This chapter from our chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s seminal book, The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (1996), reveals the role of the U.S. Catholic bishops in killing American political will to overcome overpopulation. The book is available at Kindle here, and is available to read for free here.
Chapter 7: What Was the Role of the Vatican?
BOTH the Rockefeller Commission and NSSM 200 studies were sophisticated undertakings. Complex activities generated the political will that led to them. The key people in our government examined the data and the logic that led to an inescapable conclusion: further rapid world population growth is a grave threat to American and global security. They agreed on this and they acted.
To reverse this process and to reverse it so quietly that only a few took notice, also required great sophistication. Only an exceeding well led, well financed, well connected, highly committed, autocratic organization could have succeeded. A politically sophisticated institution was necessarily involved.
The authors of NSSM 200 noted that the only institutional opposition to the World Population Plan of Action—adopted by consensus of 137 nations at the August 1974 United Nations World Population Conference—was the Vatican. The Vatican was intensely motivated to act against the Rockefeller Commission and NSSM 200 recommendations because the Catholic hierarchy was convinced that the survival of the institution of the Papacy was on the line.
Furthermore, as noted in the last chapter, the Vatican, with specific threats to papal interests in mind, had equipped the American hierarchy to intervene just a few years before. Did the American hierarchy act to destroy our political will to overcome the population problem?
In Byrnes’s study of the history of Catholic bishops in American politics, he found that from 1790-1960, papal security interests were decided by local and state governments and not at the national level. For this reason, bishops concentrated their political intervention efforts at the local and state levels. In the 1960s, a large package of federal legislation greatly increased the federal government’s “authority and obligations for the health, safety, and morals of the community. It involved national agencies and officials in areas of family life that had been left, theretofore, either to the discretion of individuals and their families or to the regulation of state and local governments.” Furthermore, in the same period, the Supreme Court also expanded its role at the expense of state and local governments with Roe v. Wade and other decisions. The combined effect of these two trends was a shift of the political activity of greatest concern to the bishops from the local and state level to the federal level.
The Vatican determined that if it were to survive intact it must become much more active in U.S. politics at the national level. Vatican control of politics in large Catholic cities is well known and undisputed. Only by being highly organized and active politically on all levels of government could the Vatican overcome the rapid increase in political will and momentum in demand for population growth control that had recently developed.
The Vatican, with its masterful political acumen, recognized the trends and quickly prepared to counteract them. Through Vatican Council II, U.S. bishops were given the necessary tools.
Did the Vatican succeed in changing U.S. policy on family planning, abortion and population growth control? TIME magazine concluded that it most certainly did. The headline on the cover of the February 24, 1992 issue of TIME magazine was: “HOLY ALLIANCE: How Reagan and the Pope conspired to assist Poland’s Solidarity movement and hasten the demise of Communism.” The cover article was written by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein. Bernstein listed Reagan’s “Catholic Team,” noting that “The key administration players were all devout Roman Catholics—CIA chief William Casey, [Richard] Allen [Reagan’s first National Security Advisor], [William] Clark [Reagan’s second National Security Advisor], [Alexander] Haig [Secretary of State], [Vernon] Walters [Ambassador at Large] and William Wilson, Reagan’s first ambassador to the Vatican. They regarded the U.S.-Vatican relationship as a holy alliance: the moral force of the Pope and the teachings of their church combined with … their notion of American Democracy.”
The Pope Called the Tune
In a section of his TIME article headed “The U.S. and the Vatican on Birth Control,” Bernstein included three revealing paragraphs:
In response to concerns of the Vatican, the Reagan Administration agreed to alter its foreign aid program to comply with the church’s teachings on birth control. According to William Wilson, the President’s first ambassador to the Vatican, the State Department reluctantly agreed to an outright ban on the use of any U.S. aid funds by either countries or international health organizations for the promotion of … abortions. As a result of this position, announced at the World Conference on Population in Mexico City in 1984, the U.S. withdrew funding from, among others, two of the world’s largest family planning organizations: the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.
‘American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican’s not agreeing with our policy,’ Wilson explains. ‘American aid programs around the world did not meet the criteria the Vatican had for family planning. AID [the Agency for International Development] sent various people from [the Department of] State to Rome, and I’d accompany them to meet the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and in long discussions they finally got the message. But it was a struggle. They finally selected different programs and abandoned others as a result of this intervention.’
‘I might have touched on that in some of my discussions with [CIA director William] Casey,’ acknowledges Pio Cardinal Laghi, the former apostolic delegate to Washington. ‘Certainly Casey already knew about our positions about that.’
Thus, Bernstein makes clear what the cadre of devout Catholics in the Reagan Administration did to protect the Papacy from the recommendations of NSSM 200. Simply put, these strategically-placed Catholic laymen, and the U.S. bishops with direct papal support and intervention, succeeded in destroying the American political will to deal with the population problem.
How they accomplished this goal so vital to the robust survival of the Papacy is the subject of the next three chapters.
Dr. Stephen Mumford is the founder and President of the North Carolina-based Center for Research on Population and Security. He has his doctorate in Public Health. His principal research interest has been the relationship between world population growth and national and global security. He has been called to provide expert testimony before the U.S. Congress on the implications of world population growth.
Dr. Mumford has decades of international experience in fertility research where he is widely published, and has addressed conferences worldwide on new contraceptive technologies and the stresses to the security of families, societies and nations that are created by continued uncontrolled population growth. Using church policy documents and writings of the Vatican elite, he has introduced research showing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as the principal power behind efforts to block the availability of contraceptive services worldwide.
In addition to his books on biomedical and social aspects of family planning, as well as scientific articles in more than a score of journals, Dr. Mumford’s major works include American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1984), The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1986), and The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1996).
The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy
By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH
Paperback Publisher: Center for Research on Population and Security (October 1996)
Kindle Publisher: Church and State Press (February 6, 2015)
Professor Milton Siegel, who for 24 years was the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaks to Dr. Stephen Mumford in 1992 to reveal that although there was a consensus that overpopulation was a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future, the Vatican successfully fought off the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.
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