At the end of this month, Feb. 27 to March 1, the Pontifical Academy of Science (PAS) and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS) are doing something they often do, namely, hosting an international conference on a matter of great importance for “our common home,” in this case, the problem of the extinction of species.
However, this time there’s a key difference.
While the topic did not require presentations on human population growth per se, such sessions were nonetheless scheduled, and Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, and John Bongaarts, an executive of the Population Council, were invited to be the speakers.
Ehrlich is not simply an unbalanced alarmist, whom even the New York Times has dismissed as unworthy of credit. He has repeatedly and viciously attacked the Church and likened the pope to a terrorist. His published works suggest that his purpose in addressing the academies will be to subvert Church teaching.
Bongaarts is something like the arch-propagandist of the abortion and contraception movement, the living analogue of Margaret Sanger. As public tax records show, he’s compensated $500,000 per year (squarely in the top 1 percent) for directing his organization’s efforts to fill sub-Saharan Africa with contraceptives, making him the very poster boy for the “ideological colonialism” that Pope Francis has decried.
The academies cannot say in defense of these invitations that they are scientific bodies which have autonomy, and that these men are being invited for their scientific contributions. Such a defense has merit only for speculative science.
Back in the 1940s, when meetings of PAS were concerned with such things as differential equations and newly discovered celestial objects, a scientist’s ethical views would have had little relevance. But now the PAS holds meetings mainly on practical questions such as, recently, “Narcotics: Problems and Solutions of this Global Issue” and “Human Trafficking as Modern Slavery.”
In practical matters, science is not autonomous but must work within constraints of the right and the good.
In applied science, a person’s ethical commitments are displayed, not merely in the ends he adopts, but also in the means he is willing to contemplate. Presumably a scientist who believed that sex slavery was a good thing for society (a misguided view about the end), would never be invited to address the human trafficking conference.
But neither would a scientist be invited, who thought the sex slavery problem could be solved by euthanizing the sex slaves (a misguided view about the means).
But Ehrlich and Bongaarts do not simply contemplate abortion and contraception for population control: it is their main message. To invite them, therefore, to speak on the practical question of population is implicitly to embrace their ethical commitments.
“Women should have the choice of multiple contraceptive methods — including not only pills, injectables and barrier methods, but also long-acting methods such as intrauterine devices and systems (IUDs and IUSs), implants and sterilization,” Bongaarts wrote in an article in the scientific journal Nature last year.
“Where legal, safe abortion services should be made available. Other obstacles to contraceptive use, such as incorrect rumors about side effects and conservative social attitudes should be addressed by the education of women and men, media campaigns and collaboration with community leaders.”
These are ethical statements, not scientific.
Moral theologians would speak in this context of “formal cooperation with evil”: to share in the evil commitments of another, they say, is to share in that evil — and to share, too, in responsibility for whatever further abortions, and corruptions of the marital bond, that Ehrlich and Bongaarts succeed in bringing about.
The evil is compounded by the fact that an invitation to address any Pontifical Academy is a great honor. This honor can and will be used by these men in promoting their message. The U.S. bishops have correctly written, “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Note that this principle is not binding because the bishops have articulated it; rather, the bishops have articulated it, because the principle is antecedently binding. It would seem to bind even a Pontifical Academy.
One may also speak of “scandal” in the strict sense, that is, encouraging grave sin by others. I do not mean, absurdly, that pro-life persons will be tempted by the academies’ misguided actions to abandon their commitments.
I mean, for instance, that Population Council workers in sub-Saharan Africa will henceforth be able to cite Bongaarts at the Pontifical Academies in defense of their efforts—in direct opposition to groups such as Culture of Life Africa.
The academies here give encouragement to the Goliaths against David.
Or that a grad student somewhere, who had nobly intended to serve the Church in the social sciences, willing to accept blackballing and other foreseeable forms of soft persecution, might now look to the platform accorded Ehrlich and Bongaarts and with discouragement wonder, “What’s the point?” Investment banking begins to look like a great choice in comparison.
Ehrlich, in particular, is a vicious attacker of the Church.
“When you ban abortion, you kill women … The immoral Catholic bishops ought to contemplate this, especially since their ‘flock’ has resoundingly rejected their medieval patriarchal and sexist ideas, and their ridiculous views on human sexuality,” Erhlich wrote only two years ago, in Hope on Earth.
“The pope and many of the bishops are one of the truly evil, regressive forces on the planet,” he added. Catholic opposition to contraception is in fact “the most unethical thing going on now.”
Ehrlich even likens the pope to a terrorist: “The main source of that is the Vatican and its bishops … I consider that their rigid opposition to something so basic, so critical to the future of life on Earth, as controlling reproduction, to be just as unethical as any major affront to the environment or terrorist act.”
It surprises me, to be frank, that someone today may write in such a way about a world leader and still be allowed through by security.
Imagine a tourist passing through the x-ray machines at St. Peter’s Square, who places his sports coat on the conveyor belt, and from a pocket there falls a page with jottings entitled, “My True Thoughts on the Pope”: “a woman killer … truly evil … the most regressive force on the planet … the worst of terrorists.”
If these jottings catch the attention of the security guards, do you suppose they let him through? I might doubt it, even if he says he was just joking.
Or consider simple familial affection. At a recent PAS meeting, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the U.S. welcomed the speakers by saying they were in the household of the pope, as if guests in his house: “We all sense that the Holy Father is present among us in a special way,” he said, “not simply as one of the Messieurs around the table.”
But what child invites into his home someone who has consistently slandered his father as an evil killer? Or how is it compatible with good manners for that unbalanced name-caller even to present himself as a guest?
One may wonder why Ehrlich would even agree to visit what he views as Command Central of the most regressive evil on the planet. What he wrote in a 1996 book, The Stork and the Plow, I believe gives the clue.
In 1994 the PAS issued a report which stated, “With the capacity of controlling sicknesses and death that man has achieved today, … it is unthinkable that we can sustain a growth that goes much beyond two children per couple,” and that “the need has emerged to contain the number of births so as to avoid … problems that would be unsolvable.”
The report was released just before the Cairo conference and was viewed as undermining John Paul II’s efforts there. It was a “public relations nightmare for the Vatican,” the Washington Post said.
Ehrlich comments favorably on the report in his book: “We suspect that the brightest possibility for changing the Vatican’s position and letting humanity get on with saving itself,” he wrote, “is the determination of many Catholics outside the Vatican to effectuate that change. In fact, the Vatican’s determined opposition to the Cairo conference was dealt a serious blow in June 1994 when a lay panel of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences urged limits on family size to avert ‘insoluble problems’ in runaway population growth. … Not surprisingly, Pope John Paul II was reported to be ‘infuriated by the report’.”
Ehrlich has not changed his views in 60 years. We can surmise that his intentions now are the same as they were twenty years ago, when he wrote that book. He is addressing PAS to contribute to the undermining of Catholic teaching.
One can see a perfect storm growing, and the academies are sailing right for it.
Even the work of PASS member Partha Dasgupta, with its focus on “externalities” of population growth, contributes to this perfect storm, as it is designed to justify government interventions to control population –Ehrlich himself favors a crushing tax on any children beyond two.
One sees another “public relations nightmare” now taking shape, which this time could put at risk the efforts of Pope Francis. The logic of Laudato Si is not compatible with the ethical views of these scientists.
But how should one expect good things to result from giving a platform to enemies of the Church?