Meet the federal judge who took on the Catholic Church

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 29 August 2012
Church and State

(Credit: mark reinstein /

This excerpt has been adapted from Chapter 9 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 Courage of Judge Dooling

One of the early great successes of the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities was the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, the year after the Plan was implemented. This amendment to an appropriation bill, offered by Congressman and Catholic activist Henry Hyde of Illinois, restricted the use of Medicaid money for abortion, limiting access to abortion for poor women. Planned Parenthood asked Federal Judge John F. Dooling of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, to determine whether the law was constitutional.

According to the account of a lawyer who clerked for him, Dooling was responsible, thorough, and highly intelligent. He was also a practicing Catholic. He took thirteen months to hear the evidence, which ultimately amounted to dozens of witnesses and thousands of pages of testimony.

On February 4, 1980, E. Willis, writing for The Village Voice, summarized the outcome: “[In] Judge John F. Dooling’s 328-page decision [on January 15, 1980], striking down the Hyde Amendment…he demonstrates that the purpose of the Hyde Amendment was never to save the taxpayers’ money, keep the government neutral on a delicate moral issue, or distinguish between ‘necessary’ and so-called ‘convenience’ abortions.

“The amendment,” says Dooling bluntly, “was a ploy by anti-abortion congressmen frustrated in their attempt to pass a Constitutional amendment that would override the Supreme Court’s 1973 pro-abortion decision; its purpose was quite simply to circumvent the Court’s ruling and prevent as many abortions as possible.” Dooling makes short work of the anti-abortionists’ pretensions to being a spontaneous grassroots movement that owes political victories to sheer moral appeal. He confirms that right-to-life’s main source of energy, organization, and direction has been the Catholic Church, and describes in detail how the movement uses one-issue voting to put pressure on legislators, candidates, and the party organizations that nominate them—a tactic that gains its influence far out of proportion to its numbers.

“After quoting various Christian and Jewish theologians’ differing opinions on abortion and the question of fetal personhood, Dooling argues that the antiabortionist view is not based on any moral or religious consensus but reflects a sectarian position that ‘is not genuinely argued; it is adamantly asserted’…The Hyde Amendment, he concludes, is religiously motivated legislation that imposes a particular theological viewpoint, violating dissenters’ First Amendment rights.”

Dooling carefully examined the bishop’s Pastoral Plan as he prepared his decision. He documented that the Hyde Amendment became U.S. law only because of the considerable success enjoyed by the bishops in the implementation of their Pastoral Plan.

One might ask how the Catholic Church could have retained its tax exemption under these circumstances. The answer is simple. By this time, the bishops had mobilized their “faithful” with their Plan. In the critical government departments and agencies, the bishops held sufficient influence to block any challenges. Several attempts were made. All failed. The Pastoral Plan’s mobilization of responsive lay Catholic judges and other government officials, including IRS decision-makers, ruled out any hope that American law would be enforced against the bishops and their obedient followers.

Judge Dooling clearly understood the grave implications for America of the Pastoral Plan. However, he was no match for the awesome power of his bishops: this decision was quickly overturned by an Appeals Court and the Hyde Amendment became law.

Had the Catholic Church been stripped of its tax exemption status when the bishops approved its Pastoral Plan, which was obviously in order, the Vatican would not have succeeded in killing American political will to confront the population problem. Without the tax exemption, the Vatican would not have succeeded in covertly “co-opting its [the U.S. government’s] institutions,” as Stephen Settle suggested. Every dollar of the Catholic Church’s income and expenditures would have been publicly accounted for. Settle’s “minority” would not be able to manipulate government policy to advance the security interests of the Papacy at the expense of U.S. security interests.

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.

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  1. that is why I support this proposal:

    Churches are currently automatically are treated as tax exempt under 501(c)(3), without the need to file form 1023, which is because we as a society have decide that churches are a benefit to society. However we really do not know where all the money being raised is going but no one is suggesting their tax exempt status be revoked but only that they should at least open their books to the public and show their assets and income as it is only fair that we the public get to see exactly how much money is being made and how the churches are spending it. If they are unwilling to furnish that information then the should not have non-profit status.


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