Pope Francis Encourages Adoption and Warns of “Demographic Winter”

Opinion   |   Christopher Manion, PhD   |   Jan 18, 2022   |   4:50PM   |   Washington, DC

During his General Audience on January 5, as Pope Francis addressed the role of Saint Joseph in the Holy Family, he paused to address the beauty of adoption and its role in family life.

“I think particularly of all those who are open to welcoming life by way of adoption, which is such a generous and beautiful, good attitude. Joseph shows us that this type of bond is not secondary; it is not second best. This kind of choice is among the highest forms of love, and of fatherhood and motherhood. How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them! And how many married couples want to be fathers and mothers but are unable to do so for biological reasons; or, although they already have children, they want to share their family’s affection with those who do not have it. We should not be afraid to choose the path of adoption, to take the “risk” of welcoming.”

The Holy Father continued, addressing the attitude of many in the secular culture who embrace a different view:

“The other day, I was talking about the demographic winter that we have today: many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one — but they have two dogs, two cats.”

“Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children. Yes, it’s funny, I understand, but it is the reality, and this denial of fatherhood and motherhood diminishes us, takes away our humanity.”

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“It is riskier to deny fatherhood or to deny motherhood, be it real or spiritual. A man and a woman who voluntarily do not develop a sense of fatherhood and motherhood are missing something fundamental, important. Think about this, please.”

The pope’s secular critics responded quickly, citing familiar complaints: women can’t be priests; homosexuals can’t adopt children from Catholic agencies; having children in this economy is inhumane; there are already too many people. Even some pet owners felt offended. But few addressed the problem that the Holy Father raised: the “demographic winter” and how the dissolution of the family has caused it.

“Think About This, Please”

Pope Francis is correct. Today countries throughout the West are facing a “birth dearth” without parallel in recent history. At the same time, and intimately connected, the traditional family is facing unprecedented challenges from an increasingly hostile secular culture.

And we do need to think about it.

Fortunately, Pope Francis’ profound concerns have been echoed by a growing number of observers throughout the West. One of them is Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Last November, Gómez addressed an international audience focusing on “the wider context of the global movement of secularization and de-Christianization and the impact of the pandemic.”

The archbishop’s condemnation of the current state of Western culture was simply stunning.

“An elite leadership class has risen in our countries that has little interest in religion and no real attachments to the nations they live in or to local traditions or cultures,” he said. “This group, which is in charge in corporations, governments, universities, the media, and in the cultural and professional establishments, wants to establish what we might call a global civilization, built on a consumer economy and guided by science, technology, humanitarian values, and technocratic ideas about organizing society.”

“In this elite worldview,” he continued, “there is no need for old-fashioned belief systems and religions. In fact, as they see it, religion, especially Christianity, only gets in the way of the society they hope to build.”

As a result, “for years now, there has been a deliberate effort in Europe and America to erase the Christian roots of society and to suppress any remaining Christian influences.”

Fundamental to that effort, of course, has been the erosion, and eventual destruction, of the family as well as the faith.

The archbishop’s audience had been discussing “cancel culture” and “political correctness,” he observes, “and we recognize that often what is being canceled and corrected are perspectives rooted in Christian beliefs — about human life and the human person, about marriage, the family, and more … Holding certain Christian beliefs is said to be a threat to the freedoms, and even to the safety, of other groups in our societies.”

This is not altogether new, Gómez observes, “The new social movements and ideologies that we are talking about today were being seeded and prepared for many years in our universities and cultural institutions. This pandemic did not change our societies as much as it accelerated trends and directions that were already at work.”

Leaders throughout the West have taken advantage of the pandemic to further their own agendas, to be sure. Their efforts have indeed succeeded, at least in the short term – but Gómez digs deeper.

The Perils of Secular Religions

The archbishop offers “a ‘spiritual interpretation’ of [these] new social justice and political identity movements.” He calls them “America’s New Political Religions.”

Echoing political philosopher Eric Voegelin, who branded Germany’s National Socialism as an “Ersatz Religion” eighty years ago, Gómez says that “the best way for the Church to understand the new social justice movements is to understand them as pseudo-religions, and even replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs.”

Perhaps he has in mind Anatoly Lunacharsky Stalin’s first Commissar of Education, who insisted that all religions were poisonous, especially Christianity. However, when the Left cannot destroy a symbol, they expropriate it. In that spirit, Lunacharsky called Christ “the first Communist.” [Like Syme in Orwell’s 1984, Lunacharsky was vaporized. He was liquidated in Stalin’s purge of 1933.]

“With the breakdown of the Judeo-Christian worldview and the rise of secularism, political belief systems based on social justice or personal identity have come to fill the space that Christian belief and practice once occupied,” Gómez says.

These systems have various names: “social justice,” “wokeness,” “identity politics,” “intersectionality,” “successor ideology” — but they all “claim to offer what religion provides.”

The Archbishop’s Spanish listeners must have been scratching their heads as they watched the President of the USCCB describing the ideological contamination that has infested America’s elites, including a significant portion of its Catholic hierarchy, for the past 50 years. Yes, many scholars among them knew of the theoretical works that had pioneered the study of ideologies since the French Revolution, but here was the President of the USCCB, boldly following the counsel of Confucius to “call things by their proper names” – and doing it in most public and emphatic manner.

He continues:

“They provide people with an explanation for events and conditions in the world. They offer a sense of meaning, a purpose for living, and the feeling of belonging to a community.  Even more than that, like Christianity, these new movements tell their own ‘story of salvation.’”

“What we might call the ‘woke’ story goes something like this,” he says, and we reproduce it here in full:

We cannot know where we came from, but we are aware that we have interests in common with those who share our skin color or our position in society. We are also painfully aware that our group is suffering and alienated, through no fault of our own. The cause of our unhappiness is that we are victims of oppression by other groups in society. We are liberated and find redemption through our constant struggle against our oppressors, by waging a battle for political and cultural power in the name of creating a society of equity.

Clearly, this is a powerful and attractive narrative for millions of people in American society and in societies across the West. In fact, many of America’s leading corporations, universities, and even public schools are actively promoting and teaching this vision.

This story draws its strength from the simplicity of its explanations — the world is divided into innocents and victims, allies and adversaries.

No doubt that we can recognize in these movements certain elements of liberation theology, they seem to be coming from the same Marxist cultural vision.

With this, the Hispanic President of the USCCB is condemning the Marxist errors of liberation theology – including America’s version of it.


In Defense of the Human — And the Divine

“Today’s critical theories and ideologies are profoundly atheistic,” he continues. “They deny the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature; or they think that it is irrelevant to human happiness. They reduce what it means to be human to essentially physical qualities — the color of our skin, our sex, our notions of gender, our ethnic background, or our position in society.”

He likens some of these errors to those occurring in “the heresies that we find in Church history,” he writes, mentioning the Manichees, the Pelagians, the Arians. “These movements are Utopian. They seem to really believe that we can create a kind of ‘heaven on earth,’ a perfectly just society, through our own political efforts.”

“Again my friends, my point is this: I believe that it is important for the Church to understand and engage these new movements — not on social or political terms, but as dangerous substitutes for true religion.”

Archbishop Gómez’s remarks have received little attention since November. Indeed, many undoubtedly pray that they will be quickly forgotten. But his analysis pulls back the curtain powerfully and profoundly on the intellectual and religious errors that infect our own times.

The war on the culture focuses on its two foundations: the Faith and the family. Archbishop Gómez’s speech should be read and debated in coming months with the vigor they deserve.

LifeNews Note: Christopher Manion writes for the Population Research Institute, where his column originally appeared.