On Family Planning: Replies to questions asked by a friend in the Vatican

Editor’s note: Dr. Dieter Ehrhardt, formerly of UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population Activities), has written a book about international family planning and the Catholic church. He has not yet found a publisher for the book but he has had several copies printed for a very limited distribution to potential publishers and selected individuals he has asked for comments for the cover. One copy went to a friend in the Vatican. This friend sent a list of three questions to Dr. Ehrhardt. We think a lot of people will be interested in his answers. A bio of Dr. Ehrhardt appears below.

Located on a steep hillside in Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha is the largest slum of a group that totals more than 11 million people. The vast majority of the dwellings are made from raw material such as hard rock, unlike the typical metal constructions in many of the slums in Africa and Asia. Classified as a favela neighbourhood, this slum is fortunate enough to have access to basic plumbing, transportation and, at one time, a McDonald’s. (Credit: chensiyuan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Thank you very much for your comment that my book is “very interesting and gripping”. I was very pleased to hear this.

I will try to answer your three questions right away.

1. Did the Catholic Church really have a decisive influence on worldwide family planning (FP)?

In this context it is crucial to distinguish between the FP-ban and the worldwide funding of FP by the donor governments for development assistance for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Permit me to point out that I may be the first one who – based on the ground breaking research by Stephen D. Mumford – has demonstrated the astronomic momentum of the process which led to the separation of these two complexes. After all, in theory, it was conceivable that the Vatican had proclaimed the ban only on contraceptives, and had not interfered with the will of donor governments regarding the funding of FP in the developing world.

Re the ban: As we know today from the results of the questionnaire that Pope Francis circulated as the basis for discussing this subject at the synod in October 2014, only some ten percent of all Catholics have obeyed the ban on using contraceptives since Humanae Vitae (HV). In the case of the billions of non-Catholics, the ban was not meant for them in the first place. Therefore, one may conclude that HV had no direct influence to speak of upon the demographic development of mankind.

Re funding: In 1975 President Ford endorsed the conclusions drawn in NSSM 200 (National Security Study Memorandum number 200): “The pressing need to promote families with only two children in developing countries by 2000 and the provision of ‘substantial funds’ to help achieve these goals by family planning.” At the demand of the Vatican President Ford’s copy of NSSM 200 was locked up in his “poison cabinet” immediately after Ford’s endorsement.

It was not declassified until 1989 at which time it could not have any effect because evidently nobody was interested in this subject any longer, thanks to the great efforts of the Vatican to discourage further discussions of the population problem at any level.

Back in 1976, “15 Catholic leaders pressed to deemphasize federal support for family planning in exchange for a modicum of Catholic support for Jimmy Carter’s presidential race.” Carter acquiesced to this. The same kind of compliance occurred ten years later under Ronald Reagan.

Other governments followed suit. I know for certain that two German development aid ministers received phone calls from “the cardinal in Munich” who demanded a ban on all German funding of FP in the magnitude required; both complied. Until now Germany has had 13 such ministers and I assume that each one of them received such a phone call “from Munich” and that each of them complied. Recently, the former development aid minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul appeared on a German television talk show with high viewing figures and reminded the audience of her “greatest achievement”, namely her share in the founding of the Global Fund for TBC, Malaria and AIDS. Once at a Christmas party given by her ministry I tried to speak to her about FP. She didn’t seem to even understand what I was talking about.

At the World Population Conference 1984 in Mexico, the U.S. government announced that their contributions to UNFPA and IPPF would be reduced.

This meant the reduction of multilateral funds in addition to cuts to bilateral American FP funding which had started in 1975. Explaining the reasons for this decision, U.S. Vatican Ambassador William Wilson did some very plain talking: “American aid programs around the world did not meet the criteria the Vatican had for family planning,” so “American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican’s not agreeing with our policy.”

The U.S. government had established an Ambassador for Population Affairs position at the State Department to provide leadership for solving the problem of the world population explosion appropriately. (In the German Development Aid Ministry even such deliberations, let alone actions, were as far away as the far side of the moon.) To appease the Vatican, the sitting Ambassador in that post was not chosen to head the U.S. delegation to the 1984 Mexico City meeting and instead Reagan chose a “pro-life” former U.S. Senator from New York to serve as head delegate. The sitting Ambassador resigned from this post, deciding he could no longer serve effectively given this obvious slight. He was never replaced!

Without all of these interventions by the Vatican since President Ford in 1975, the donor governments led by the U.S. and with Germany, England etc. in its wake would have funded FP in the developing world so massively that the two-child-family would have been achieved by today at the latest and the endless suffering of all the poor billions of individuals in the developing world would have been almost completely prevented. One example: in 1980 there were two slums on the outskirts of Nairobi. Now there are ten or eleven … During this time, the population of Kenya soared from 15 to 41 million. The process was accompanied by mass migration from the rural areas to the capital. The prevailing conditions there have received appropriate media coverage.

President Bush Sr. subsequently cut the contributions to UNFPA and IPPF once more. At that time, IPPF applied for additional funds from the Federal German Government, but this application was rejected. Our then Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, explained why this had happened by exclaiming: “For heaven’s sake, let’s avoid attracting any flak from the Vatican!”

This statement really does shed light on the crux of the matter.

The Vatican has hitherto claimed to have a legitimate right to make such interventions against the donor governments: Archbishop R. R. Martino, in 1994 the Vatican’s Permanent Observer at the UN, defended the Church’s participation in the Cairo Population Conference with these words: “The Roman Catholic Church has the right to intervene in world politics through the UN by virtue of its centuries of existence and its possession of the truth.” He continued: “Our diplomacy is the oldest in the world and the Church speaks with one voice; the one voice is a message of salvation, found in the scriptures and lived in the tradition of the Church over the centuries. It is an objective truth that remains changeless.”

One must be grateful to the Vatican’s UN Ambassador Martino for such openness. In this way, at least one knows how the Magisterium assesses this matter.

Playing with open cards always benefits both sides.

2. Does the Catholic Church really have a decisive influence on worldwide FP?

This question can easily be answered in the affirmative because the influence that I have detailed above will continue until a pope informs the donor governments that with immediate effect they may decide freely on their degree of funding.

Could you, my dear friend, possibly elicit or stimulate such a move on the part of the responsible authority in the Vatican?

Such a move is necessary because I do not believe that the donor governments will allocate substantial funds automatically as a consequence of the Vatican rescinding the ban on contraception, whenever it happens. After all of these years, the mindset of these governments has become “stuck” in a state of trauma.

In other words, in the meantime, potential donor governments for FP have internalized the ban on funding to such a degree that it cannot be expected that they will revitalize their will to engage in very large scale funding without the express permission by the Vatican.

Mankind really does not have a lot of time – and some experts believe that it is now already “too late.”

The great source for replies to all of these questions of funding is the above-quoted 580-page strong documentation “The Life and Death of NSSM 200 – How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy” by Stephen D. Mumford. Professor Hans Küng wrote this blurb on the book: “This book gives extremely helpful background information about the hidden coordination of Vatican and American policy with regard to population growth and birth control. It is high time that certain problematic maneuvers of the Vatican are discussed in public.”

3. Would it really have changed the demographic development of the world, if Paul VI had had a different view on artificial birth control?

Here, my dear friend, like the great expert you are, you have touched upon a significant point. This becomes unquestionably clear if one takes developments “behind the scenes” into consideration since then the answer to your question is “yes”. The foremost reason for this conclusion being that without strengthening the ban on artificial birth control by the HV the Vatican had had little or no grounds to prohibit the funding of family planning by willing donor governments.

At the outset Paul VI had no set view on artificial birth control, but was suffering from a substantial inner conflict. I mean that as a statement of fact and not in the least as a judgment or an insult. I conclude this from the interview which Alberto Cavallari conducted with Paul VI in 1965, three years before this pope signed Humanae Vitae. The inner conflict of this pope on this issue is more than evident in this interview: “Take birth control for example. The world asks what we think and we find ourselves trying to give an answer. But what answer. We can’t keep silent. And yet to speak is a real problem. The Church hasn’t had to deal with such things for centuries. And it is a somewhat foreign and even humanly embarrassing subject for men of the Church. So, the commissions meet, the reports pile up, the studies are published. Oh, they study a lot, you know. But then we still have to make the final decisions. And in deciding, we are all alone. Deciding is not as easy as studying. We have to say something. But what? God will simply have to enlighten us.”

And it came to pass that God picked Karol Wojtyla, the Cardinal, to enlighten Paul VI by simply telling him to sign HV! After all, “sixty percent of the text of HV can be traced back to the work of Wojtyla’s Kraków Commission and his paper to Paul VI” – see Bernstein/Politi, His Holiness, page 133. Also, I would like to remind you that “During Wojtyla’s pontificate as John Paul II (1978-2005), the magisterium’s propensity for imposing moral bans culminated in deliberations about whether to make the ban on artificial birth control a dogma.” See Daniel Deckers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, page 1, February 10, 2014.

Is it possible to determine on which side Paul VI had set his heart (what one, of course, could call his view)? I think the answer to this question can be inferred from Paul’s reaction to the report which Cardinal Urbani had submitted to Paul at the latter’s request. It had been drawn up by Bishop Albino Luciani (later Pope John Paul I) and culminated in Luciani’s suggestion that “the anovulant pill developed by professor Pincus should become the Catholic birth control pill.”

Paul VI had commented very emphatically to Cardinal Urbani in Castel Gandolfo “I hold this report in very high esteem” (that is to say, it accorded with his own position) – so much so that Urbani on his way back to Venice stopped over at Bishop Luciani’s palace in order to deliver this papal reaction to him directly and personally.

Why then, in spite of all of this, did Pope Paul nevertheless sign HV and launch the ban on funding?

The answer lies in the attitude, the views and the self-assertiveness of Wojtyla and Ottaviani. Wojtyla had called the tune in formulating the objections of the four dissidents who voted against the proposal made by the Commission on Birth Control to liberate contraception, which was passed by 64 votes to 4.

Cardinal Ottaviani was the Chairman of a second commission, of bishops and cardinals, consisting of 20 members, which he had established to serve as a filter for the conclusions of the Commission on Birth Control, before they reached the desk of Pope Paul VI. Eight of the 20 members voted in favour of the recommendations made in the report of the Commission on Birth Control, six voted against them, and there were six abstentions.

Paul VI finally gave in when the argument was voiced that “approving artificial birth control would be to betray the Church’s heritage.”

How much resistance does a human being and a pope have to summon up in order not to commit such an act of “betrayal” – particularly when the word smacks of Judas and when one’s own heart and mind on this matter supports the other side.

So much for today with regard to your questions.

# # #

I would like to add a deliberation which is almost too terrifying to be thought through, or, in your case, to be read here to the end. It is a thought which popped into my mind only a few months ago, and until now it may not have been put down in writing.

It concerns Wojtyla. When one looks up the keyword “hunger dead” in the internet, one learns that there have been about 460 million such deaths in the last 40 years. To my mind, death by starvation is, after crucifixion, the second most painful. There are reports that these poor wretches wake up in the morning with the first thought “where do I get some food, no matter what”, continue to have nothing but this thought all day long and fall asleep still plagued by it. The same distress and plight goes on for months and years, until they are finally released from their misery.

As far as I know, death by gasing takes only 15 minutes until one falls unconscious. One cannot be far wrong in assuming that 30 million (maybe 40, ten more or less do not matter in this context) of these 460 million were young catholic and non-catholic (!) human beings, whose procreation their parents would have preferred to have prevented. In the last 40 years UNFPA has repeatedly published the figure of 300 million couples in the developing world who did not have access to contraceptives.

They did not have access, because the U.S. and the other donor governments were not permitted by the Vatican (Wojtyla …) to approve the funds to purchase and distribute contraceptives (“For heaven’s sake, let’s avoid attracting any flak from the Vatican!” – so the German Klaus Kinkel) and therefore did not allocate them.

There is the expression “to have to answer for something”. I cannot judge whether Wojtyla had a conscience. If so, he has to answer for the 30 or 40 million because his actions caused their death and on top of it by one of the most excruciating methods.

I would like to take advantage of the clear-cut evidence of how antagonistic Wojtyla was towards birth control by quoting from the biography “His Holiness John Paul II” by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi, Bantam 1997, page 580:

A week after John Paul II’s audience (March 1994) with Nafis Sadik (UNFPA Executive Director and Secretary-General of the Cairo Conference 1994), 140 nuncios from all over the world arrived in the Vatican for an extraordinary summit conference. John Paul II had decided to declare his own state of war against the United Nations. He was furious. His closest friend in the Vatican, Cardinal Deskur, had never seen the pope in such a rage. Usually John Paul II paid a visit every week to the ailing cardinal. Seated at the table where Deskur had arranged so many dinners to launch young Bishop Wojtyla, John Paul II spoke freely: “They are causing the shipwreck of humanity.” His condemnation referred to both the United Nations and the Western democracies.

Once he had made his decision, John Paul II moved with a belligerence he had never shown before – not even when it was a question of saving Poland. The whole approach to the family by Western governments was contrary to reason and to God, the pope told Dominican Feliks Bednarski. He instructed his secretary of state, Cardinal Sondano, to personally mobilize all the diplomatic delegations of the Holy See to pressure the states friendly to the Vatican and to put together a lobby capable of blocking the UN Program of Action.

As the outcome of the Cairo Conference in 1994 shows, the goal of God’s Representative on Earth, John Paul II, clashed with the will of God – and God won!

The time will come when the two terms “the witches of the inquisition” (nine million) and “Wojtyla’s hunger dead” will carry the same weight: Wojtyla was fluent in Latin but he forgot that even he had once learned: “Quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem.” (Whatever you do, do it with intelligence and with the end in mind.)

I wonder if God’s Deputy on Earth is the only human being who is exempt from the necessity of taking the impact of his decisions into consideration.

Dieter Ehrhardt. After a PhD in International Law at Marburg University, Germany, the author started his career as Visiting Scholar at UNITAR (UN Institute for Training and Research) in New York, then joined the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Bonn to take charge of the world population issues and family planning for the developing world. He attended the World Population Conference 1974 in Bucharest as a member of the German Delegation, and the Mexico City Population Conference 1984 as a member of the UNFPA Delegation. From 1975 until 1980 he served as UNFPA Coordinator for the English Speaking Caribbean, based in Jamaica, 1980-1984 as UNFPA Representative for Kenya in Nairobi, 1984-1988 for Turkey in Ankara and 1988-1990 as UNFPA Director for the South Pacific, based in Suva, Fiji. In 1991, at the European Commission in Brussels, he was offered to guide the preparations for the “Rules and Procedures for Population and Family Planning” for the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) EU-territories, the former English and French colonies. He continued with the European Commission until 1995, when he returned to the German Ministry in Bonn to serve as Deputy Head of Division for Population and Family Planning, retiring in 1998.

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