Mortal Sins of the Vatican

By Joyce Arthur | Summer 1999
The Pro-Choice Press

A woman in Berega, Tanzania, who sought care after a botched abortion. In Tanzania, where abortion is illegal, the maternal death rate is high in part because of failed abortions. (Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times)

“We do not need population control, and any effort at safe sex is totally, utterly immoral from top to bottom.”
–Rev. James Reuter, Office of Mass Media, Catholic Church of the Philippines

Is the Vatican willing to sacrifice humanity in its attempt to protect its own power base in the world? This article examines the role of the Catholic Church in bringing an overpopulated world to the brink of disaster because of its influential and far-reaching agenda against family planning, contraception, and abortion.

The Unsung Death of U.S. Population Control Policies

In 1974, an American government report called NSSM 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests, was presented to President Gerald Ford. The NSSM 200 study had been commissioned by former President Richard Nixon, and was undertaken by the National Security Council, the CIA, the Agency for International Development, and the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and State.

The NSSM 200 study detailed how and why continued rapid world population growth gravely threatened U.S. and global security. It also provided a blueprint for American response to the problem. The report concluded that: “World population growth is widely recognized within the Government as a current danger of the highest magnitude calling for urgent measures … There is a major risk of severe damage [from continued rapid population growth] to world economic, political, and ecological systems and, as these systems begin to fail, to our humanitarian values.”

The NSSM 200 report recommended that the United States provide world leadership in population growth control, implement a (non-coercive) one-child policy in the U.S., and stabilize the U.S. population by the year 2000. Another major recommendation was to make family planning information, education, and contraception available to everyone in the developing world by 1980, and to achieve a two-child family in developing countries by 2000. The report also recognized the problem of illegal abortion, and stated that “No country has reduced its population growth without resorting to abortion.”

Stephen Mumford, a population control expert, and president of the Center for Research on Population and Security in North Carolina, has documented the Vatican’s almost single-handed role in destroying American political will to implement the NSSM 200 recommendations. Mumford’s 1996 book, The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy, is a meticulously documented exposé of the Vatican’s manipulation of the American government, and its tireless work to negate U.S. population policy.

Ironically, the NSSM 200 report itself specifically noted that the only institutional opposition to population growth control comes from the Vatican. Since 1975, the Vatican has been so successful in this opposition that not a single one of the NSSM 200 report’s recommendations was ever implemented, and the report itself was buried, not reaching the public eye until 1989.

The rest of this article summarizes some of the main points from Mumford’s book.

World Population: 1974 and Today

“[The Pope’s] teachings and policies on birth control can no longer be seen merely as the business of Catholics … [they] could now instead lead to the death of us all.”
–Georgie Anne Geyer, columnist, Dallas Morning News, August 10, 1993.

In 1974, when the NSSM 200 report was written, world population was 3.9 billion. Without intensive population control measures, the report predicted that human population would grow to between 6 and 8 billion by 2000, and stabilize at 10 to 13 billion by 2050. These figures extrapolated an existing natural decline in fertility rates, and also assumed rapidly rising death rates due to famine, war, and environmental collapse.

This year, 1999, will see the sixth billionth person added to the world. Current global population projections by the United Nations are: 7 billion people by 2010, and 9 to 11 billion by 2050. We are not far off from the dire predictions of the NSSM 200 study. The last 25 years have seen a significant increase in local famines and wars, as well as ecological devastation on an unprecedented scale. The effects of global warming are now clearly evident in the rise of extreme weather events around the world. The 1990’s is the warmest decade on record and arctic ice is now breaking apart and melting. Much of the African continent is experiencing a scourge of premature death from AIDS, starvation, ethnic wars, and abject poverty. Mumford predicts that more than half of Africans alive today will die prematurely, and a substantial majority of African children born in this decade will be dead by 2010, with many dead already (pg. 561). All of these horrors are the direct or indirect result of overpopulation pressures. The Vatican denial of birth control to the people of the world means that “death control” is taking over by default.

Even if drastic population control efforts are taken now, we are 25 years behind. Almost half the world’s current population are beginning to bear children now or will be entering their child-bearing years over the next 20 years. Even with a one-child policy, the world faces huge demands on its resources due to this burgeoning population.

Since 1974, some countries have adopted population control measures, most notably China. But without strong leadership and financial support from the United States — by far the most powerful nation in the world — most countries simply lack the resources and the will to implement effective population control. Many developing countries are only just beginning to realize the need for such measures. That’s because the problem and its solutions have been swept under the carpet for 25 years by the machinations of the Pope and the Vatican.

Even the World Health Organization is influenced by the Vatican. According to Milton Siegel, Assistant General Director of WHO from 1946 to 1970, the Vatican successfully blocked WHO from adopting and promoting the concept that overpopulation was a grave human health threat (Mumford, pgs. 561-567).

How did the Vatican manage to prevent global action against population control measures? And why?

Curse of the Infallibility Dogma

“The only way to solve the problem of contraception is to solve the problem of infallibility.”
–Hans Küng, liberal Catholic Theologian, 1979

The availability of contraception and safe, legal abortion is critical to successful world population control. Pope John Paul II’s immutability on these two issues can be traced back to 1870, and the Vatican Council I. Two new dogmas were proclaimed at Vatican Council I by Pope Pius IX, a man considered by many to be mentally ill (Mumford, pgs. 191-193). The first was the dogma of papal infallibility, which means that the pope is incapable of error when he makes decisions on matters of faith and morals. The second was the dogma of papal primacy, which gave the pope universal jurisdiction over the entire church, reducing bishops to lackeys of the Pope.

The foundation of today’s Catholic Church rests on the infallibility doctrine. In 1980, in a letter to the German Bishops’ Conference, Pope John Paul II wrote: “I am convinced that the doctrine of infallibility is in a certain sense the key to the certainty with which the faith is confessed and proclaimed, as well as to the life and conduct of the faithful. For once the essential foundation is shaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down.”

The Church has put its infallibility and authority on the line with contraception and abortion, both of which are immoral and evil, according to official Church teachings. The 1930 Church encyclical On Christian Marriage pronounced all abortion to be murder, and contraception a “crime against nature.”

By the 1960’s, it was becoming obvious to many in the world that overpopulation was a real global threat. This awareness, combined with a growing recognition of women’s rights, the development of effective means of artificial contraception, and the public health disaster of illegal abortion, contributed to a widespread trend to liberalize laws against contraception and abortion.

The Catholic Church was not immune to the moral power of these social movements. In 1964, Pope Paul VI (possibly the most socially progressive pope of this century) authorized a Commission on Population and Birth Control to see if he could find a way to change the Church’s position on birth control without destroying papal authority. The commission consisted of 64 lay experts and 15 cardinals and bishops. After two years of studying the dilemma, the laymen voted 60 to 4 and the clerics 9 to 6 to change the Church’s teaching on birth control because it was the right thing to do, even though it would mean a loss of papal authority. The minority faction also submitted a report to the Pope. The co-author of the minority report was none other than the Archbishop of Cracow, Karol Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II. In his minority report, our future pope stated (or sanctioned) these words:

If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that … for half a century the [Holy] Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved.

Because of the grave threat to papal infallibility and authority posed by the majority’s recommendation to change Church teachings on birth control, Pope Paul VI rejected the majority report, and adopted the minority report instead. In 1968, he issued his infamous encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in which he condemned almost every form of birth control as morally reprehensible.

Thus, contraception became the first serious threat to the principle of infallibility. The only way for the Church to backtrack on the issue of contraception would be to admit error, thereby destroying its divinely sanctioned infallibility, and losing much of its authority and power. The Vatican believes, probably correctly, that if solutions to the population problem were to be applied, Vatican power would soon wither and perhaps die completely. Obviously, then, the Vatican’s battle against contraception and abortion rests not on moral grounds, but solely on its drive to survive as an influential political institution. And the cornerstone of the Vatican’s quest for power is based, not on concern for the fate of humanity, but on its war against abortion.

Abortion — Bedrock of the Papal Agenda

“No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the church.”
–Pope Paul VI on abortion, Humanae Vitae encyclical (1968)

In western Europe, the Pope has decisively lost his battle against legal abortion, including in the Vatican’s home country, Italy. But his reactionary views still have far-reaching effects in developing countries, and in the United States. The Vatican chose the United States to wage an all-out war against abortion, because America is its last chance to assert its will on the world. If influential U.S. policy on population control can be made to match papal policy, many other countries will have little choice but to follow suit.

In 1975, American Catholic bishops issued their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, a response not only to the NSSM 200 study, but to the legalization of abortion in the U.S. only two years before. This comprehensive blueprint laid out numerous objectives, such as:

  • passing a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution, giving full human rights to fetuses
  • lobbying for appointment of anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade, or at least restrict abortion legally as much as possible
  • lobbying all types of leadership (business, government, professions, academic, labour) and the media to promote public policies against abortion
  • working with non-Catholic churches to advocate the anti-abortion view
  • using the Catholic press and Catholic schools and churches to disseminate political and educational information against abortion

With the exception of the passing of a Human Life Amendment, the bishops’ pastoral plan has been largely implemented and successful.

The importance of the issue of abortion to the Catholic hierarchy cannot be underestimated. According to Timothy Byrnes, author of the 1991 book Catholic Bishops in American Politics, abortion occupies a unique position on the Catholic hierarchy’s public policy agenda. Byrnes says: “Abortion is not one issue among many for the bishops. It is rather the bedrock, non-negotiable starting point from which the rest of their agenda has developed. The bishops’ positions on other issues have led to political action and political controversy, but abortion … has been a consistently central feature of the Catholic hierarchy’s participation in American politics.” (pg. 143)

How did the bishops accomplish their agenda, not only against abortion, but against world population control?

Hidden Power of The Catholic Hierarchy

“The Church has the power of employing force and [of exercising] direct and indirect temporal power.”
–Vatican encyclical Quata Cura, Pope Pius IX, 1864

The Vatican agenda against U.S. population control policy does not reflect the position of 93% of American Catholics. Almost all of these liberal Catholics, including large numbers of priests and nuns, do not support the Pope’s stance against birth control, abortion, women’s ordination, and many other progressive issues. Unfortunately, liberal Catholics have very little political power and influence.

But the Vatican in Rome has vast resources, wealth, and minions at its disposal, and it uses these to continually inject the papal viewpoint into American politics, education, the media, and the private sphere. Within the United States resides a powerful and conservative Catholic hierarchy of cardinals and bishops who answer only to Rome. In addition, many key players in the American government have been devout Roman Catholics, including former CIA chief William Casey, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Reagan’s National Security Advisors Richard Allen and William Clark, and many, many others.

President Obama, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Mitt Romney at the 67th Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

Mumford documents the instrumental role that Catholic bishops played in the 1976 presidential election, and subsequent elections (pgs. 98-103; 163-165; 355-357). Both Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford actively courted the Catholic vote, and worked to establish a supportive relationship with the bishops. One of the deals Carter made with 15 Catholic leaders was to de-emphasize federal support for family planning in exchange for Catholic support for his Presidential race. Once elected, Carter put the two federal agencies with family planning programs under Catholic control, effectively rendering them useless.

Similarly, the bishops succeeded in their efforts to elect conservative Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. In both of these administrations, U.S. population policy reflected Vatican policy. In 1982, Reagan struck a deal with Pope John Paul II to cut off funding to U.S. foreign aid programs that promoted population control, in exchange for Vatican funding of the Polish Solidarity movement (Blanchard, 1994). Both Reagan and Bush made numerous appointments from the ranks of the Religious Right, who then waged a campaign of bureaucratic harassment and obstruction against the family planning establishment. Bishops were allowed to infiltrate every U.S. government office that had anything to do with population control. Reagan and Bush also appointed five Supreme Court Justices and 70% of all sitting judges in the federal court system, all of them anti-abortion (Mumford, pg. 165).

Although the Catholic hierarchy suffered a setback with the election of pro-choice President Bill Clinton in 1992, they and the rest of the Religious Right began a concerted campaign of undermining his credibility. From the moment he took office, Clinton has been hounded by charges intended to embarrass him and to weaken his ability to govern effectively. Mumford characterizes the attacks on Clinton as “ugly, bitter, brutal, and vicious” and as coming from everywhere — the House, the Senate, radio and television talk shows, newspapers and magazines, and Rush Limbaugh (and most recently, Kenneth Starr). The conservative Catholic press has led the charge and have been the most aggressive (pg. 318).

Vatican Abuse of Ecumenism

“The Church has the power to define dogmatically the religion of the Catholic Church to be the only true religion.” / “No man is free to embrace and profess that religion which he believes to be true, guided by the light of reason.”
–Vatican encyclical Quata Cura, Pope Pius IX, 1864

As part of the Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities, the Vatican fostered an ecumenical movement with evangelical Protestants. Not only would this give its cause considerably more strength and numbers, but, according to Mumford, it served to “give the appearance that Protestants were the instigators” of the anti-abortion, anti-contraception movement (pg. 308). Indeed, most Americans identify the Protestant Religious Right as the main enemy of abortion rights. This is mainly because the Vatican’s campaign against population control relies on stealth and censorship. For example, the Vatican has taken the “protest” out of Protestants. Until the pastoral plan was implemented, Protestant denominations freely protested or criticized the Catholic Church. By forging alliances with them, the bishops silenced them.

The Vatican has taken the “protest” out of Protestants.

The Catholic hierarchy was instrumental in promoting and directing the Religious Right. In the late 1980’s, it made an alliance with the powerful and very conservative Southern Baptist Convention. But even earlier, the Catholic hierarchy was basically responsible for creating both the Moral Majority, and later, the Christian Coalition. Catholic extremist Paul Weyrich recruited both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to lead the groups. Mumford shows that the leadership of the Christian Coalition is largely controlled by Catholics, and a large proportion of their staff is Catholic. Mumford states: “It is likely that much of the work of the Coalition, even in targeting Protestants, is accomplished by thousands of paid employees of the Catholic Church.” (pg. 179).

The Christian Coalition is a powerful political organization that plays a large role in shaping the outcome of American elections. Mumford documents the takeover of the Republican Party by the Christian Coalition. In 1991, Pat Robertson stated his dream for the Coalition: “We want … as soon as possible to see a working majority of the Republican Party in the hands of pro-family Christians by 1996.” By 1994, Mumford says, “the Christian Right exercised complete domination of Republican parties in 13 states and considerable control in 18 others.” (pg. 308) In the 1994 election, the Republican party won control of both houses of Congress, for the first time in 40 years.

Silencing of the Press

“This pressure [of the Catholic Church on American journalism] is one of the most important forces in American life, and the only one about which secrecy is generally maintained, no newspaper being brave enough to discuss it, although all fear it and believe that the problem should be dragged into the open and made publicly known.”
–George Seldes, journalist and media critic, Lords of the Press (1938)

The Vatican is against almost all the democratic principles we hold dear, including freedom of the press, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. The “infallible” Pope Pius IX branded freedom of the press as intrinsically evil, and denied it was a legitimate right. Freedom of the press, he said, “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.” Of course, the Church has decided it is the supreme judge of what is wrong, false, and moral.

The Church hierarchy has been very successful at silencing criticism of the Catholic Church in the North American press. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is the main group fighting “anti-Catholicism” in the press, supported by the Catholic hierarchy. Methods include sending continuous barrages of press releases to get the conservative Catholic viewpoint across, and demanding equal time when opposing views are published. If something is printed in the mainstream press that is critical of Catholicism, the Catholic League demands retractions, organizes petitions, threatens boycotts, publicly humiliates dissenters, and tries to get the offending reporter fired. Mumford documents numerous examples of these activities (pg. 289-302). The 1994 and 1995 annual reports of the Catholic League list 350 of its attacks on media, activist groups, businesses, schools, and governments.

Vatican Interference at the United Nations

“Does the Vatican rule the world? The world is not here to be dictated to. And let me tell you, the delegates here represent more than five billion people in the world, and not only 190 at the Vatican.”
–Maher Mahran, Egypt’s minister of population, U.N. International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, 1994

This decade has seen the United Nations become more and more involved in helping countries implement population control measures, and in promoting the education and empowerment of women in developing countries as a means to achieve these goals. The Vatican has consistently fought against these advances at United Nations conferences, denying that an overpopulation problem even exists. It also lobbies strongly against solutions to global warming, because to admit this as a serious threat would be to admit the overpopulation problem that led to it.

The Vatican stands virtually alone on the world stage in defending its position. It has managed to ally itself with only a few Muslim and other reactionary countries, some with records of serious human rights abuses. Nevertheless, the Vatican has enjoyed considerable success at hampering the progress of the United Nations on population and environmental issues, because of its special status as a Non-member State Permanent Observer, a status shared by no other religion.

The Vatican is in a privileged position to directly influence U.N. policy by negotiating and voting on recommendations just like any national government. It uses its strong voice to block consensus at international conferences.

But at recent United Nations conferences, a new and more negative image of the Vatican has materialized. Because of its isolation and its extremist views, it has lost a great deal of international credibility. Furthermore, the Vatican’s reputation as a moral authority lies in tatters. Its views are largely ignored by the masses, including most Catholics, who have become cynical and disillusioned by their Church’s lost grip on reality. Non-Catholics generally consider the antics of the Vatican to be nothing more than a bad joke.

So relentless is the Vatican in its drive to push its agenda onto everyone else, so determined is it to retain its power and influence regardless of the cost in human suffering, that it has probably inflicted irreparable harm on the institution of the papacy. The Vatican’s stance against population control measures is a desperate, last-ditch attempt to save itself from the blind alley it embarked upon in 1870, with the dogma of papal infallibility.

The Vatican is on a path to self-destruction. The question is: can we stop the Vatican before it drags the rest of the world with it?

References and Further Reading

Blanchard, Dallas A. The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the Religious Right. Twayne Publishers, New York. 1994.

Blanshard, Paul. American Freedom and Catholic Power. The Beacon Press, Boston. 1949.

Byrnes, Timothy. Catholic Bishops in American Politics. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. 1991.

Manning, Joanna. Is the Pope Catholic? A Woman Confronts Her Church. Malcolm Lester Books, Toronto. 1999.

Mumford, Stephen D. The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy. Center for Research on Population and Security, North Carolina. 1996.

Seldes, George. Lords of the Press. Julian Messner Inc., New York. 1938.

United Nations, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 1998 Revision of the World Population Estimates and Projections. http://www.popin.org/pop1998/

Joyce Arthur is the founder and Executive Director of Canada’s national pro-choice group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC). Before founding ARCC in 2005, she ran the Pro-Choice Action Network in British Columbia for 10 years and edited the national newsletter Pro-Choice Press, which she began in 1995. Arthur has written hundreds of articles on abortion and other political and social justice issues. As a media spokesperson and international speaker, she has spoken at dozens of venues in Canada and internationally, given hundreds of media interviews, and appeared in several documentaries.

Related:
No, you can’t be a pro-life feminist: It’s a betrayal of women
Why the Christian Right Wages War Against Abortion

What Melinda Gates would tell the Pope

The Men Behind The War On Women

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1 COMMENT

  1. Evidently, the idea is to over-stress the economies of the world, and bring down the current order. The RC has a polity in place with its organization of diocese, and would desire to return to a medieval-style world. The idea that "the ends justify the means" is the driving force.

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