The Catholic Church and Sex

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 31 July 2012
Church and State


Excerpt from Chapter 7 of our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s book, American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (1984). The book is available at Kindle here and to read for free here.

The Church’s preoccupation with sex stems chiefly from three very different concerns of power or control: (1) control of priests and nuns; (2) control of lay persons; and (3) control of nations.

The control of nations is seen by the Church, as by many other institutions throughout history, as being a function of numbers. The Church, from the beginning, was concerned with “out-reproducing” other groups. Sex, to some extent, became a concern on those grounds.

For the Church’s first four hundred years, it was a democratic insti­tution.[17] Then it evolved into an absolute monarchy as its lust for power grew, resulting in the need for absolute control of priests and laity. This control derived in no small part from the exploitation of their human sexuality, though this exploitation was different for priests than for the laity. For each group, an elaborate system of con­trols related to human sexuality was developed, and these controls were classified as “morals” (as defined by God, of course).

Earlier religions and primitive groups exalted virginity as a status of perfection. The Catholic Church adopted this concept as a step toward producing clerical leadership for the masses. The self-control required for celibacy was looked upon as evidence of an inner strength not possessed by ordinary men and women. These celibates of the Church were promoted as men and women worthy of leadership posi­tions in the community or people who should be respected, admired, and unquestionably followed. Then the Church bestowed a number of characteristics upon the priest to literally “create” leadership that was at the same time devoted, subservient, loyal, and obedient to the hierarchy. The priest is obliged to relinquish certain personal prerogatives that we all would agree are essential for responsible and responsive participation in American democratic life.

No one has stated this systematic subjection of the Catholic mind to clerical guidance more frankly than the noted British Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc:

‘The religion of the Catholic is not a mood induced by isolated personal introspection coupled with an isolated personal attempt to discover all things and the maker of all things. It is essentially an acceptance of the religion of others; which others are the Apostolic College, the Conciliar decisions, and all the proceeds from the authoritative voice of the Church. For the Catholic, it is not he himself, it is the Church which can alone discover, decide, and affirm.’

With such an attitude toward his own personal doubts and toward any independent thinking in his own congregation, the parish priest becomes primarily the Voice of Authority. He is not a man among men. He is a member of a special caste. He follows a routine which is almost military in its severity, and he must obey his superiors with military precision. He wears special uniforms and does not marry. He is called “Father” to emphasize his pater­nal supervision over his people. He has certain special powers that distinguish him from his fellows, and by using those powers he becomes a purveyor of certain supernatural benefits to all believers.

The Catholic priest is also armed with several special and effective devices of concern over his people. The people are told that under certain circumstances he is able to forgive sin and grant absolution and he performs these operations with impres­sive dignity.[18]

Thus, much, if not all, of the priest’s behavior is directed by the need to control his large flock to provide the control demanded by the hierarchy. Democracy or the needs of people that are different from the needs of the hierarchy cannot be given serious consideration.

Control of the laity through exploitation of their sexuality was probably initially related to desire of the hierarchy to out-reproduce non-Christians. Thus, controls were placed on all human sex-related activities imaginable. Since maximum reproductive output was the goal, anything and everything that inhibited maximum output was made “immoral.”

1. Masturbation was forbidden. Making intercourse the only sexu­al outlet maximized reproduction.

2. Sex among the unmarried was made immoral since, on the average, women will have more exposure to intercourse and, in turn, be more likely to conceive and produce more children if all sex were limited to marriage.

3. Homosexuality was made immoral because it obviously reduces reproduction.

4. Contraception, which had already been practiced for centuries, was made immoral because this practice reduces reproduction.

5. Abortion was made immoral because it obviously reduces reproduction.

6. Divorce was made immoral because it, too, often meant the ter­mination of reproduction by women before they reached menopause.

7. Sex education has traditionally been immoral because it inevi­tably results in fertility control actions on the part of the couple. In a reluctant compromise, the Vatican now allows limited sex education which does not include information on any of the effective methods of fertility control, such as the modern methods of contraception and abortion. Education that includes effective fertility control measures continues to be immoral.

8. Prostitution was made immoral because it reduced the number of marriages and thus family formations and lessened sexual activity among married couples.

Nearly all sex-related acts that are considered immoral by the Church can be traced to the reduction of reproduction. Others not mentioned here are related to the Church’s absolutism, but nearly all can be traced to the “immoralities” listed above.

I used the past tense in the list because it is unlikely that the Church, if it were making its list of “immoralities” in 1984, would include these immoralities given the problem of overpopulation. However, because it cannot change its “infallible” teachings, it is locked into this set of “immoralities.”

Now that these “immoralities’ are accepted by the laity, priests can use them for purposes of control, as well as fundraising. Since vir­tually everyone is guilty of at least some of these “sins,” and since foregiveness of sins has to be sought and only the priest can give such foregiveness, he retains a considerable amount of control over his flock. The power that the priest derives from this control is ultimately transferred to the Vatican.

The great tragedy in all of this is the tremendous social injustice caused by the Church because of these “immoralities” which seem to have at their root a lust for power. The untold mental anguish caused by production of guilt feelings, as well as physical harm brought about by these “immoralities” is unconscionable.

The importance of the control of education of youth in control of the laity becomes all the more apparent in the face of these “immorali­ties.”

[17] Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites (Berkeley: California Press, 1980), p. 24.

[18] Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, p. 35.

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).

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. Thanks very much for this article Stephen. I agree in general that the Church wants to maximize reproduction. But I think it's more complex than that, with a few other factors and reasons at play. You mention the Church's desire to out-produce others – while true, the Church has historically held power along with governments. Separation of church and state is a recent phenomenon and many countries still don't have it (such as Poland). When Church and State are partners, abortion would be banned because the state needed soldiers for their wars and imperialist expansions, and the state relied on the 'moral authority' of the Church to help enforce it.

    Second, you mention that "Sex among the unmarried was made immoral since…women will…be more likely to conceive and produce more children if all sex were limited to marriage." I think this is more related to the control of women's sexual behaviour specifically, since unmarried sex results in uncertain and unauthorized paternity. This is a huge concern in patriarchy because men can't know for sure if they are the father of their children. Marriage is a way to bind a woman to one man's authority and control and ensure his paternity of children.

    The Church's "war against women" is also key. For example, restrictions on abortion these days seem to be more about punishing women than maximizing births (since laws don't stop abortion). A primary concern of the Church is to maintain traditional roles, with the woman subservient and devoted to motherhood. Of course, that's also about maximizing reproduction, but in the age of birth control and feminism, the Church has really had to ramp up its attempted control of women to the point where that's become an end in itself. To illustrate, the Church has no interest in illegal unsafe abortion, even though that accounts for over half of all abortions in the world (about 22 million out of 41 million). The Church just wants to keep it illegal, and sweep under the carpet not only the millions of women who suffer and 47,000 who die from unsafe and criminalized, but all their fetuses too, which die anyway. Also, a dead woman can’t produce any more children or take care of the ones she already has, which means her existing children will suffer and often die too. So I’m just saying it’s much bigger than just maximizing reproduction, it’s about control and punishment too.

  2. This article is so wrong and biased that I could not finish it. The Church is not about control. It takes stances on moral issues only. Sex is one such issue. Also, the Catholic Church is not the only religion with these views. Want proof? Check this link out:

    • it takes a profound ignorance of history to assert such a thing as this. Please read more, Rachel. Not understanding history is the best way we know of to repeat it. It is people like you who are leading America to emulating the fall of Rome.


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