Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgetown Jason Gordon has added his voice to the recent debate over the country’s declining birth rate.
The country’s birth rate has fallen steadily from 34.1 per 1, 000 in 1955 to 12 per 1, 000 in 2014, according to the World Bank, which also says there are now 1.84 births per woman. Local officials therefore expect that by 2025, 20.4 per cent of the domestic population will consist of people over the age of 60, and this has recently prompted the Chairman of the National Assistance Board Pastor David Durant to suggest that incentives may have to be offered by Government to encourage couples to conceive more children.
“It would be good to give people some incentives because whenever you talk to people about making children, they say, ‘Pastor, it’s too expensive’. So a good way of trying to encourage that maybe, is to give some incentive,” Durant, also a Government Senator, reiterated last Sunday after his initial statement on the matter landed him in hot water with a number of people, including the former Executive Director of the Barbados Family Planning Association George Griffith who had called on him to apologize to the women of Barbados.
“Let the women decide. If a woman decides to have 12 children, we must do all we can to help her raise those 12 children the best way possible,” Griffith said in response to Durant’s suggestion.
However, Bishop Jason believes the problem of low births could have been avoided if the society had heeded the advice of the Church in the first place.
Speaking to reporters during a seminar here on Wednesday, the Roman Catholic cleric recalled that as far back as the 1960s, the then leader of the Catholic Church Pope Paul VI had issued his Humanae Vitae in which he warned that if couples continued on their path of contraception, abortion and sterilization they were going to create serious problems in the society.
Restating the warning the bishop Gordon said there was little wonder that low births were now being regarded as a “national crisis”.
However, he pointed out that the situation did not develop overnight.
“It became a national crisis because Barbadians have been fed and have been led to believe that abortion and contraception are normal parts of human living.
“When contraception fails, abortion becomes the next contraception. That has now led to a national crisis and a national debate, but this has been something the Catholic Church has been saying since the 1960s when Pope Paul VI really wrestled hard with and made the decision that he made,” the Catholic Bishop said.
He also warned of the consequences for the society over the 30 to 50 years.
“Barbados now has a very narrow base and that base is narrowing and the narrower it becomes the more unsustainable the country becomes. For things like ageing parents, grandparents and the National Insurance Scheme, even the economy cannot be sustained with the population,” Gordon said.
He recalled that many people had attacked the Roman Catholic Church over its refusal to accept artificial forms of contraception in the 1960s without regard for its long history.
“We [the Church] have watched civilizations come and go and we have seen things from the perspective of a civilization, so when Pope Paul V1 spoke in his Humanae Vitae in the 1960s on contraception, he spoke from the perspective of a civilization. I think Barbados is now catching up with how we are seeing the issue and why we have been saying what we have been saying for the last 40 to 50 years,” the cleric stressed.