VATICAN CITY, JULY 12, 2002 ( The Holy See favors neither unlimited growth in world population nor the imposition of policies that attack the right of parents to freely decide how many children they will have.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Vatican's permanent observer at the United Nations in Geneva, expressed this position when he commented over Vatican Radio on Thursday's observance of World Population Day.

The United Nations is seeking to stabilize population growth through family planning and reproductive health programs which, as attested in world conferences, some regard as the promotion of abortion.

"Naturally, the Holy See is not in favor of an unlimited growth of the world's population, nor in favor of governmental or international programs that impose limits," Archbishop Martin explained.

"For many years, the Holy See has repeated what Vatican Council II confirmed on the right of parents to freely choose the number of children, to establish the temporal distance between births and the economic means to achieve these objectives," he added.

"Nature itself establishes a certain balance between generations," the Irish archbishop observed. "We have seen on many occasions that, when there is a radical intervention on this balance from outside, problems are created."

"In all this, the task of the Church is to support, to be close to families, to favor more suitable family policies in any part of the world and, in particular, to be on the side of women and children, who constitute the greater part of the population," Archbishop Martin explained.

At the same time, he said that past predictions about a demographic time bomb are proving to be unfounded.

"For some years now, it is evident that the birthrate is decreasing, in a diversified way, according to countries," the archbishop emphasized. "In regard to the situation of migratory flows, no alarmism should be created. I am convinced that in the forthcoming years the movement of people will become a natural dimension of the globalized society."

"One of the most interesting things that has arisen in the numerous international conferences, is that the most important factor in establishing the number of children that a family wishes to have is linked to the education of women," the Vatican representative said.

"In this field, for many years the Catholic Church has played an important role," he added. "Catholic schools have offered the same possibilities for the education of boys and girls. Unfortunately, in some countries, the very fact of being a girl still implies disadvantages."

"Lastly, a problem that must be addressed is the dramatic situation of maternal mortality, due to the grave deficiencies that exists in health services in developing countries," the archbishop concluded. "It is necessary to have a greater commitment to protect women, helping them and guaranteeing to them safe and tranquil pregnancies."