|Development Expert Considers Benedict XVI's Innovations
By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, 16 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
"Caritas in Veritate" proposes that
population growth is needed to bring the world out of the economic
crisis. And the president of the European Center for Studies on
Population, the Environment and Development agrees.
ZENIT spoke with Riccardo Cascioli of CESPAS about Benedict XVI's
contribution to theories on demographics and the methods to truly
Cascioli here explains why the encyclical offers the true solutions to
the recession and even why the Pope should be considered for a Nobel
ZENIT: What is your evaluation of the encyclical?
Cascioli: Extraordinarily positive, because in going deeper into the
theme of charity and truth in the economic and social perspective, he
considers from the point of view of reason the most controversial issue
of our time: the meaning of human presence on earth, our task and
destiny. While in the West for decades now, ideologies that tend to
disfigure man have taken hold
the worst of which is "humanism without God," as the Pope recalls
in this encyclical, the person, with his dignity and responsibility, is
again placed where he belongs: at the center of creation. And it shows
how the anthropological question is not a philosophical problem; on the
contrary, it is determinant for economic and social realities. This is
clearly in continuity with the magisterium of Benedict XVI, committed to
revalue reason, the faculty specific to man. But it is also in
continuity with John Paul II, who back in 1997 clearly said the decisive
battle of the third millennium precisely revolves around man, the
pinnacle of creation.
ZENIT: The points dealing wit h the demographic crisis and the
environment are quite innovative. What do you think of this?
Cascioli: It is fundamental that he has said with such clarity that "to
consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment is
mistaken, even from an economic point of view." This is a decisive
point, because from the '80s onward, global politics
under the auspices of organizations like the United Nations
precisely endow population control, considered as a "negative" for
development and for the environment. And also regarding the environment,
the encyclical illustrates and shows the actual situation which is
already part of the patrimony of the Church's social doctrine and which
can be summarized in the phrase: Nature is for man and man is for God.
"If this vision is lost," the encyclical says, "we end up either
considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing
it." In this way, it indicates precisely the schizophrenic situation of
the secularized Western world.
ZENIT: The economist Ettore Gotti Tedeschi maintains that the Pope
deserves the Nobel for economy because of highlighting the relationship
between the crisis and the falling birthrate. What do you think?
Cascioli: I think he is entirely correct. There is truly a demographic
crisis, and it is that of the developed countries, which for more than
40 years have a birthrate lower than that of the generational
replacement level. The encyclical brings us to see how this is the
fundamental factor in the current economic crisis. And the answer cannot
be merely "technical." In recent years we have understood how the
sinking birthrate influences the problem of pensions, for example, but
this is only one aspect of a crisis that is much broader and bound to
worsen in the coming years. Governments
need to reflect on this point.
ZENIT: For some decades, international institutions have maintained that
to favor development it is necessary to reduce births. What are the
results of these policies?
Cascioli: Currently, there are many developing countries whose
birthrates have dropped below the generational replacement level. Also
in general, all the countries of the world
except for a few rare exceptions
have experienced a drastic descent in the number of births in recent
decades. But not even one country has overcome poverty and
underdevelopment thanks to these policies. On the contrary, controlling
births has diverted important resources needed to promote true
development projects. Moreover, the savage application of these policies
as in the cases of China, India and other Asian countries
has caused grave social disequilibrium, of which the absence of hundreds
of thousands of women is merely the most striking aspect. It is not
coincidence that this encyclical does not use the concept of
"sustainable development"; which is based precisely on a negative view
of population. This is an important aspect, because even from certain
Catholic environments, there is pressure to accept the ideology of
ZENIT: Contrary to the proposal, even from some Catholic circles, that
to save the planet, there must be a reduction in development and
demographic growth, (and hence, the theories about reductionism),
"Caritas in Veritate" explains that development is a vocation to support
the common good and that there is no development without demographic
growth. What do you think?
Cascioli: Here as well the encyclical brings clarity and dismisses many
prevailing norms. Development
understood as integral development of the person and of populations
is man's vocation. And this is what we should tend toward. Reduction is
not a value, nor the way out for the economy. The true challenge is
taking the fundamental dimensions of development. It is not a
coincidence that the encyclical puts the right to life and the right to
religious liberty as fundamental conditions for true development.
Certain elements that seem damaged to us
like working conditions or the environment in countries involved in a
development as rapid as it is chaotic
are actually the fruit of a concept that reduces development to economic
growth, in which man is reduced to a mere instrument of this growth.
ZENIT: Returning to the theme of development, Benedict XVI's encyclical
proposes a social revolution that passes from "solidarity" to the
concept of "fraternity" and that joins together truth and charity. How
do you see this?
Cascioli: It supposes a great novelty on which it is important to
reflect. The term solidarity today goes along with a reductionist and
sentimental view of charity, which the encyclical wants to turn around.
And, coherently, it dedicates an entire chapter precisely to
"fraternity"; While solidarity highlights a person's actions toward
other people, fraternity highlights what we receive, because it
presupposes the recognition of one father, without whom we cannot
consider ourselves brothers. Once again, it emphasizes the vocation of
man as the factor that determines everything, also community life.
ZENIT: For decades, the Catholic world has seemed to be divided between
those who do charity work and those who are dedicated more to bioethical
questions, like the defense of life and family. With this encyclical,
the Pope maintains that there is no charity without truth and that only
in truth does charity stand out. Thus it emphasizes that "without truth,
charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is
excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of
universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis." What would
you say about this?
Cascioli: Life is one and it cannot be divided into sectors. But at the
same time, just as with a house, there are foundations, there are walls,
partitions, the roof and the trimmings. The right to life and religious
liberty are the foundations. Without foundations, even the most
beautiful houses are bound to collapse with the first wind. The current
economic crisis proves this, but if this lesson is not understood, the
crisis will not be halted.
[Translation by Kathleen Naab]