The Catholic Church vs. Freedom of the Press

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 28 September 2012
Church and State

This excerpt has been adapted from Chapter 14 of 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). The book is available at Kindle here and to read for free here.

The Catholic hierarchy’s hatred of freedom of the press has long been known. According to Catholic historian Bernhard Hasler, in his encyclical Mirari Vos, Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) “condemned the ideas of liberalism. He viewed freedom of conscience as a ‘false and absurd concept,’ indeed a mad delusion. Freedom of the press, to his mind, could never be sufficiently abhorred and anathematized.” In 1850, Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) branded freedom of the press and freedom of association as intrinsically evil. The Catholic hierarchy has never accepted the concept of freedom of the press.

By 1870, the principles of the French Revolution (1848), which included freedom of the press, had brought the Catholic Church to its knees. Newspapers everywhere were conveying the truth about Catholicism. Indeed, unrestricted journalism of the time was a major cause for the drive to adopt the principle of infallibility (see Chapter 11). According to Hasler, the Infallibilist Party “wanted to employ the infallible pope to contain the forces of unbridled journalism.” On May 25, 1870, the newspaper Unita Cattolica, which supported adoption of the principle of infallibility, wrote, “The infallible pope must counteract and cure the prevailing abuses of unbridled freedom of the press, thanks to which journalists daily spread lies and calumny. Every day the pope can teach, condemn, and define dogma and Catholics will never be permitted to question his decisions.”

With the adoption of the principle of infallibility by Pius IX and freedom of the press branded intrinsically evil by him, the Church immediately set out to “bridle” the press. In the United States, the Knights of Columbus was created in 1882 to organize the Catholic laity into a tightly controlled and responsive machine. By 1914 the Knights of Columbus had evolved into a national organization capable of intimidating anyone who criticized the Church in any way. During the period from August 1914 to January 17, 1917, the Knights succeeded, according to their own report, in shutting down 60 of the 62 or 63 newspapers in the United States that published news critical of the Catholic Church. And they bragged about it.

In 1946, Pius XII told a group of American editors that freedom of the press “does not allow a man to print what is wrong, what is known to be false, or what is calculated to undermine and destroy the moral and religious fiber of individuals and the peace and harmony of nations.” The pope, of course, considers himself the supreme judge of what is wrong, false, moral, religious, peaceful and harmonious encompassing all aspects of our existence. Given the pontiff’s statement, reporters, editors and publishers have only those rights given to them by the pope. Thus, any reporter, editor or publisher who defies the pope becomes fair game. These were the ground rules established by the Knights of Columbus in their crusade early in this century to destroy all American newspapers that did not conform to the dictates of the Vatican.

Paul Blanshard Assesses Vatican Influence

In 1949, Paul Blanshard reported on his extensive study of Catholic censorship and boycott in a book, American Freedom and Catholic Power. He found that,

“The censorship system of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is neither a spasmodic nor an intermittent phenomenon. It is a highly organized system of cultural and moral controls that applies not only to books, plays, magazines and motion pictures, but to persons and places…. [The Church] holds the power of economic life and death over many authors, publishers and producers who must rely upon American Catholics for patronage and support.”

For his analysis, Blanshard depends heavily on the writings of Catholics in good standing, including Canon law. He observes:

“Catholics are taught that the Roman Catholic Church is the supreme guardian and purveyor of truth, that the Pope has infallible judgment in moral matters, and that ‘union of minds requires not only a perfect accord in the one Faith, but complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff, as to God Himself.’ The words are those of Leo XIII in his Chief Duties of Christian Citizens…. ‘The Church is not afraid of the truth,’ says Father John C. Heenan in his Priest and Penitent, but She is very much afraid that a clever presentation of falsehood will deceive even the elect.’ The Church teaches that literature is ‘immoral’ if it is opposed to Catholic standards, and that ‘no one has a right to publish such literature any more than one has a right to poison wells or sell tainted food.'”

Blanshard quotes the most authoritative Catholic work on doctrine, Father Henry Davis’s four-volume Moral and Pastoral Theology which instructs Catholic bishops to enforce a boycott against all of the following classes of books, as described in the priest’s own words:

“1. Books by any writers which defend heresy or schism, or attempt in any way to undermine the very foundations of religion;

2. All books … which affect to prove that true divorce is permis­sible in the case of adultery;

3. Books which attack or hold up to ridicule any Catholic dogma, such as the creation of man, original sin, the infallibility of the Pope;

4. Books which professedly treat of, narrate, or teach matters that are lewd or obscene, such as the defense of methods of birth control.”

Does the Catholic leadership have the right to suppress the press? Blanshard quotes Father Francis J. Connell, Associate Professor of Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America, who was extraordinarily frank when writing in the American Ecclesiastical Review for January 1946:

“We believe that the rulers of a Catholic country have the right to restrict the activities of those who would lead their people away from their allegiance to the Catholic Church … they possess the right to prevent propaganda against the Church. This is merely a logical conclusion from the basic Catholic tenet that the Son of God established one religion and commanded all men to accept it under pain of eternal damnation.”

Pope Pius XI was equally forthright. In an Allocution dated December 20, 1926, he stated, “Catholics may not support, favor, or read papers which are edited by men whose writings are in notable opposition to Catholic doctrine in faith and morals …”

Blanshard describes a February 11, 1928 article by a Jesuit priest, Charles J. Mullaly, that appeared in the Jesuit magazine, AMERICA. The article is a point-by-point description of Catholic techniques in boycotting an American newspaper and a censorship program for priests and laymen. Blanshard writes: “Father Mullaly tells with perfect candor how a priest and four or five Catholic laymen, with the help of an impressive letterhead bearing the names of prominent citizens, can terrorize any editor with the specter of a great wave of Catholic indignation.” This same technique is still in use in the 1990s and numerous examples in the period 1994-1996 will be cited in the next chapter.

Mullaly offers an example of a boycott that can be used as a model in the techniques of suppression. The offending Washington, D.C., newspaper had published a series of letters-to-the-editor about a suspicious death of a young girl at a Catholic home administered by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

“Instead of writing an indignant defense of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd,” says Father Mullaly, “and thus stimulating a controversy that would have been financially profitable to the offending paper, this Catholic Society followed a more practical method of action. Its strategy was aimed at the business office and not at the editorial department … Members of the society interviewed merchants who advertised in the paper and suggested they demand an immediate change of editorial policy, if they hoped to keep Catholic trade. No intimation of boycott was given, but these businessmen understood perfectly well that the paper was supported by their advertising, and they hastened to show sympathy for their insulted Catholic patrons.

“Priests in Washington were told to make a statement in their pulpits ‘somewhat as follows’: ‘There is a newspaper in this city that is attacking the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. I will not mention its name. This paper is opening its columns to bigots who are insulting the purity of our Catholic Sisterhoods. I do not know what kind of Catholic each of you may be, but as for me, I will fight insults to the Holy Mother Church. I do not know what you will do; I will fling any offending newspaper from my house and will never buy it again.’ Father Mullaly claimed that ‘the effect was magical,’ and that the offending newspaper lost forty percent of its circulation in two weeks.’ … Father Mullaly, in a triumphant mood, told how the Washington Truth Society was able to function successfully as censor of the Washington press in this manner without any large membership meetings. Its actual work was done by ‘one active priest in charge, two zealous laymen and a Catholic lawyer or two, ready to give legal advice free of charge. The letterhead was formidable with prominent men, but this heavy artillery was brought to bear only when urgently needed. In any city of the United States one zealous pastor with two or three active laymen, together with a legal advisor, could form a Truth Society that would batter to pieces bigotry when found in the pages of any local newspaper.’

“Father Mullaly concluded this revealing document with a platform of action for punishing critical American newspapers:

1. Do not attack a magazine or newspaper through its editorial departments but act through its business office.

2. When a magazine or newspaper is attacking your religion, write to the business manager and inform him that you will not buy the offending periodical again, and mean it …

3. Call the attention of the merchants with whom you deal to the insults and tell them that as long as they advertise in any offending paper, you will not buy their goods, and mean it …

4. Tell your news-dealer that as long as you see the magazine or newspaper on his stand as an open insult to you, you will not buy from him, and mean it.”

These Catholic Truth Societies had the fervent assistance of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic War Veterans. Blanshard offers lengthy descriptions of censorship organizations created to suppress information in books, magazines, and film and provides numerous examples of each type of censorship, but the reader is urged to refer directly to his book.

Blanshard concludes, “The machinery that the Church uses in the United States to enforce its boycott of unfriendly literature is quite elaborate…. Non-Catholic publishers who print criticism of Catholic policy are threatened with boycotts and flooded with very unpleasant letters of protest. As a result of this type of pressure scarcely any publishers in the United States will even consider any manuscript that might expose them … to Catholic boycott.

“Every city editor in the United States,” Blanshard goes on to say, “knows of the unofficial Catholic censorship of American news, but almost all publishers avoid discussion of the phenomenon because of the fear of Catholic reprisals. The Hierarchy itself has avoided public discussion of its boycott techniques in recent years, and has resorted more and more to quiet pressure…. As a result of this policy of siege and boycott, very few publishers in the United States are courageous enough or wealthy enough to deal frankly with Catholic social policy or stories of priestly crime…. Frequently the Church succeeds in intimidating the most powerful newspapers by this policy of organized protest and boycott, and, in many cases, the facts suppressed have great social significance.”

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)
ASIN: B00TBR5AIK
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During the formative years of the World Health Organization (WHO), broad consensus existed among United Nations member countries that overpopulation is a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future. One of the founding fathers of the WHO, the late Milton P. Siegel, speaks to Dr. Mumford in 1992. He explains how the Vatican successfully stymied 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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1 COMMENT

  1. I was under the impression that the Pope’s infallibility only applied to matters of faith and morals. This seems to infer that Catholics in any country have to obey and believe his political determinations. That is not right.

    This is a discussion, in this site, that is very muddled and I could not understand. I don’t think there is any way it could be said that free speech in not available in the US. Many people try and do, manipulate the news, but you can say anything as long as you are ready to face the consequences. There are very few that are so dumb as to believe all they hear or read. Consider the source I say.

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