Much copy in this week’s issue is devoted to Pope Francis’ interview with an Italian newspaper earlier this month (Pages 4 and 5). Among the many subjects the Holy Father spoke on, one was birth control and Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. Pope Francis said the former pope’s “genius was prophetic” — prophetic because nearly 46 years after the encyclical was published, the fruits of the contraception era are prolific.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 99 percent of women ages 15 to 44 who have ever participated in sexual intercourse have used at least one method of birth control. What’s more, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued at the end of 2013 indicated that the fertility rate in the United States in 2012 fell to a record low for the second consecutive year, and another CDC report estimated that American women in today’s society will give birth to an average of 1.9 children — just below the replacement number.

One of the unintended consequences of assisted reproductive technology — no matter how well meant — is that it is creating an unprecedented identity crisis for a new generation.

The flip side of these numbers, though, reflects the women who are desperate, yet unable, to have children. Many are turning to assisted reproductive methods, such as surrogacy or in vitro fertilization, to assist with conception. The CDC also reported that 65,179 children in 2012 were brought into the world as a result of fertilization technology. While only 1 percent of infants born in the United States are conceived in this manner, the technology’s use has doubled during the past 10 years and — as it’s a largely unregulated $3 billion a year industry — shows no signs of slowing down.

It’s understandable. Probably few things in this world are more painful than the inability to have children, and the stories of women craving a child but unable to have one are heartbreaking. But one of the unintended consequences of assisted reproductive technology — no matter how well intended — is that it is creating an unprecedented identity crisis for this new generation of children and young adults. As moral theologian Janet Smith points out in this week’s In Focus (Pages 9-12): “Being raised in single parenthood households, in households wracked by divorce, being made through artificial technology — all this leads to generations of children who do not have strong family influences and formation in being raised.” In short, she said, “we are raising generations of badly formed and psychologically wounded young people (who) will find it very difficult to face the challenges ahead.”

Just a few minutes spent on the website shows the heartbreaking and very real reality of children generated by technology and conceived in a test tube. Here, scores of individuals conceived with donated sperm or eggs express hurt, anger, abandonment, confusion, loss and sorrow. Above all else, they confess an endless search for identity, for roots; they long for knowledge of their father or mother or step-siblings. For any knowledge that can help fill the holes in their hearts and in their gene pools.

In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI wrote that if the unitive and procreative qualities of the marriage act are preserved, “the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.” What we’re now seeing is that when this dual nature of the marital act is severed, not only does it impact the couple, but also the children that may be conceived.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor