John J. Conley, S.J.
INTERPRETING THE TEACHING of Pope John Paul II on demographic issues is not the simplest affair. There is no one document in which the pope systematically studies the moral issues concerning human population. Typically, the reflections of John Paul II on demography embed themselves as brief passages in longer documents dealing with the family or as brief communiqués submitted to international conferences dealing with population problems. The controversial Cairo Conference on Population (1994) was the occasion for the Vatican and regional episcopates to construct a veritable library of texts on the moral and political dilemmas surrounding population.
Although clearly “acts” of John Paul II's pontificate, these various documents evince different levels of solemnity and authority. They range from the letters that John Paul II himself wrote to formal testimony by the president of the Vatican delegation, Archbishop Renato Martino, to statements of clarification by the Holy See's official spokesman, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls. The richest of the Vatican texts developed in the prelude to the Cairo conference is Ethical and Pastoral Dimensions of Population Trends, issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family (May 13, 1994).1 Carefully citing previous magisterial statements, this document provides a synthesis of Pope John Paul II's teaching on demographic questions.
The various Vatican commissions, however, do not provide a completely coherent overview of population issues. In the heated
1 Pontifical Council for the Family, “Population Trends: Ethical and Pastoral Dimensions” in Origins 24 (1994): 173–86.