Why is the Catholic Church on a course of self-destruction?

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 21 September 2012
Church and State

 (Photo: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Flickr)
(Photo: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0)

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.

Infallibility Collides With Contraception

Apparently until the reign of Pope John XXIII, the dogma of infallibility went unchallenged. It appears that John XXIII had plans for this dogma. Even the selection of his name John was suggestive in that Pope John XXII, who had ruled in the early Fourteenth Century, had condemned the concept of infallibility as the work of the Devil. When John XXIII created his Commission on Population and Birth, it was a signal to the world that the Church could change its position on birth control. But this would have to be at the expense of the principle of infallibility.

To review the sequence of events discussed in Chapter 6. Pope Paul VI inherited the Commission from Pope John. The Commis­sion consisted of 2 parts—64 laymen in one group and 15 cardinals and bishops in the other. The laymen voted 60 to four and the clerics 9 to 6 to change the Church’s position on birth control even though they recognized that this change would diminish papal authority. This vote was leaked to the press, so the whole world knew the outcome of the vote. However, Paul VI rejected the majority position, and accepted the minority view which insisted that to make this change regarding contraception would destroy the fundamental principle of infallibility and with it, the Church itself. Paul VI then issued his encyclical, Humanae Vitae (1968), in which the pope condemned practically every form of birth control as morally rep­rehensible. According to Catholic historian Bernhard Hasler, “After the promulgation of the encyclical … the Church conducted a massive purge of its key per­sonnel wherever it could.”

Thus, contraception represents the first serious threat to the principle of infallibility to emerge. It also represents a great crisis of authority. Though the Vatican would like to think this issue has already been decided, the vast majority of Catholics (and non-Catholics) reject the teaching of Humanae Vitae. In 1968 Dutch Bishop Franceos Simons had argued that faith in infallibility was theologically dubious, raising the issue for the first time in decades. Soon after, papal infallibility was questioned by Hans Küng in Infallible? An Inquiry. As a result, Küng fell victim to papal repression and was silenced as a Catholic theologian.

Contraception is bringing about an implosion in papal author­ity. Contraception has resulted in the greatest crisis in the Church since the loss of the Papal States during the time of Vatican Council I in 1870. Very few people are aware of the real motivation for Humanae Vitae. But they do recognize that the behavior demanded by this encyclical is not in their best interests—behavior that in the long run will be suicidal for humanity. Contraception has initiated a collapse of the institution from within.

Changing the American View of the Bishops

But more important to us as Americans, this despotic authority exercised by the pope has serious implications for the way in which we should view bishops who serve in America. As mentioned earlier, Küng acknowledged that the dogma of infallibility reduced all bishops to mere lackeys of the pope. Since American security-survival interests, as explored in the National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM 200), and the security-survival interests of the Papacy, as defined by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, are squarely in conflict, the American bishops cannot possibly represent the interests of both. It is evident they have chosen, without exception, to protect the security interests of the Papacy at the expense of the security interests of the United States. This is not a satisfactory exercise of American citizenship. More accurately, the bishops’ behavior is outrageous and unacceptable. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine how a Catholic bishop could successfully argue that he should be permitted to retain his Ameri­can citizenship.

This is a dangerous predicament. Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and sociologist at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. He recently assessed the Vatican’s hierarchy appointments in America for the Religion News Service as reported in the National Catholic Reporter: “With unrelenting consistency in recent years, the Vatican has appointed to the American hierarchy men who are mean-spir­ited careerists—inept, incompetent, insensitive bureaucrats who are utterly indifferent to their clergy and laity. In all its 200-year history, the American hierarchy has never been in worse shape. This same policy has been implemented all over the Catholic world in the name of restoring to the church the loyalty of the clergy and people.”

Americans can learn an important lesson from Argentina, a lesson described for the world on March 4, 1995 by a retired Ar­gentinian naval captain, Adolfo Scilingo. During the 1976-1983 “dirty war,” which was an uprising against the country’s right-wing government and the Catholic Church, an estimated 4,000 dissidents were killed and 10,000 disappeared. Capt. Scilingo re­ported to an investigating tribunal that between 1,500 and 2,000 dissidents were thrown alive, one at a time, from airplanes at high altitudes into the ocean during 1976 and 1977 on orders from the military high command. He described in chilling testimony how he and another officer helped detainees—many weak from tor­ture—to board the planes. Scilingo revealed that Catholic chaplains comforted military commanders after they flung political dissidents into the ocean from airplanes and that Catholic Church officials provided moral justification for the torture and murder of dissidents during the conflict.”

Hebe de Bonafini, director of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group, said the church has much to repent of: “The Church has a great responsibility in everything that happened, because the Church knew that the military chaplains were paid salaries by investigating judges to participate and act in the jails extracting confessions from the prisoners.” Church officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in the “dirty war.” However, in April 1995, five bishops issued a statement of regret for their roles in the war.

The same Vatican officials who chose these Argentinian bishops have selected nearly all the bishops serving in the U.S. today—using the very same criteria. Father Greeley’s description of the men thus appointed is most revealing. Security-survival of the institution of the Papacy is the most prized ethical value of the men in power (as has been the case for a least a millennium) and all bishops are selected because they rank this ethical value above all others. The Argentine bishops were responding to the threat posed by these dissidents to the security-survival interests of the Vatican.

Throwing young people alive out of airplanes, one by one, over the ocean was justified because this served to protect the interests of the Holy See.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, has followed Cardinal John O’Connor’s career for more than two dec­ades: “This is a man who longs for the imperial papacy—a papacy where you had the power to burn people at the stake. When it comes to matters of internal church discipline, he is the toughest, and the meanest.” The New York Times reports, “As the Arch­bishop of the media and cultural center of the United States, Cardi­nal O’Connor has extraordinary power among Catholic prelates. He travels to Rome and has lunch with the pope on Church business about once a month, and is widely acknowledged to have a great deal of say in the appointment of American bishops.”

Are the bishops in the United States really different from their colleagues in Argentina? Given the descriptions of these men of­fered by Greeley and Kissling, we wonder. If this could happen in Argentina within the last 20 years, is it not possible in the U.S. today? Are American bishops not responding to dissidents in this cruel manner only because they have not yet acquired sufficient power? They have not ventured to criticize the behavior of their Argentinian counterparts because the Vatican has not instructed them to do so. There can be no doubt that the Argentinian bishops look to Rome for guidance. But after all is said and done, there was no outcry—no condemnation—from the Vatican when their role became public.

A more recent example comes from Rwanda which is predomi­nantly Catholic. Human rights groups have charged that Catholic priests actively encouraged the murderers of more than 500,000 Tutsis in the 1994 warfare. According to a report issued by the London based Africa Rights seeking the rewards of an intimate relationship with the majority Hutu government, the bishops chose to remain silent.

Küng Recaps Where Things Stand Now

The Church is on an inevitable course of self-destruction as some bishops, theologians and historians predicted in 1870, at the time of the invention of papal infallibility. The Church has reached a dead end, as they predicted, and there is no way out. For 25 years, such a way has been sought. Millions of intelligent sincere Catho­lics have tried to identify a way out of a position that nearly everyone agrees has become indefensible. No one has succeeded. The Papacy as it exists today is coming to an end.

Küng summarizes where things stand:

There is no dodging the fact that in the Catholic world church history, exegesis, dogmatics, moral theology, and catechesis have all had to pay a high price … for this infallibility, which allowed for no genuine corrections and revisions…. It brought on a continual conflict with history and the modern world which profoundly shook the credibility of the Catho­lic Church; a continual defensiveness towards new information and experiences, towards all scientific criticism, towards all possible enemies, real or imagined. And it created a gap between the Church and modern science…. Enormous sacrifices were also indirectly de­manded of the ‘little people’—in the interests of authority, continu­ity, and doctrinal infallibility. The ban on contraception is only a particularly striking example of all the burdens placed on the individual conscience by the teaching presented as de facto infalli­ble in catechisms, confessionals, religious instruction, and sermons. The exodus of countless intellectuals, the inner alienation of many believers, the lack of creative people and initiatives in the Church … the psychic disturbances, the loss of touch with reality, the mighty religious machine whose operations very often conceal the absence of inner life…. Was all that necessary?

Küng is describing an institution in an advanced stage of self-destruction. Can this self-destruction be postponed, and if so, how, and for how long? This will be the subject of the next chapter. No doubt, the leadership of the Church will do everything possible to survive. The Church has enormous resources, energy, organization, direction and commitment. Paranoia has already set in. We can expect an ugly defense that will know no bounds until the very end. “This is God’s institution and it must be saved at all costs,” will be the battle cry in their holy war to insure institutional sur­vival. Should we hasten the self-destruction and how?

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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