German cardinal found guilty of being pro-natalist

One of the most common fallacies of our age is the assumption that simply because we prefer a certain set of social policies they must therefore be compatible.

For example, I like donuts and wish they were free. But I also like the people who make the donuts and want them to be able to make a living wage. The only way my two desires can become compatible is if there is a third-party who intervenes, say, by paying the bakers to give me free crullers.

But as economists will tell you, there is no free lunch (or free donuts). That’s why we don’t like economists. We don’t like to be told that we can’t have everything we want, and that we either have to make tradeoffs or give up some of our desires.

This is also the reason that we don’t like certain religious leaders. They too have a tendency to point out when our desires are incompatible. Even worse, they have the audacity to tell us which desire we — both as individuals and society — should put first.

There exists an entire subgenre of religious journalism dedicated solely to pointing out when religious leaders tell certain groups which desires they should prefer. Sometimes the media approves, such as when the pope tells us we should give preference to the poor over the wealthy. But most of the time, journalists are either annoyed or amused that some clergyman (and they are almost always a man) is trying to tell us that we can’t have it all.

Take, for example, a recent article that ran in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph and was distributed by Canada’s National Post Wire Services, titled, “Cardinal says German women should stay home and have ‘three or four children’ to avoid need for immigrants.”

Although the headline is both factual and neutral, it gives the impression the Catholic leader was asked, “So, what do you think about German women?” and answered that they need to get busy making babies. But the context is much more interesting:

German women should be encouraged to “stay at home and bring three or four children into the world,” rather than relying on immigration to solve the country’s demographic crisis, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cologne has declared.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner compared Angela Merkel’s government’s family policies to Communist East Germany, where, he said, women who stayed at home were considered “demented”.

Germany, which has the lowest birth rate in Europe, is seeking more workers from crisis-hit countries, including Spain, to solve its shortage of skilled labour.

In unusually direct criticism of the chancellor, Cardinal Meisner said: “Where are women really publicly encouraged to stay at home and bring three or four children into the world? This is what we should do, and not — as Mrs Merkel does now — simply present immigration as the solution to our demographic problem.”

So Germany has a demographic crisis (which creates an ongoing economic crisis) but the country’s government also, at least according to Cardinal Meisner, has policies that encourage women to work rather than solving the demography problem by having more children.

Germany’s solution is similar to my donut problem: In order to get both preferences, a third-party has to sacrifice. As Cardinal Meisner implies, the third-party in this case is Spain and Portugal.

Instead of having babies of their own, Germany’s plan is to import them when they reach working age. As a representative of a transnational organization with strong pro-natalist leanings, Cardinal Meisner feels an obligation to note that producing the source material for future German journalists and archbishops is an important a job that shouldn’t be outsourced.

This is a legitimate disagreement about policy preferences and could have been used as a starting point for a discussion on how to resolve Germany’s demographic crisis. But instead, the Telegraph uses Cardinal Meisner’s statement as a proxy for pointing out that the Catholic Church’s habit of telling people what they should do is out of touch with the times we live in:

Annegret Laakmann, the president of the Catholic group Women’s Dignity dismissed the 79-year-old archbishop’s views. “Age doesn’t always bring wisdom,” she said. “The Church can’t drag women back into the kitchen. We don’t live in the 1940s – women are more educated and have greater opportunity for leadership now.

“I myself only have one child, and that’s because I’ve always worked. It is difficult to combine children and a career.”

There’s nothing wrong (journalistically speaking) with quoting a source who believes having a career is more important than having babies. But shouldn’t the question be open for debate? The Telegraph doesn’t seem to think so which is why they add this non sequiter at the end of the article:

Cardinal Meisner also commented on the controversy in January when two Catholic hospitals denied treatment to a rape victim, apparently because they did not want to give advice on dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.

He said that while rape was a serious crime, the Church had to warn women against birth control methods that were not compatible with Catholic beliefs.

Now, what does this subject have to do with the original story?

Nothing at all. But it does help the newspaper’s readers understand that Cardinal Meisner has a tendency to tell people what choices they should make. And as Laakmann noted, we don’t live in the 1940s anymore. Religious leaders shouldn’t be telling us what desires and preferences should take precedence. Apparently, that is now a job reserved for journalists.

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  • Martha O’Keeffe

    “Cardinal Meisner also commented on the controversy in January when two Catholic hospitals denied treatment to a rape victim, apparently because they did not want to give advice on dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.

    He said that while rape was a serious crime, the Church had to warn women against birth control methods that were not compatible with Catholic beliefs.”

    Actually, I don’t think it’s a non sequitur, I think it’s meant to give a certain impression of what those crazy Catholics really think about forcing all women to have babies, they won’t even help a rape victim in case she’s pregnant. Luckily, I know a guy who can fill in the background on this, which is more complicated than the reference makes it sound (warning for one use of profane language):

    “A few months earlier some of the pro-lifers I would prefer not to stand so close to me visited Catholic hospitals in Cologne pretending they had been raped and demanded and got the Morning After Pill. Then they started a trad-media campaign about Catholic hospitals dispensing abortifacients. They have some flimsy excuses for this being OK Catholicism-wise but basically this is the one serious sin involved in the whole affair. For a while it seemed to work: the diocesan authorities instructed the hospitals not to dispense abortifacients including the Morning After Pill. At that point I think nobody seems to have thought about non-abortive effects. In consequence of that decision Catholic hospitals got dropped from the government-sponsored rape evidence preservation network, which requires dispensing the Morning After Pill, and then no longer had rape evidence preservation kits.

    Then in January a raped woman visited a government-run emergency room on a complex of buildings that also hosts a Catholic hospital. The doctor on duty prescribed the Morning After Pill and then called the hospital to arrange sending the patient over for evidence preservation – which it of course no longer could provide. Then she called another Catholic hospital and got the same response. After getting the patient admitted to a non-Catholic hospital she contacted the media. And the story immediately got shortened to “Two Catholic hospitals refuse to admit rape victim because of Morning After Pill concerns”. And there was a great shit-storm.”

    • Randy McDonald

      So, in other words, the Cardinal walked into a PR trap created by fellow Catholics who don’t necessarily disagree with him on the acceptability of the morning-after pill for rape victims? (That is to say, the PR controversy was a consequence of something he said that he agrees with, but just might not have said otherwise?)

      • Martha O’Keeffe

        No, the “PR trap” was – as the “Telegraph” line puts it – ” apparently because they did not want to give advice on dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.”

        That’s not the reason the hospitals refused to accept the rape victim as a patient, the reason was because they were not permitted by law to do the evidence preservation tests (because of the refusal to dispense the ‘morning-after’ pill). The patient had already been prescribed the pill by the doctor who saw her and who was trying to get her seen by a hospital for the purposes of collecting evidence for the legal inquiry. The hospitals did not refuse to carry out the procedure because they didn’t want to give advice on an unwanted pregnancy, it was because they were no longer accepted as part of the state network to do these tests.

        But it’s a lot easier to write it up as “Catholics think rape victims should be forced to be pregnant”, since that fits in with the particular paradigm about “punishing women for having sex”.

        The other point – that the consequences of what Mark Shea has been condemning, in the case of LiveAction, as lying for Jesus – is certainly important to consider, but it’s not the main one I want to make.
        The point I am trying to make is that the press has a certain slant on how it interprets statements and actions done by “the Vatican” (by which I mean short-hand for any kind of orthodox Catholic teaching) and that instead of checking the circumstances of the German incident regarding the rape victim – which I only know about purely by the accident of following someone’s blog- they instead went with the equivalent of the recent “Pope performs public exorcism” story.

        • Randy McDonald

          “The hospitals did not refuse to carry out the procedure because they
          didn’t want to give advice on an unwanted pregnancy, it was because they
          were no longer accepted as part of the state network to do these tests.”

          The hospitals in question were no longer accepted as part of the network because they adhered to a Roman Catholic doctrine which held, among other things, that a pregnancy resulting from rape should not be prevented. Right?

          It’s difficult to make this look good.

          • Hegesippus

            Maybe it is better to create another victim – the baby – out of something already tragic? Is it really about looking good?

  • David D

    “Germany’s solution is similar to my donut problem: In order to get both preferences, a third-party has to sacrifice. As Cardinal Meisner implies, the third-party in this case is Spain and Portugal.”

    I’m kind of confused about his reasoning. Germany is providing jobs to unemployed people from Spain and Portugal, where the unemployment rate currently is 27% and 18%, respectively. He says that is a bad thing because Germany is taking away “the youth and future” of those countries. Instead, he says, those youth should be trained and sent back to their home countries “where they are needed” but there are no jobs.

    Huh?

    • Randy McDonald

      I also fail to understand why it’s a good idea to keep people unemployed in their home countries rather than let them be employed elsewhere. Isn’t it better for them to be doing something than to keep them kettled up at home with no prospects?

    • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

      ***Instead, he says, those youth should be trained and sent back to their home countries “where they are needed” but there are no jobs. Huh?***

      This is a case where an inquiring journalist could try to find out what the cardinal meant an then quote a source that provides that perspective. For instance, I suspect the cardinal’s reasoning is that entrepreneurs are the ones that create jobs—they don’t just happen. Once the youth of Spain and Portugal are able to gain some skills in Germany, they should be encouraged to return to their native lands and create new jobs for others.

      • David D

        Agreed.

  • Randy McDonald

    “Where are women really publicly encouraged to stay at home and bring
    three or four children into the world? This is what we should do, and
    not — as Mrs Merkel does now — simply present immigration as the
    solution to our demographic problem.”

    1. It’s worth noting that European countries which have more flexible norms and laws about women and families and work tend to have higher fertility rates (France, United Kingom, Ireland, Nordic countries) than countries which, by and large, don’t (Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, et cetera). Yes, this is true even if you subtract immigrants.

    2. Not fitting the cardinal’s rhetoric into hostile rhetoric in Germany against the idea of immigration generally is a mistake–see the reaction of some conservatives when they called “kinder” not “Inder” (Indian immigrants).

    3. Even if, for some amazing reason, all German women did all decide to stay at home and have multiple children, it would take at least twenty years for the wave of children to become adults and start contributing to the work force. In the meantime, Germany would still have significant labour shortages. It would still need immigrants.

    4. The Cardinal’s proposed solution, in fast, would significantly worsen Germany’s problems. Who will fill the jobs once filled by women who are staying home and procreating if there’s already a labour shortage?

    • JoFro

      Perhaps those are some questions the journalists could have asked the Cardinal – perhaps he thinks Germany should look into laws like the ones they have in the Nordic countries – did any journalist ask how the Cardinal believes German women staying at home with 3 or 4 children would work or did they just dismiss his views and find people to attack his position?

      • Randy McDonald

        “Perhaps those are some questions the journalists could have asked the Cardinal”

        Inasmuch, as in the article in question,

        http://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.interview-mit-kardinal-meisner-grosse-reformen-wird-es-kaum-geben.b3071016-c448-411a-8481-d406fc4fed9d.html

        he explicitly criticized the East German (and incidentally French and Nordic) model of funded daycare for working mothers as undermining the traditional model of the nuclear family with a stay-at-home mother having three or four children, all while excluding the possibility of immigration to fill the gaps in the German labour market that exist now and that his program would exacerbate, the Cardinal actually explicitly set forth a plan that we know to be unworkable.

        If the Cardinal wants to talk about demographics without being laughed at, then he has to know what he’s talking about and not simply share fantasies about returning to his particular idealization of the past. Why should it receive any more serious consideration than the BNP’s proposal to its voters that they should breed the BNP into government?

  • tmatt

    Notice how all of these comments have little or nothing to do with the journalism issues in the post.

    • Randy McDonald

      Um. My comments, in fact, do relate to the journalism issues.

      Speaking only about the demographic issues, the cardinal’s proposed solution was nonsensical. Not only would be unrealistic to achieve–even Ceaucescu’s Romania with its coercive pronatalism never managed to keep fertility levels that high–but it would significantly worsen Germany’s economic problems. 45% of German workers are women, a quick Googling reveals; getting these women to leave the labour force when Germany is already experiencing shortages of skilled labour would create an economic catastrophe.

      As Laakmann notes, the major problem in Germany is that women find it difficult to combine careers with families. Changing German life so as to not to force a choice is much more realistic than somehow getting German women to have more children than they have had in a century (and to retreat from public life to the home, too).

      The article gave Meisner’s ill-thought “solution” the exact amount of consideration it deserved.

    • tamsin

      To be generous, it would appear these commenters are upset that the reporter did not go far enough in shaping the narrative.

      • Randy McDonald

        To be accurate, this commenter’s problem is that Meisner’s solution is, besides requiring people to not behave like people, not a solution at all. It just doesn’t make sense, if a country is facing a labour shortage right now, to remove 45% of the labour force from the equation while expecting things to get better in a couple of decades, all while explicitly excluding immigration as a solution.

    • David D

      To be fair to your commenters (who, after all, care about the topic here and want to discuss it without being sneered at), it’s easy to take the political bait when the OP treats the Cardinal’s economic analysis as self-evident as the proposition that there is no free lunch. Take away the doughnut analogy and it might have been a more productive discussion. Perhaps.

      Perhaps the article should have sought quotes from Spanish and Portuguese sources to react to the idea that Germany was taking away their youth and future.

      • Randy McDonald

        Actually, the doughnut analogy wasn’t a problem at all.

        It’s just that the Cardinal’s preferred population policies are so patently ridiculous as to not be worth discussion. Compare, if you would, the reaction to the BNP leader’s proposal that BNP voters should just go and have big families so as to ensure the party’s eventual victory. They’re based on such obvious wish fulfillment, without any connection to any plausible change, as to be worth y only of being dismissed.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Many women want to focus primarily on raising children. In fact the rhetoric of only careers really matter is very marginalizing to such women.

  • Jay

    Mmmm… Lots to consider here… It would have been very good if some follow up questions could have been asked to find out why he believed that the immigration that’s occurring isn’t necessarily the best thing. Take for example this excerpt from the United Nations “Conclusions and Implications” section of “Replacement Migration: Is It a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations?”,

    “While orderly international migration can provide countries of origin with remittances and facilitate the transfer of skills and technology, it also may entail the loss of needed human resources. Similarly, international migration can provide countries of destination with needed human resources and talent, but may also give rise to social tensions. Effective international migration policies must therefore take into account the impact on both the host society and countries of origin.”

    This is all working out great for Germany because they are getting highly skilled labor from citizens of a very peaceful area of the world. Odds of social tension arising are pretty low. However, this is probably not going to be the case for all countries that need to get immigrants to compensate for population decline. How’s this all going to work out for Spain? They are losing highly skilled workers due to their financial situation. Odds are, they are going to have to compensate for population decline + those leaving their country to find a better life by taking in more immigrants sooner or later. Future social unrest for the country of Spain looks pretty certain at this time in my eyes.

    • Randy McDonald

      I quite agree about the social unrest.

      The choice isn’t between “employing Iberian workers in Iberia” and “employing Iberian workers abroad”, though. Rather, it’s between “not employing Iberian workers in Iberia” and “employing Iberian workers abroad”. I can’t speak about the Spanish government, but the Portuguese government has actively encouraging Portuguese workers to migrate to Angola, as a better (or at least less bad) option than keeping them unemployed at home for who knows how long. I wouldn’t think that Germany would be less preferable than Angola.

      Who was it who said that the world was in a race between progress and catastrophe? Countries are in that position, too.

      • Jay

        Individuals going to seek employment in another country is often a good thing for the individual; everyone is entitled to have a livlihood, and if one’s native country cannot provide that then looking elsewhere is a perfectly reasonable idea. Whether or not it is necessarily a good thing for the country losing citizens is another thing. Some may argue, as I believe this Cardinal might argue, that a country’s most important natural resource is its citizens. Losing those citizens is not always a good thing. Furthermore, considering the current financial crisis, one of the big questions is whether jobs are not available because more jobs are not needed or if there simply isn’t money to pay them. When and if the economy comes around and there are jobs available, what are things going to look like as far as potential employees? If countries such as Spain are going to have to get more immigrants to come in to compensate from population decline, are they going to be able to attract individuals as stable and well educated as their own citizens? Again, these are just some of the things the Cardinal might have been thinking, but good follow up questions were not asked.
        I could go on, but I know they try to keep things focused specifically on the journalism here.

        • Randy McDonald

          The cardinal could always have chosen to go into greater detail about his plans, if they were well thought-out. Has he done so since this interview? Certainly there are people even here who are willing enough to excuse him his foolishness even based on what he has explicitly said (no day care, no immigrants, women stay at home).

          • Jay

            I did a google search of his name and was unable to find anything more recent than this article and one or two more articles related to this same interview. I don’t know where I would go to see if he tried to give some type of clarification; furthermore, even if I did it would probably be in German. I can say “hello, my name is… I am 15 years old” in German. I’m way past the point of people thinking I’m 15 :) If its more German than that, I would be pretty lost. Even if he did publish a clarification, I’m skeptical that it would get the level of attention that his initial statements are getting now and would get a news article that would be published in English. Maybe I’m wrong, but that is what I would expect.

          • Randy McDonald

            That may be the case, but the Cardinal’s statements are sufficiently clear by themselves to not allow for any equivocation. He recommended unworkable policies and was pilloried for it accordingly, being treated no more unfairly than others who’ve done similar things.


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