The Pope Was Right All Along

The disruptive results for individuals and society spawned by the revolution in attitudes and behavior regarding sex, marriage, family, and childbearing that erupted a half-century ago have become too obvious to ignore. These things were predictable–in fact, some people actually predicted them from the start–but by now their impact has grown so painfully apparent that even secular voices are being raised in alarm.

The problems are increasingly visible in the United States. They include an aging population with fewer young workers to support the elderly, along with a disturbingly high incidence of disabilities among children born to parents who put off having them until their 30s and 40s and then, in many instances, resorted to drugs or reproductive technologies to achieve pregnancy.

Between 2007 and 2010, the U.S. birthrate dropped 8%, to the lowest level since 1920, when reliable data first became available. The lifetime average of 1.9 children per woman is below the replacement rate of 2.1–the number of children needed to keep population level. Granted, some of this is due to the recession but some reflects longer-term trends.

Pope Paul VI (r. 1963-1978)

Pope Paul VI (r. 1963-1978)

Religious sources, some of them anyway, began warning about such things a long time ago. In his 1968 encyclical condemning contraception, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI spoke of “insurmountable limits” to what people can rightly do to and with their bodies, and of the personal and social imperatives requiring that those limits be respected. The Pope was ignored when he wasn’t laughed at. But he was right.

Now, in their own way, secular sources have begun to make points very much like those made by Paul VI and a few others. As fresh evidence, consider recent articles in two very different opinion journals–the neoconservative Weekly Standard and the liberal New Republic. Both are required reading for people who want to know the dismal demographic future that, barring a miracle, lies just ahead.

Jonathan V. Last focuses in the Standard on the crisis in marriage. To put it simply, large numbers of Americans just aren’t getting married any more.

Up until 1970, Last writes, the percentage who were married at some point in their lives never fell much below 93%. But now 67% of men and 57% of women in the prime childbearing years between 20 and 34 have never been married, and more than half of voting age Americans are single.

Over in the New Republic, Judith Shulevitz, the magazine’s science editor and an older mother herself, notes that the age of first-time mothers rose from 21.5 in 1970 to 25.4 in 2010.

As the age of mothers has risen, birth defects also have increased among the children of older women who postponed pregnancy and then turned to technology to catch up. (Lest you wonder: the incidence of birth defects also is higher among children of older men.) Shulevitz suggests doctors get busy spreading the word “that tinkering with reproductive material at the very earliest stages of a fetus’s growth may have molecular effects we’re only beginning to understand.”

Jonathan Last sees two large explanations for what has happened in recent decades: “the waning of religion in American life” and the shattering of the “iron triangle” that previously linked sex, marriage and childbearing. No doubt that is so. As Pope Paul VI said back in 1968, “The honest practice of regulation of birth demands…that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions concerning the true values of life and of the family.” That was necessary then, and it’s just as necessary today.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • Amen!

  • Our entire society is geared around making it as difficult as possible for families. IF you can find work you need two jobs to get by, perhaps more. Divorce, home violence, infidelities are rampant. Just discovering we were wrong is insufficient to turn it around, we have to re-build family-friendly societies.

  • Father Shockey

    Find and watch the DVD’s “The Demographic Winter” and the “Demographic War” and you will see just how wrong our society was and just what kind of trouble the entire world is really in. The videos are scientifically based and not faith based which in my opinion makes them even more shocking and ominous!

  • Jacques DUMON

    Yes Paul VI was right with “Humanae viate” but this was probably the only time he was right, fortunately inspired by the Holy Spirit in that serious issue.
    In many other matters where he didn’t engage the pontifical infallibility, he gravely erred.

  • Julie

    Shulevitz suggests doctors get busy spreading the word “that tinkering
    with reproductive material at the very earliest stages of a fetus’s
    growth may have molecular effects we’re only beginning to understand.”

    And I say the world (especially the United States) needs to get busy outlawing abortion on demand. Abortion is MURDER; plain and simple.

  • ANYTIME a Pope pronounces on matters of Faith or morals, he is speaking infallibly. If he is merely commenting on the weather, he isn’t.

  • Jeff

    Paul VI was continuing the Tradition of the Church. Read the December 1930 CASTI CONNUBII ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XI “ON CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE.” He made these points when the Church of England officially and wrongly concluded that contraception could have moral grounds. If only we Catholics would follow the Teachings of our Church, what a different world this would be,

  • chaco

    O.k. [Amen to your Amen John Smith.] , We can look at the “Thorns or the Rose blossom”. You know, of course, that we are instructed to look at the blossom; “…take Heart, I have overcome the World.” (Jn. 16: 33). For perspective, let’s look at the devastation caused by addiction in one’s life; When turning one’s life around, it’s a proven strategy to “Take one day at a time.” I like to call it the “Sarament of the moment” (practicing the *Presence* of the Risen Lord). Discouragement belongs to the Devil. I like to think that the advancement of instant communication can greatly enhance the delivery of the Truth that sets us free. Maybe it’s “Pie in the sky” thinking , but it’s got to be better than looking at the “Thorns”.

  • Jacques DUMON

    Paul VI had disatrous comments, statements and diplomatic initiatives in political issues. The way he abandoned the catholic faithfuls beyond the Iron Curtain in order to follow his chimeric friendship with the atheist communists wa scandalous. A great lot of catholics were murdered or tortured by the reds due to his crazy views

  • Jacques DUMON

    It will be a huge scandal in the christendom if this man is ever beatified. I cannot understand which heroic virtues one may find in his life. On the contrary a Devil Advocate (if the job still was existing!) would bring up a number of bad deeds that would barr him the way to the beatification.

  • An Unmarried 25-Year-Old

    The main reason for postponing marriage/childbirth, in my experience, isn’t contraception or society’s moral erosion – it’s education. As our economy demands more and more education in order for a person to succeed, he or she spends more of his or her life in school, and at school you just don’t have time to date, much less settle down and have children. By the time you’re established, you’re already in your late 20s and probably have no romantic prospects whatsoever, so you’re already a decade behind the less-educated people of the “old days”.

  • nah

    The inevitable decline in a stable society is obvious from the evidence.
    Families built on the foundation of faith and obedience to God’s moral laws will reverse the tide. Sadly, secularism will look to the state for the solution, meanwhile the state enables the decline by upholding immoral licenses as rights.
    Pray for us Pope Paul VI!

  • wbarquez

    In a few decades, the same situation is expected to occur in the Philippines with the passage of the RH Law.

  • Maggie Goff

    I found “The Demographic Winter” on Youtube, but can’t find Demographic War anywhere.

  • responder111

    Pope Paul VI made 4 predictions in Humane Vitae and they have ALL COME TRUE. None of them have been good for women and/or children or society at large.

  • KW

    The real reason that everyone is skirting around for the collapse of the American family: An entire generation of boy’s were willfully discriminated against in every way imaginable for the benefit of girl’s, young women and women.

    We were willfully denied access to an equal education, had to endure a sexist, female chauvinistic environment in the k-12 and college systems that showed undo preference favoritism and patronage of the female sex. And look at the sheer bigotry we face in employment because of our gender(let alone race, sexual orientation and creed).

    Millions of Gen Y males where systematically abused, sexually assaulted or raped and denigrated by the systems of our society with everyone cheering it on(see how society approves of women raping boy’s, and boy’s and men being raped while incarcerated ): Family, Community, Governments, Bureaucracies Churches and Synagogues(Even Jewish Temples are having the same problems as Christian Churches with young men wanting nothing to do with them because of institutionalized misandry) .

    Why would any Christian Young Man want anything to do with an entire civilization that hates them? The Churches may speak the words, but to Young Men you might as well be a coven of Amazonian pagans. From our vantage point you are all wolves hidden among sheep. many may not be able conceptualize how they feel, but that doesn’t change how they feel and why they feel the way they do.

    The sad reality is, everyone is so pathologically biased against boy’s, they will refuse to acknowledge or ever seek to make amends for the crimes that have been committed. Society can change law’s but it can’t change hearts. By ignoring the problem all your doing is hardening the hearts of millions upon millions of young men against you. Worse yet, trying to solve the problem while ignoring the plight of young men is the emotional, and spiritual equivalent of pouring sulfuric acid into a forcibly reopened wound.

  • TULRangerFan

    That’s not completely true. He MUST proclaim to be speaking ex-cathedra or from the throne, EVEN when speaking of matters of Faith and morals.