

"development." All development worthy of the name must be

integral, that is, it must be directed to the true good of every

person and of the whole person. True development cannot consist

in the simple accumulation of wealth and in the greater

availability of goods and services, but must be pursued with due

consideration for the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions

of the human being. Development programs must be built on justice

and equality, enabling people to live in dignity, harmony and

peace. They must respect the cultural heritage of peoples and

nations, and those social qualities and virtues that reflect the

God-given dignity of each and every person and the divine plan

which calls all persons to unity. Importantly, men and women must

be active agents of their own development, for to treat them as

mere objects in some scheme or plan would be to stifle that

capacity for freedom and responsibility which is fundamental to

the good of the human person.

4. Development has been and remains the proper context for the

international community's consideration of population issues.

Within such discussions there naturally arise questions relating

to the transmission and nurturing of human life. But to formulate

population issues in terms of individual "sexual and reproductive

rights," or even in terms of "women's rights" is to change the

focus which should be the proper concern of governments and

international agencies. I say this without in any way wishing to

reduce the importance of securing justice and equity for women.

Moreover, questions involving the transmission of life and its

subsequent nurturing cannot be adequately dealt with except in

relation to the good of the family: that communion of persons

established by the marriage of husband and wife, which is ~ as

the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms ~ "the natural

and fundamental group unit of society" (art. 16.3). The family is

an institution founded upon the very nature of the human person,

and it is the proper setting for the conception, birth and

upbringing of children. At this moment in history, when so many

powerful forces are arrayed against the family, it is more

important than ever that the Conference on Population and

Development should respond to the challenge implicit in the

United Nations' designation of 1994 as the "International Year of

the Family" by doing everything within its power to ensure that

the family receives from "society and the State" that protection

to which the same Universal Declaration says it is "entitled"

(ibid.). Anything less would be a betrayal of the noblest ideals

of the United Nations.

Responsible Parenthood

5. Today, the duty to safeguard the family demands that

particular attention be given to securing for husband and wife

the liberty to decide responsibly, free from all social or legal

coercion, the number of children they will have and the spacing

of their births. It should not be the intent of governments or

other agencies to decide for couples but, rather, to create the

social conditions which will enable them to make appropriate

decisions in the light of their responsibilities to God, to

themselves, to the society of which they are a part, and to the

objective moral order. What the Church calls "responsible

parenthood" is not a question of unlimited procreation or lack of

awareness of what is involved in rearing children, but rather the

empowerment of couples to use their inviolable liberty wisely and

responsibly, taking into account social and demographic realities

as well as their own situation and legitimate desires, in the

light of objective moral criteria. All propaganda and

misinformation directed at persuading couples that they must

limit their family to one or two children should be steadfastly

avoided, and couples that generously choose to have large

families are to be supported.

In defense of the human person, the Church stands opposed to the

imposition of limits on family size, and to the promotion of

methods of limiting births which separate the unitive and

procreative dimensions of marital intercourse, which are contrary

to the moral law inscribed in the human heart, or which

constitute an assault on the sacredness of life. Thus,

sterilization, which is more and more promoted as a method of

family planning, because of its finality and its potential for

the violation of human rights, especially of women, is clearly

unacceptable; it poses a most grave threat to human dignity and

liberty when promoted as part of a population policy. Abortion,

which destroys existing human life, is a heinous evil, and it is

never an acceptable method of family planning, as was recognized

by consensus at the Mexico City United Nations International

Conference on Population (1984).

6. To summarize, I wish to emphasize once again what I have

written in the Encyclical Centesimus Annus: "It is necessary to

go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family

is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life ~ the gift of God

~ can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks

to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what

constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called

culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.

Human ingenuity seems to be directed more towards limiting,

suppressing or destroying the sources of life ~ including

recourse to abortion, which unfortunately is so widespread in the

world~ than toward defending and opening up the possibility of

life" (No. 39).

Status of Women and Children

7. As well as reaffirming the fundamental role of the family in

society, I wish to draw special attention to the status of

children and women, who all too often find themselves the most

vulnerable members of our communities. Children must not be

treated as a burden or inconvenience, but should be cherished as

bearers of hope and signs of promise for the future. The care

which is essential for their growth and nurture comes primarily

from their parents, but society must help by sustaining the

family in its needs and in its efforts to maintain the caring

environment in which children can develop. Society ought to

promote "social policies which have the family as their principal

object, policies which assist the family by providing adequate

resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up

children and for looking after the elderly, so as to avoid

distancing the latter from the family unit and in order to

strengthen relations between generations" (Centesimus Annus, 49).

A society cannot say that it is treating children justly or

protecting their interests if its laws do not safeguard their

rights and respect the responsibility of parents for their


8. It is a sad reflection on the human condition that still

today, at the end of the twentieth century, it is necessary to

affirm that every woman is equal in dignity to man, and a full

member of the human family, within which she has a distinctive

place and vocation that is complementary to but in no way less

valuable than man's. In much of the world, much still has to be

done to meet the educational and health needs of girls and young

women so that they may achieve their full potential in society.

In the family which a woman establishes with her husband she

enjoys the unique role and privilege of motherhood. In a special

way it belongs to her to nurture the new life of the child from

the moment of conception. The mother in particular enwraps the

newborn child in love and security, and creates the environment

for its growth and development. Society should not allow woman's

maternal role to be demeaned, or count it as of little value in

comparison with other possibilities. Greater consideration should

be given to the social role of mothers, and support should be

given to programs which aim at decreasing maternal mortality,

providing prenatal and perinatal care, meeting the nutritional

needs of pregnant women and nursing mothers, and helping mothers

themselves to provide preventive health care for their infants.

In this regard attention should be given to the positive benefits

of breast-feeding for nourishment and disease prevention in

infants, as well as for maternal bonding and birth-spacing.

Valid Implications of Population Growth

9. The study of population and development inevitably poses the

question of the environmental implications of population growth.

The ecological issue too is fundamentally a moral one. While

population growth is often blamed for environmental problems, we

know that the matter is more complex. Patterns of consumption and

waste, especially in developed nations, depletion of natural

resources, the absence of restrictions or safeguards in some

industrial or production processes, all endanger the natural


The Cairo Conference will also want to give due attention to

morbidity and mortality, and to the need to eliminate

life-threatening diseases of every sort. While advances have been

made that have resulted in an increased life span, policies must

also provide for the elderly and for the contribution that they

make to society in their retirement years. Society should develop

policies to meet their needs for social security, health care and

active participation in the life of their community.

Migration is likewise a major concern in examining demographic

data, and the international community needs to ensure that the

rights of migrants are recognized and protected. In this regard I

draw special attention to the situation of migrant families. The

State's task is to ensure that immigrant families do not lack

what it ordinarily guarantees its own citizens, as well as to

protect them from any attempt at marginalization, intolerance or

racism, and to promote an attitude of convinced and active

solidarity in their regard (cf. Message for World Migration Day,

1993-94, No. 1).

Moral Significance of Conference Issues

10. As the preparations for the Cairo Conference proceed, I wish

to assure you, Madam Secretary General, that the Holy See is

fully aware of the complexity of the issues involved. This very

complexity requires that we carefully weigh the consequences for

the present and future generations of the strategies and

recommendations to be proposed. In this context, the draft final

document of the Cairo Conference, which is already being

circulated, is a cause of grave concern to me. Many of the

principles which I have just mentioned find no place in its

pages, or are totally marginalized. Indeed, certain basic ethical

principles are contradicted by its proposals. Political or

ideological considerations cannot be, by themselves, the basis on

which essential decisions for the future of our society are

founded. What is at stake here is the very future of humanity.

Fundamental questions like the transmission of life, the family,

and the material and moral development of society, need very

serious consideration.

For example, the international consensus of the 1984 Mexico City

International Conference on Population that "in no case should

abortion be promoted as a method of family planning" is

completely ignored in the draft document. Indeed, there is a

tendency to promote an internationally recognized right to access

to abortion on demand, without any restriction, with no regard to

the rights of the unborn, in a manner which goes beyond what even

now is unfortunately accepted by the laws of some nations. The

vision of sexuality which inspires the document is

individualistic. Marriage is ignored, as if it were something of

the past. An institution as natural, universal and fundamental as

the family cannot be manipulated without causing serious damage

to the fabric and stability of society.

The seriousness of the challenges that governments and, above

all, parents must face in the education of the younger generation

means that we cannot abdicate our responsibility of leading young

people to a deeper understanding of their own dignity and

potentiality as persons. What future do we propose to adolescents

if we leave them, in their immaturity, to follow their instincts

without taking into consideration the interpersonal and moral

implications of their sexual behavior? Do we not have an

obligation to open their eyes to the damage and suffering to

which morally irresponsible sexual behavior can lead them? Is it

not our task to challenge them with a demanding ethic which fully

respects their dignity and which leads them to that self-control

which is needed in order to face the many demands of life?

I am sure, Madam Secretary General, that, in the remaining period

of preparation for the Cairo Conference, you and your

collaborators, as well as the nations which will take part in the

Conference itself, will devote adequate attention to these deeper


None of the issues to be discussed is simply an economic or

demographic concern, but, at root, each is a matter of profound

moral significance, with far-reaching implications. Accordingly,

the Holy See's contribution will consist in providing an ethical

perspective on the issues to be considered, always with the

conviction that mankind's efforts to respect and conform to God's

providential plan is the only way to succeed in building a world

of genuine equality, unity and peace.

May Almighty God enlighten all those taking part in the



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