The Vatican’s Role in the World Population Crisis: The Untold Story

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 5 February 2012
Church and State

(Credit: MEDIAIMAG /

This presentation by our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford tells the untold story of the Vatican’s role in the world population crisis. It is as relevant and revealing today as it was when it was first delivered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1996.

The Vatican’s Role in the World Population Crisis: The Untold Story

A presentation given at
Main Line Unitarian Church,
Philadelphia, Pa., April 14, 1996
Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH
Center for Research on Population and Security

With an Introduction
by Lay Leader
George L. Kelley


Good morning. Let me commence this service by saying a few words about the spiritual house in which we all reside:

This house is for the ingathering of nature and human nature. It is a house of friendships, a haven in trouble, an open room for the encouragement of our struggle. It is a house of freedom, guarding the dignity and worth of every person. It offers a platform for the free voice, for declaring, both in times of security and danger, the full and undivided conflict of opinion. It is a house of truth-seeking, where scientists can encourage devotion to their quest, where mystics can abide in a community of searchers. It is a house of art, adorning its celebrations with melodies and handiworks. It is a house of prophecy, outrunning times past and times present in visions of growth and progress. This house is a cradle for our dreams, the workshop of our common endeavor.

In 1830 there were one billion people on the planet. By 1930 there were two billion, and by 1960 there were three billion. Today [1969] the world population stands at three and one-half billion persons. One of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be the growth of population. Whether man’s response to that challenge will be a cause of pride or for despair in the year 2000 will depend very much on what we do today. If we now begin our work in an appropriate manner, and if we continue to devote a considerable amount of attention and energy to this problem, then mankind will be able to surmount this challenge as it has surmounted so many during the long march of civilization.

When future generations evaluate the record of our time, one of the most important factors in their judgment will be the way in which we respond to population growth. Let us act in such a way that those who come after us—even as they lift their eyes beyond Earth’s bounds—can do so with pride in the planet on which they live, with gratitude to those who lived on it in the past, and with continuing confidence in the future.

In the 27 years that have elapsed since President Nixon delivered this message to Congress, the World’s population has expanded from three and one-half billion to nearly six billion and its growth rate is essentially unchanged. Uncontrolled population growth is a primary cause of the worst problems that face the world today, including the degradation of the environment, the destruction of natural habitat and permanent loss of countless species along with it, malnutrition and starvation, widespread unemployment, poverty, and social unrest resulting in national and international conflict. The overall result is a general undermining of our humanitarian values. The time to commence serious action has long since past. Only through our awareness and commitment to world population growth control can society hope to save itself from the traditional regulators of human overpopulation—war, pestilence and starvation.

I am very pleased to introduce as our speaker this morning, Dr. Stephen Mumford who heads the Center for Research on Population and Security and has traveled from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to be with us today. Dr. Mumford is a leading researcher and writer on population issues, having published six books and 89 articles on the subject. For the past 26 years he has spent a large portion of his time working on population issues in developing countries. Dr. Mumford will discuss the pivotal role of the Catholic Church hierarchy in thwarting efforts to alleviate the world population crisis. While I do not believe that there will be time during the service to ask him questions, I encourage anyone who is interested in his message and who may wish to exchange comments to meet with us afterwards.

Presentation by Stephen D. Mumford

George Kelley read to you a remarkable passage of a message to Congress by President Nixon in 1969. At that time, America seemed to have the political will to deal with the overpopulation problem. But within five years that will began to weaken.

Here today, we can bear witness only to our government’s aversion to population control. Why have we come to this sad state of affairs?

The Cairo Population Conference 18 months ago was a turning point. Until then, it was not widely known that the Catholic Church, as directed by its hierarchy in the Vatican, was a principle force in opposing population growth control. Any effort by the Vatican to conceal its staunch opposition was abandoned when the Holy See shut down the meeting for the first six days. Everyone was stunned.

  • Few believed that the Vatican would do this.
  • Few believed that the Vatican could do this.
  • The big question is why the Vatican did it?

At the last International Population Conference, convened in Mexico City in 1984, the Vatican was not forced to take such overt action to achieve its goals. Conservative Catholic James Buckley led a largely conservative Catholic delegation to Mexico City to represent the United States. They took the Vatican position on abortion and family planning and helped to impose it on the conference. The Vatican thereby avoided the need to place itself directly in the way of progress on this vital issue.

The Vatican desperately wanted the policy established in Mexico City to be retained after the Cairo conference. But it lacked the powerful U.S. delegation to support it this time.

Why is the Vatican so anxious to impose its will on the world of Catholics and non-Catholics alike when it comes to this issue?

First, let me say that we are talking about the Catholic hierarchy—priests, bishops, cardinals, the pope—not the laity. It is well known that American Catholic lay people do not differ from non-Catholics in the use of contraception and abortion.

The eminent Catholic theologian, Hans Küng, best described the situation when he wrote: “We cannot solve the problem of contraception until we solve the problem of infallibility.”

What is infallibility? What did Dr. Küng mean?

Infallibility is a Catholic dogma—a Catholic teaching—a principle. As you know, according to Catholic dogma, the pope is God’s representative on earth and God guides him as he cares for his flock. When the pope formulates a teaching, he is simply transmitting this teaching on God’s behalf. Therefore, the teaching cannot possibly be in error. Thus, his teachings are infallible.

This principle was not created until 1870, the very year when the pope lost all temporal power with the creation of the country of Italy. Up to that moment, the Vatican was still executing so-called heretics, people whom it viewed as posing a threat to papal power. But suddenly this source of power was gone.

The Vatican urgently needed a new source of power. It could no longer control the laity by means of its governance, as it had in the papal states which would later become Italy. But it could control the laity directly by adopting a policy of psychological coercion founded on a new doctrine—that of papal infallibility.

This was a brilliant concept—and it worked—for a century. But at its introduction in 1870, the Catholic intelligentsia, among them theologians, historians and bishops, recognized that at some point in the future, this principle would lead to self-destruction of the institution.

Why? Because they recognized that times were certain to change—and in unpredictable ways. This principle would lock the Church into an inexorable course—teachings that could not be changed without destroying the principle of infallibility itself.

These thoughtful Catholics foresaw that this principle would immediately become the fundamental principle of the Catholic Church, upon which all other Catholic dogma would rest—the very foundation of the Church.

They understood that if this principle were undermined and destroyed at some future date, all Church teachings would collapse around the eroded foundation and the institution itself would be devastated.

They were convinced that one day, encumbered by her unchangeable teachings, the Church would find itself down a blind alley from which there would be no escape—and faced with inevitable self-destruction as a result of a grave loss of credibility. These distinguished scholars were strongly opposed to this principle and many left the Church.

The blind alley turned out to be the issue of birth control.

They could not imagine the population explosion of the last half of this century. As it stands now, the Church cannot change its teaching on birth control without undermining all of its teachings. The Vatican must protect the fundamental doctrine of papal infallibility at all costs.

We all know that the Catholic Church has lost much of its credibility, authority and claim to moral leadership as it has stonewalled any serious solutions to the population problem. The 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae ruled out any change of the Church’s position on birth control for all time.

Since the adoption of Humanae Vitae, 28 years ago, there has been a hemorrhage in the Church’s credibility, just as the intellectual leaders of the Church predicted in 1870. And self-destruction is now well under way.

This morning, I will give you three examples of this erosion but there are scores of others.

  • In 1965 there were 42,000 young men in American seminaries studying for the priesthood. Today there are fewer than 6,000 even though there are 50% more Catholics.
  • The average age of nuns in the United States is 65 years. Only 3% are under age 40 while 35% are older than 70.
  • One-half of all American priests quit the priesthood before reaching retirement age.

Self-destruction as a result of loss of credibility is underway but progressing slowly. The Pope still has hope that he can turn this around. We know that he is convinced that if he changes the Church’s position on birth control and destroys the principle of infallibility, self-destruction will be very swift.

We know that this matter was the focus of his attention for several years in the 1960s.

In 1964, Pope Paul VI created the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control which met from 1964 to 1966. It was a two-part commission. One consisted of 64 lay persons, the other, of 15 clerics, including Pope John Paul II, then a Polish cardinal.

Pope Paul gave the Commission only one mission—to determine how the Church can change its position on birth control without undermining papal authority.

After two years of study, the Commission concluded that it was not possible to make this change without undermining papal authority—but that the Church should make the change anyway because it was the right thing to do! The lay members voted 60 to 4 for change, and the clerics, 9 to 6 for change. We know this because one or more commission members released the details without permission to an Italian and a French newspaper. Pope Paul did not act immediately. A minority report was prepared, coauthored by the man who is now Pope John Paul II.

In this report he said:

If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti Connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XII’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half century the 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.

In 1980, years after he became pope, John Paul wrote to the German bishops:

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 this essential foundation is shaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down.

In these two texts, the pope took the position that a change on the birth control issue would destroy the principle of papal infallibility and that infallibility was the fundamental principle of the Church upon which all else rests.

The principle of infallibility must be protected at all costs. The security-survival of the papacy itself is on the line.

Civil law, which legalizes contraception and abortion undermines papal authority. The Church insists that only it can determine what is moral. By passing these civil laws, governments are challenging the prerogative of the pope to be the ultimate authority on what is moral. Because most Americans look to democratic process to determine morality, the authority of the pope is threatened by this process. In the simplest analysis, the Church cannot coexist with such an arrangement, which in its view, threatens the very survival of the papacy as a world power.

My views in these matters have been influenced primarily by three Catholic writers: theologian Hans Küng, historian Bernhard Hasler and sociologist Jean-Guy Vaillancourt.

The same year that the encyclical Humanae Vitae was issued—1968—Richard Nixon was elected president. Nixon felt very strongly about the population problem. Public awareness of this problem and political commitment to deal with it was just beginning to peak.

In March 1970, Nixon created the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future. The task of this Commission was to make a series of recommendations that could be used to formulate a comprehensive population policy for the United States.

After two years of intensive study, the Commission made more than 70 recommendations. The report had the makings of an outstanding population policy. Two of the recommendations were that contraception and abortion would be made available to all who wanted them, at government expense, if necessary.

1972 was a presidential election year and President Nixon was facing a difficult campaign, so when the report was presented to him on May 5, 1972, six months before Americans would go to the polls, Nixon sharply condemned its most important recommendations.

Nothing ever came of this report. Not one recommendation was ever adopted. To this day the U.S. does not have a population policy.

According to the chairman of the Commission, John D. Rockefeller 3rd, and Commission member, Congressman James Scheuer of New York, the President was convinced that the Catholic bishops, who were hostile to the report, had the power to upset his bid for reelection.

This report never saw the light of day again.

But Nixon did make another bold move. Despite the intense opposition of the Catholic hierarchy that he encountered in the wake of his population commission, Nixon’s assessment of the gravity of world overpopulation problem remained unchanged.

In April 1974, in National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200), he directed that a comprehensive study be undertaken to determine the “implications of world population growth for U.S. security and overseas interests.”

He ordered that this study be undertaken by all the departments and agencies of the government that had significant intelligence gathering capabilities. This included The National Security Council, the CIA, the Defense, Agriculture and State Departments, and the Agency for International Development.

Before the study was completed in July 1975, President Nixon had lost his job. However, his successor, Gerald Ford, recognized the importance of this study. Both the findings and recommendations are as relevant today as they were in 1975.

Because of the constraint of time I can only cite a few of the findings from this remarkable report:

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.” [Executive Summary of the NSSM 200 Report, page 10]

… World population growth is widely recognized within the Government as a current danger of the highest magnitude calling for urgent measures ….” [Page 194 of the NSSM 200 Report]

… population factors are indeed critical in, and often determinants of, violent conflict in developing areas.” [Page 66]

Where population size is greater than available resources, or is expanding more rapidly than the available resources, there is a tendency toward internal disorders and violence and, sometimes, disruptive international policies or violence.” [Page 69]

In developing countries, the burden of population factors, added to others, will weaken unstable governments, often only marginally effective in good times, and open the way to extremist regimes.” [Page 84]

This report predicted the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the United States-Iraq war and pointed out that the cost of such a conflict will far exceed the costs of decades of worldwide population growth control. The report also predicted the civil wars in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia and numerous other population driven hostilities of the past 20 years.

The report offers numerous recommendations. The following few excerpts will give you an idea of the concern expressed by the departments and agencies which conducted the studies:

Our objective should be to assure that developing countries make family planning information, education and means available to all their peoples by 1980.” [Page 130]

… intense efforts are required to assure full availability by 1980 of birth control information and means to all fertile individuals, especially in rural areas.” [Executive Summary, page 9]

While specific goals in this area are difficult to state, our aim should be for the world to achieve a replacement level of fertility, (a two-child family on the average), by about the year 2000…. Attainment of this goal will require greatly intensified population programs…. U.S. leadership is essential.” [Executive Summary, page 14]

“… No country has reduced its population growth without resorting to abortion” [Page 182]. … Indeed, abortion, legal and illegal, now has become the most widespread fertility control method in use in the world today ….” [Page 183]

“… It would be unwise to restrict abortion research for the following reasons: 1) The persistent and ubiquitous nature of abortion. 2) Widespread lack of safe abortion techniques ….” [Page 185]

NSSM 200 was an astounding report prepared by leading cabinet level agencies.

Its conclusion: overpopulation threatens American security and the security of all nations.

Overpopulation is a more serious threat than nuclear conflagration.

On November 26, 1975, the 227-page report and its recommendations were endorsed by President Ford. However, none of them were ever implemented. The Vatican moved swiftly to intervene, and all efforts were very quietly subverted.

On November 20, 1975, six days before Ford endorsed the recommendations, the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted a plan to build a political machine with the stated goal of passing a human rights amendment to the Constitution. This plan, which is represented by a printed document, describes the creation of the new right movement, including the Moral Majority. Within a period of only four years, almost the entire new right movement had been created. More recently, the bishops were the moving force behind the creation of the Christian Coalition to replace the Moral Majority, which had fallen into public disrepute.

Many documented details of the Vatican intervention in the implementation of the NSSM 200 recommendations are described in my last three books. Given that the very survival of the papacy is on the line, the Vatican has taken extraordinary steps to halt any and all local and global initiatives to promote population growth control activities.

I believe that this grave conflict between the well documented efforts by the papacy to preserve its power and influence, and the security-survival interests of our country and the entire world, is the most important story of the last half of the 20th century. This incredible story is going untold.

While we would wish that everyone could see the urgency of finding acceptable methods for controlling the world’s population growth, I recognize that there are some whose religious beliefs and attitudes may never allow them to accommodate their beliefs to such needs.

However, it remains for the rest of us who live in a democratic and pluralistic society to understand the forces that undermine and block a free and honest exchange of ideas on this subject—forces that now prevent us from implementing humane solutions to this most fundamental problem.

Only by understanding these forces can they be dealt with effectively, and progress be made toward attaining a sustainable population for our planet.

Thank you for letting me share these thoughts with you this morning.

Closing words

In his discourse today, Dr. Mumford has made it clear that we are under siege not only on the abortion and other human rights issues, but that even with the most fundamental of survival issues—the need for population control—there are powerful forces, having no accountability, to whom reason is irrelevant and which will use every means at their disposal to suppress open discussion and meaningful action. For those of you who wish to learn more about this subject, the information presented today has been documented by Dr. Mumford in a 1995 journal article in The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies (Spring 1995, Vol. 20, No. 1). You may obtain a copy as you pass through the Main Meeting Room doors.

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)
Kindle Store

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.

Lester R. Brown interview with Rob Stewart

Professor Paul Ehrlich: Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?

How the world went from 170 million people to 7.3 billion, in one map

Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook


  1. Believing without proof is an invitation to disaster and disaster is what religion has given us with its blind opposition to meaningful birth control.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here