Consequences of Papal Infallibility for Catholicism and Humanity

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 17 September 2012
Church and State

(Credit: giulio napolitano /

This excerpt has been adapted from Chapter 11 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 dogmas of papal primacy and infallibility, as proclaimed at Vatican Council I on July 18, 1870, produced vast consequences for both the institution and for virtually all of us who now inhabit this planet. Had these two dogmas not been proclaimed, life on this earth would be both far less threatened and less threatening. There is much evidence that rational responses to these threats would have begun occurring decades ago.

In a couple of paragraphs, Catholic historian Bernhard Hasler provides an overview of these consequences:

The Church not only missed its chance for a rapprochement with scientific scholarship … [it became] an obstacle to cultural evolution and an enemy of the unprejudiced search for truth. It is hard to deny the justice of such complaints—the way the dogma came to be defined would be proof enough…. The dogma of infallibility was not just one more doctrine among many others. It took a comprehensive position on the issue of truth. It involved a very broad claim, namely, that the pope could pronounce on questions of faith and morals with guaranteed certainty. The truth was no longer to be brought to light by laborious research and investigation but by the determination of an infallible authority.

The Church does indeed gain, at first, in unity and uniformity, but it blocks off its own free access to the real world and ultimately stands in danger of losing touch with reality completely…. On the one hand, Catholicism gains in … political muscle; on the other, its conflict with science grows more intense. Its dogmatic commitments make it harder for the Church to adapt to circumstances; they lessen its flexibility and the chances for reform. The Church loses it credibility with many people and draws in on itself. This increases the danger of its stiffening into a sect and forfeiting its potential for social renewal. The machine may still remain intact, and the power structure may continue to stand firm, but the life has gone out of it.

The Church did gain in unity and uniformity. At least this applies to all those people who really matter: those who blindly support the pope, either because of faith or opportunity, including all cardinals and bishops, most priests and a relatively small fraction of the laymen. The Papacy has acquired enormous political muscle as a result of these two dogmas. The political muscle that was needed to halt the National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM 200) in its tracks and bury it for almost two decades is truly impressive. In the April 25, 1993 issue of The Independent On Sunday published in London, Mark Hertsgaard states, “The Vatican has managed to derail every international effort to curb the population explosion,” despite the fact that we are overwhelmed with evidence that the population explosion gravely threatens almost every thing we value. This accomplishment has required enormous political muscle.

Indeed, the machine remains intact and the power structure continues to stand firm in significant part because of the influence through Catholics within the U.S. government and its ability to use the U.S. government as an instrument to impose papal policy on the UN system and other international organizations and on many national governments either through rewards, punishment or threat of force. The fact that the Church has been permitted to accumulate enormous wealth has also been vital to keeping its machine and power structure intact. In the 1980s, the Chicago Sun newspaper, following an investigation, estimated the net worth of the Church in the U.S. at more than $200 billion. Its worth worldwide has been estimated at $2 trillion.

Science and the Vatican are enemies. The Church ignores the findings of science when their acknowledgment threatens to undermine papal authority. The best examples are the innumerable findings of science which show that overpopulation is causing often permanent degradation of our planet and reducing the number of people Earth can support on a sustainable basis. The Church sets about deliberately undermining the credibility of science in its desperate attempt at institutional survival. As a result of the Vatican’s efforts to survive the onslaught of these findings, we are all continuously bombarded with disinformation which seeks to throw these findings into question. But science continues, on nearly a daily basis, to produce alarming evidence that the Church’s position on family planning and contraception is indefensible.

Each day the physical potential for human life support is diminished by abuse of our planet, and much of this loss is probably permanent. As a result, every day the number of people that Earth ultimately will be able to support on a sustainable basis grows smaller. This fact alone makes the bishops’ claims of “concern for human life” and defense of “right-to-life” absurd. Their policies are destroying the earth’s physical ability to provide for human needs.

The charge by Hasler that these dogmas have stifled intellectual development by Roman Catholics is supported by two prominent Catholics in the United States. On November 11, 1988, Jesuit theologian Father Avery Dulles spoke to the Washington Chapter of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Says Dulles (son of John Foster Dulles), himself widely regarded as a leading light in U.S. Catholic intellectual life for more than three decades, “In spite of our many Catholic schools, colleges and universities we have as yet very few eminent Catholic intellectuals on the national scene…. Catholics, whether clerical or lay, are not prominent in science, literature, the fine arts, or even, I think, in the performing arts and communications.”

Dulles reopened a theme first argued in depth in the mid-1950s by Church historian Msgr. John Tracy Ellis: “That U.S. Catholics have failed to achieve a leadership stature in U.S. intellectual and public life commensurate with their numbers, wealth and organizational strength.” Ellis said he “would basically agree” with Dulles’s analysis of the current situation and that the influence of Catholic leaders has increased substantially in the business and political worlds since the 1950s. But in the field of culture and intellectual life, “I fail to find for the last 35-40 years any widespread love of learning for learning’s sake in Catholic circles. I say this with great regret.” He went on to say “there is a decided emphasis in Catholic circles on money … [with the result that] … the United States is now teeming with Catholic millionaires.”

It is reasonable to assume that the Catholic educational system is devoted to the advancement of the papal agenda in America through the growth of influence in the political system. Advancement in science (which frequently threatens Catholicism) and encouragement of the “love of learning for learning sake” (which also threatens it) are not part of the papal agenda in America. Given the observations of Father Dulles and Msgr. Ellis, it is apparent that the priorities of Catholic schools reflect the papal agenda.

Hasler observed, “… the life has gone out of it.” By this he means that the Church no longer has a conscience. Referring to the Church’s teaching on contraception, Humanae Vitae, Catholic theologian Hans Küng states, “This teaching … has laid a heavy burden on the conscience of innumerable people, even in industrially developed countries with declining birthrates. But for the people in many underdeveloped countries, especially in Latin America, it constitutes a source of incalculable harm, a crime in which the Church has implicated itself.” The widespread premature death and suffering that the Church has wreaked upon developing world women because of their position on birth control has been a clear indication to millions that the Vatican does not really give a damn about “the little people.” Institutional survival, political muscle, and authority dominate the attention of the Church leadership—not “the little people” they claim to protect, many of whom reached this conclusion on their own. For them, the hypocrisy has been too much to stomach and they have left the Church by the tens of millions. The Church’s position cannot be reasonably defended.

The evidence supporting Hasler’s assessment that these dogmas are resulting in a loss of credibility is overwhelming. The number of young men entering American seminaries has dropped 35 percent since 1977. In 1966, there were 42,767 seminarians. Today, while the Catholic population has increased by more than 50 percent, they number only slightly more than 6,000 in the U.S. During the 1993-1994 school year there were 6,244 candidates for the priesthood; this year there are 6,030, a drop of 3.4%. For those closest to Ordination, the number of candidates for the priesthood fell over the past year from 2,915 to 2,817. No end is in sight. Only three percent of American nuns are under age 40 and 37 percent are over age 70. The average age of priests here is 65 years. There are now 20,000 ex-priests—one-half of all U.S. priests quit the priesthood before reaching retirement age, and they represent the best and brightest. Membership in Catholic orders has fallen 40 percent since 1962, while the nation’s Catholic population grew by 36 percent. The Vatican now regards North America as a missionary region. Younger priests from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America are being brought in to protect papal interests because American men are shunning the priesthood.

The number of Catholic grade and high schools is down by 30 percent since 1960. This does not bode well for the future of the Church because Catholic schools provide over 90 percent of bishops, 90 percent of sisters and over 85 percent of priests. The number of Catholic general hospitals is down 22 percent in the same period. Only 28 percent of Catholics attend mass on a typical Sunday while 30 years ago mass attendance was more than 70 percent. Catholics contribute only 1.1 percent of their income to the Church while Protestants contribute 2.2 percent; 20 years ago they gave about the same.

In Latin America, Protestant churches are growing swiftly, with as many as 20 percent of Catholics abandoning their church to become members. Latin America represents 48 percent of all Catholics in the world, but it provides only one percent of the missionaries. While Bolivia has been occupied by the Catholic Church for 500 years, yet only five percent of its priests are natives. In Europe, the credibility of the Catholic Church is plummeting. Italy has the lowest birth rate in Europe. Less than 25 percent of the vote is now controlled by the Vatican, compared to a substantial majority in the decades after World War II, and state funded abortions are available to all who want them. In France, only one percent of the population attends mass regularly. In the summer of 1995, a petition calling for drastic changes in the Church collected half a million signatures in Austria, about half of their Catholic churchgoers. In November 1995, millions of Catholics across Europe—in Germany, Poland and Ireland—sent powerful messages to the Vatican demonstrating that they were prepared not merely to ignore the Church’s teachings, but to defy them openly. Poland elected an ex-Communist whom Church leaders called a “neo-pagan.” Ireland legalized divorce. In Germany 1.5 million out of five million practicing Catholics signed a petition modeled after the Austrian one.

Just as predicted in 1870 by the dissenting bishops, the credibility of the Church has been greatly diminished. These statistics are compelling evidence. Likewise, the predicted loss of touch with reality has also come true.

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)
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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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