14 September 2015, The Tablet

Birth rate fall in Europe leading to increased migration, says Pope

by Christopher Lamb in Rome

Europeans are resisting having children due to a culture of comfort with declining birth rates leading to increased migration, Pope Francis said in an interview released today. 

“When there is an empty space, people try to fill it. If a country has no children, immigrants come in and take their place. I think of the birth-rate in Italy, Portugal and Spain. I believe it is close to 0 per cent,” the Pope told the Portuguese radio station Renascença.

“And this not wanting to have children is, partly – and this is my interpretation, which may not be correct – due to a culture of comfort, isn’t it? In my own family I heard, a few years ago, my Italian cousins saying: 'Children? No. We prefer to travel on our vacations, or buy a villa, or this and that'… And the elderly are more and more alone.”

The Pope said Europe’s greatest challenge was to rediscover its identity as a “mother” rather than being “grandmother Europe.” This echoes the speech Francis gave to Strasbourg last November when he described Europe as being “like a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant.” 

In a wide-ranging interview with Renascença’s Vatican correspondent Aura Miguel, the Pope said he had confidence in younger politicians to reclaim Europe’s leadership role in the world and resist corruption. 

“The young politicians sing a different tune. There is a world problem, which affects not only Europe but the whole world, which is the problem of corruption. Corruption at all levels… That also reveals a shallow morality, doesn’t it?”

Francis, a son of migrants, also discussed his call for parishes and religious communities to respond to the refugee crisis in Europe by opening their doors to at least one family. Two families will be welcomed into the Vatican and can stay “as long as the Lord wants.” 

immigration popePope reiterated the call for families in Europe to take in refugees Photo: CNS

Two years ago he made a similar request to religious houses to welcome refugees but only received responses from four, one of them from the Jesuits (his own religious order). 

The Pope said: “Some religious orders say ‘no, now that the convent is empty we are going to make a hotel and we can have guests, and support ourselves that way, or make money’. Well, if that is what you want to do, then pay taxes! A religious school is tax-exempt because it is religious, but if it is functioning as a hotel, then it should pay taxes just like its neighbour. Otherwise it is not fair business.”

When asked about next month’s synod on the family, Francis re-iterated that the divorced and remarried should be welcomed: the question over allowing communion for remarried divorcees has been one of the contested topics at the synod. 

“One thing should be very clear – something Pope Benedict left quite clear: people who are in a second union are not excommunicated and should be integrated into Church life. This was made crystal clear. I also said this quite clearly: Drawing closer to the mass, to catechesis, their children’s education, charity… There are so many different options.”

Francis said he wants a Church that is willing to take risks, and warned about the dangers of turning in on itself. This, he explained, would lead to “a scrawny Church, with strict rules, no creativity. Safe, more than safe, insured by an insurance agency, but not safe!”

Finally, the Pope revealed a wariness about his own personal popularity. 

“Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out,” he said.

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