NSSM 200, the Vatican, and the World Population Explosion

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 1995
The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies

(Credit: Catholic Church England and Wales’s photos / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On March 30, 1995, Pope John Paul II made public his encyclical letter entitled Evangelicum Vitae, which assailed both abortion and contraception, in the strongest terms, charging that they are crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize and condemned even democratic decisions which did not conform to his concept of what constituted morality. This encyclical was the most sweeping attack on measures designed to save planet earth from the impact of the ongoing population explosion currently taking place in the poorest countries of the world. If followed it would effectively condemn the planet to deforestation, desertification and eventual ecological disaster. Sadly, the fact is that even prior to this latest ruling, the Vatican had already blocked one of the most conscientious efforts to slow down the slide toward world-wide disaster which has been increasingly evident to informed observers for several decades: this was the Vatican’s success in blocking an American policy decision to combat this threat which dated from Richard Nixon’s presidency, but was never put into effect.

In 1992, President Richard M. Nixon reasserted his long-held belief that overpopulation gravely threatens world peace and stability. In his book, Seize the Moment (Simon & Schuster, 1992), he ranks assistance in population growth control as the most important effort the United States can undertake to promote peace and stability—and, thus, protect U.S. security. He goes on to say:

We must help break the link between spiraling population growth and poverty…. Where they have been tried, family planning programs have largely worked…. Many pro-life advocates…contend that to condone abortion even implicitly is morally unconscionable. Their view is morally shortsighted…if we provide funds for birth control…we will prevent the conception of millions of babies who would be doomed to the devastation of poverty in the underdeveloped world.

President Nixon did not have the grim lessons of Somalia and Rwanda when he wrote this book. However, he undoubtedly foresaw disasters of this kind more than 25 years ago. From his first days in the Oval Office, he understood the grave dangers of high rates of population growth—more than any other president. He responded appropriately when he perceived that the American people and their way of life were gravely threatened.

In 1974, the President requested the authoritative interagency study that came to be known as NSSM 200—National Security Study Memorandum 200. In order to effectively examine the content and fate of NSSM 200, we need to backtrack a bit to “the Rockefeller Commission.” In 1969, seven months into his first term, in a rare move for a president, Nixon delivered his Special Message to the Congress.[1]

The message set forth a far-reaching commitment to limiting population growth. It set in motion a broad range of government activities, both domestic and international. It called for creation of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, of which John D. Rockefeller 3rd was named Chairman. Other government activities initiated by the message included: (1) Increased research on birth control methods of all kinds and on the sociology of population growth; (2) Expanded programs to train more people to work professionally in the population and family planning fields, both in this country and abroad; (3) Expanded research on the effects of population growth on our environment and on the world’s food supply; and (4) Increased domestic family planning assistance, to provide effective family planning services for all Americans who want them but cannot afford them.

The Special Message concluded as follows:

One of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be the growth of the population. Whether man’s response to that challenge will be a cause for pride or for despair in the year 2000 will depend very much on what we do today. If we now begin our work in an appropriate manner, and if we continue to devote a considerable amount of attention and energy to this problem, then mankind will be able to surmount this challenge as it has surmounted so many during the long march of civilization. When future generations evaluate the record of our time, one of the most important factors in their judgment will be the way in which we responded to population growth. Let us act in such a way that those who come after us can do so with pride in the planet on which they live, with gratitude to those who lived on it in the past…

In an equally rare move, Congress voted to endorse this Special Message.

Design for a Population Policy

In March, 1970, Congress created The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, which completed its work in March 1972. The tasks assigned the Commission are described in the Preface of the Commission’s final report:

The Commission was asked to examine the probable extent of population growth and internal migration in the United States between now and the end of this century, to assess the impact that population change will have upon government services, our economy, and our resources and environment, and to make recommendations on how the nation can best cope with that impact.[2]

The 24 member Rockefeller Commission and its staff conducted an extensive inquiry, enlisting many of the nation’s leading scientists in more than 100 research projects and hearing more than 100 witnesses in public hearings. The data collected and analyzed made it possible, for the first time, to formulate a comprehensive U.S. population policy.

After 2 years of intensive study, the Commission made more than 70 recommendations. They included: passage of a Population Education Act to help school systems establish well-planned population education programs; extension of widespread sex education, especially through the schools; passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA); extension of contraception for all, including minors, at government expense if need be; provision of abortion for all who want it, at government expense if necessary; vastly expanded research in many areas related to population growth control; and, elimination of all employment of illegal aliens.

Killing the Commission Report

1972 was a presidential election year and President Nixon was facing a difficult re-election bid, so when a delegation of the Commission presented the final report to him on May 5, 1972, six months before election, he sharply condemned its most important recommendations.[3] Why was he attempting to distance himself from the report that he had anticipated so earnestly? In the words of a Commission member, Congressman James Scheuer (D.-NY):

Our exuberance was short-lived. Then-president Richard Nixon promptly ignored our final report. The reasons were obvious—the fear of attacks from the far right and from the Roman Catholic Church because of our positions on family planning and abortion. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear that this obstruction was but the first of many similar actions to come from high places.[4]

During the two years that followed, it became clear that there would be no further response to the Commission’s recommendations. In May 1973, a group of pioneer population activists acknowledged this inaction and asked Ambassador Adolph Schmidt to speak with his friend, Commission Chairman John D. Rockefeller III. They met in June 1973, in New York City. Schmidt noted his own disappointment and that of his colleagues because no programs of any kind had been mounted as a result of the Commission’s recommendations. What had gone wrong? Rockefeller responded: “The greatest difficulty has been the very active opposition by the Roman Catholic Church through its various agencies in the United States.”[5]

The Rockefeller Commission’s recommendations were not shaped to fit the political realities of the day. Rather, taken collectively, they constituted a detailed blueprint for a broad and sophisticated national population policy. None of the recommendations was ever implemented. To this day, unlike many countries, the U.S. has no population policy. It is shameful that the American people have been kept in the dark about this quite undemocratic and un-American intrusion by the Vatican. Surely, both Catholic and non-Catholic Americans would have strongly rejected such interference in the American democratic process had they been aware of it. Lay Catholic Americans desire the same number of children,[6] use contraceptives[7] and obtain abortions[8] in the same proportions as non-Catholics. They support school-based population and sex education[9] for their children, and advocate a halt to illegal immigration[10] into the U.S., in the same proportions as non-Catholic Americans. The quality of life for all Americans has been significantly diminished by this secret unconstitutional manipulation of American policy undertaken for the purposes of protecting papal interests.

Nixon’s Next Bold Move

Despite the intense opposition of the Catholic hierarchy he encountered in the wake of the Rockefeller Commission, the President’s assessment of the gravity of world overpopulation and his desire to deal with it remained unchanged. On April 24, 1974, in a forthright effort to contend with this crisis, Richard Nixon, in National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200), directed that a comprehensive study be undertaken to determine the “Implications of World Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests.”[11] Its findings promised to be momentous indeed.

I can only speculate, but the President surely must have been aware that this new study would meet with the same intense Vatican opposition as the earlier one. However, perhaps he felt that a definitive study of the national and global security implications of overpopulation, revealing that the very security of the United States was seriously threatened, would generate public demand for action to curb population growth. Hopefully, it would overcome the blocks mounted secretly by the Vatican. Why else would he have undertaken this new study, given his painful experience after the Rockefeller Commission?

NSSM 200

In NSSM 200, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, acting for the President, directed the Secretaries of Defense and Agriculture, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Deputy Secretary of State and the Administrator of the Agency for International Development (MD), to jointly undertake “a study of the impact of world population growth on U.S. security and overseas interests.” This work was completed on December 10, 1974 and circulated to the designated Secretaries and Agency heads for their review and comments.[12]

Meanwhile, on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford had succeeded to the presidency. Revisions and refinements of the study continued until July, 1975. On November 26, 1975, the 227-page report and its recommendations were endorsed by President Ford in National Security Decision Memorandum 314. Wrote the new National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft:

The President has reviewed the interagency response to NSSM 200…. He believes that United States leadership is essential to combat population growth, to implement the World Population Plan of Action* and to advance United States security and overseas interests. The President endorses the policy recommendations contained in the Executive Summary of the NSSM 200 response…[13]

*The blueprint for a global population policy adopted by the nations attending the 1974 UN world Population Conference in Bucharest, Romania.

President Ford, recognizing the gravity of the situation, asked the National Security Council (NSC) to take further action. Writes Seowcroft:

The President, therefore, assigns to the Chairman, NSC Undersecretaries Committee, the responsibility to define and develop policy in the population field and to coordinate its implementation beyond the NSSM 200 response.[13]

NSSM 200 was intended to be and became a broad and definitive interagency study of the threat of overpopulation to U.S. security. NSSM 200 details how and why world population growth gravely threatens U.S. and global security. It also provides a blueprint for the U.S. response to this burgeoning problem, reflecting the deep concern of those who produced the report. Because of the bold nature of the recommended initiatives, the authors recommended that the report remain classified for 5 years in order to provide time to educate the American public as to the necessity of these initiatives. The NSSM 200 report actually remained classified for 14 years.

Both the findings and recommendations are as relevant in 1995 as they were in 1975, but too numerous to list here in their entirety. To select a few:

There is a major risk of severe damage [from continued rapid population growth] to world economic, political, and ecological systems and, as these systems begin to fail, to our humanitarian values [Executive Summary of the NSSM 200 Report, page 10].

The sense of near emergency is electric:

…World population growth is widely recognized within the Government as a current danger of the highest magnitude calling for urgent measures [Page 194 of the NSSM 200 Report]. …it is of the utmost urgency that governments now recognize the facts and implications of population growth, determine the ultimate population sizes that make sense for their countries and start vigorous programs at once to achieve their desired goals [Page 15].

…population factors are indeed critical in, and often determinants of, violent conflict in developing areas. Segmental (religious, social, racial) differences, migration, rapid population growth, differential levels of knowledge and skills, rural/urban differences, population pressure and the spatial location of population in relation to resources—in this rough order of importance—all appear to be important contributions to conflict and violence…. Clearly, conflicts which are regarded in primarily political terms often have demographic roots. Recognition of these relationships appears crucial to any understanding or prevention of such hostilities [Page 66].

Where population size is greater than available resources, or is expanding more rapidly than the available resources, there is a tendency toward internal disorders and violence and, sometimes, disruptive international policies or violence [Page 69].

In developing countries, the burden of population factors, added to others, will weaken unstable governments, often only marginally effective in good times, and open the way to extremist regimes [Page 84].

The World Population Plan of Action and the resolutions adopted by consensus of 137 nations at the August 1974 U.N. World Population Conference, though not ideal, provide an excellent framework for developing a worldwide system of population/family planning programs [Executive Summary, page 19].

At the 1974 UN World Population Conference, only the Vatican opposed the Plan:

…the Conference adopted by acclamation (only the Holy See stating a general reservation) a complete World Population Plan of Action [Page 87].

Suggested Goals and Plans

Our objective should be to assure that developing countries make family planning information, education and means available to all their peoples by 1980 [Page 130]. …intense efforts are required to assure full availability by 1980 of birth control information and means to all fertile individuals, especially in rural areas [Executive Summary, page 9].

While specific goals in this area are difficult to state, our aim should be for the world to achieve a replacement level of fertility, (a two-child family on the average), by about the year 2000…. Attainment of this goal will require greatly intensified population programs…. U.S. leadership is essential [Executive Summary, page 14].

It is now all too clear how crucial U.S. leadership was…and is. The U.S. withdrew from this role shortly after the election of President Carter, just one year after the initiation of public policy based on the NSSM 200 report. Government initiatives for curtailment of population growth have been going downhill ever since.

After suitable preparation in the U.S., announce a U.S. goal to maintain our present national average fertility no higher than replacement level and attain stability by 2000 [Executive Summary, page 19]. Only nominal attention is [currently] given to population education or sex education in schools…[Page 158]. …Recommendation: That US agencies stress the importance of education of the next generation of parents, starting in elementary schools, toward a two-child family ideal. That AID stimulate specific efforts to develop means of educating children of elementary school age to the ideal of the two-child family…[Page 159].

Despite the Helms Amendment passed by Congress, which clearly ruled out abortion assistance in U.S. foreign aid programs, there was a clear consensus that continued widespread use of abortion was vital to meeting/attaining the population stabilization objective:

While the agencies participating in this study have no specific recommendations to propose on abortion, the following issues are believed important and should be considered in the context of a global population strategy…. Certain facts about abortion need to be appreciated:

…No country has reduced its population growth without resorting to abortion [Page 182].

…Indeed, abortion, legal and illegal, now has become the most widespread fertility control method in use in the world today [Page 183].

…It would be unwise to restrict abortion research for the following reasons: 1) The persistent and ubiquitous nature of abortion. 2) Widespread lack of safe abortion techniques…[Page 185].

Two reports later published by this author offer considerable evidence to support the position that abortion is vital to U.S. and global security.[14],[15]

An important goal in NSSM 200 dealt with leadership:

These [family planning] programs will have only modest success until there is much stronger and wider acceptance of their real importance by leadership groups. Such acceptance and support will be essential to assure that the population information, education and service programs have vital moral backing, administrative capacity, technical skills and government financing [Page 195].

The report recommended spending whatever could reasonably be absorbed to achieve these goals:

We recommend increases in the AID budget requests [for population and family planning programs] to the Congress on the order of $35-$50 million annually through FY 1980 (above the $137.5 million requested for FY 1975)…. However, the level of funds needed in the future could change significantly, depending on such factors as major breakthroughs in fertility control technologies and LDC receptivity to population assistance [Executive Summary, page 24].

Even after a country reduces fertility to the replacement level, the population continues to grow for another 70 years before stability is achieved. The study frankly dismissed the arguments that had been raised by the Vatican to counter efforts to reduce population growth. The position of the Roman Catholic Church on population growth centers on the need for economic development in Third World countries as a way to bring growth rates down—following the concept that as families ascend the economic ladder, they will choose to have fewer children. NSSM 200 takes an entirely different tack:

We cannot wait for overall modernization and development to produce lower fertility rates naturally since this will undoubtedly take many decades in most developing countries…[Executive Summary, page 7]. Clearly development per se is a powerful determinant of fertility. However, since it is unlikely that most LDCs will develop sufficiently during the next 25-30 years, it is crucial to identify those sectors that most directly and powerfully affect fertility [Page 137].

There is also even less cause for optimism on the rapidity of socio-economic progress that would generate rapid fertility reduction in the poor LDCs, than on the feasibility of extending family planning services to those in their populations who may wish to take advantage of them. …But we can be certain of the desirable direction of change and can state as a plausible objective the target of achieving replacement fertility rates by the year 2000 [Page 99].

These statements manifestly rule out any accommodation to the Vatican on the issue of population growth control.

NSSM 200 Implementation Quickly Stymied

The Vatican moved swiftly to block implementation of NSSM 200 recommendations already approved by President Ford, for reasons to be discussed later. Absent were the activities one would expect if a concerted effort were underway to implement NSSM 200. By the time the report was circulated among the relevant Department Secretaries and Agency Heads on December 10, 1974, the Church had recognized that NSSM 200 could spell the doom of a powerful Papacy.

Within months, the Vatican was able to stop progress toward any implementation of NSSM 200. During 1976, Catholic activists worked diligently to undermine all such population growth control initiatives. Dr. R.T. Ravenholt, who directed the global population program of the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Department of State from 1966 to 1979, tells the story. On March 4, 1991, he addressed the Washington State Chapter of Zero Population Growth (ZPG) on “Pronatalist Zealotry and Population Pressure Conflicts: How Catholics Seized Control of U.S. Family Planning Program.”[16] He described some of these activities:

Following a meeting of Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter and his campaign staff with 15 Catholic leaders at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., on August 32, 1976, on which occasion they pressed Carter to de-emphasize federal support for family planning in exchange for a modicum of Catholic support for his presidential race… [following Carter’s election] Joseph Califano became Secretary of HEW… When Father Hesburgh [President of Notre Dame University] declined the role of AID Administrator, the appointment was given to John J. Gilligan, a Notre Dame graduate and a former governor of Ohio… John H. Sullivan moved from [Wisconsin] Congressman Clement Zablocki’s office into AID… Congressman Zablocki and Jack Sullivan had persistently worked to curb AID’s high powered family planning program. In 1973, Jack Sullivan and allied zealots helped Senator Jesse Helms develop the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act.[16]

As in the case of the Rockefeller Commission Report, none of the recommendations of NSSM 200 was ever implemented. The study had identified a grave threat to U.S. and global security. It was a definitive analysis by the most powerful departments in our government—departments representing virtually all of our intelligence gathering capability. President Ford’s approval of the policy recommendations of NSSM 200 in his Decision Memorandum 314 represented the high point of American political will to deal with the population problem. Then it plummeted.

Dire Predictions Coming True

David Attenborough

The Rockefeller Commission Report and NSSM 200 are arguably the two most important documents on overpopulation ever written. Our country and the world would be very different today if the recommendations contained in these two documents had been implemented. For example, had illegal immigration been controlled and legal immigration adjusted to meet the needs of Americans in 1971, as called for in the Rockefeller Commission Report, the U.S. population would have peaked at 243 million in 2035. Instead, in 1992 our population stood at 255 million and will not peak until it reaches 383 million in 2050—assuming there was no more immigration after 1992.[17] The lives of all Americans will be significantly affected as we attempt to accommodate these additional 128 million people. And this number can explode if we do not deal with current tides of immigration.

In 1974, NSSM 200 predicted that growing scarcities of critical resources would lead to ever increasing dislocations and conflicts all over the globe which would diminish security for everyone, everywhere. The January 31, 1993 issue of The New York Times contains an op-ed piece by Thomas Homer-Dixon, entitled “Destruction and Death,” which documents that the predictions of NSSM 200 are already coming true around the globe. This article examines case-studies of violent conflicts which are attributed to overpopulation by researchers from four continents: the migration of millions from Bangladesh to India, which led to brutal ethnic conflicts; the persistent conflict in the Philippines driven by desperate poverty resulting from overpopulation; severe shortages of ground water in the Jordan River basin which are leading to intensified conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; destruction of ecologically sensitive territories in South Africa, forcing a migration to violent urban squatter settlements; expanding populations in Senegal and Mauritania which have spurred violent conflict in the Senegal River Basin; similar factors which have stimulated the growth of the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas in Peru; the irreversible clear-cutting of forests and loss of soil which has led to violent social strife in Haiti, and which in turn has caused an exodus of boat people. There are many other examples.

Maurice King of the University of Leeds School of Medicine has studied extensively the collapse of Rwanda:

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, and has the highest fertility in the world (8.5 children per mother). The tragedy in Rwanda seems likely to be only the beginning, with Burundi likely to follow any day, and with perhaps southern Malawi, parts of Kenya and much of west Africa not far behind. Which other communities are trapped in that they are likely to exceed their carrying capacity and their connectedness? Aid agency executives and academics have at various times mentioned unofficially sizeable communities in: India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Eastern Indonesia, The Philippines, Viet Nam, Haiti, The Maldives, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, The Gambia, Zanzibar, ‘much of sub-Saharan Africa’, and Cuba. These communities are in an earlier stage than Rwanda, which seems unlikely to be a unique case.[18]

NSSM 200 predicted that the U.S. would find itself in wars like the recent Iraq-U.S. war, as regional powers invade their neighbors to secure resources needed to provide for their ever expanding populations—just as Iraq invaded Kuwait. It also predicted that the expense of U.S. involvement in these wars would far exceed the costs of worldwide population growth control.

The Threat to Papal Authority Worldwide

Why is the Catholic Church obliged to halt legalized abortion and contraception despite the strong wishes of Americans? When our government legalized contraception and abortion, it pitted U.S. civil authority against authority of the pope in Rome. The Vatican demands supremacy over civil governments in matters of faith and morals, but our government has rejected this concept. As a result, Papal authority is undermined.

There are many Catholic countries in Latin America which have abortion rates 2 to 4 times as high as the U.S. rate. But the bishops ignore abortions there. Why? Because they are illegal abortions, not legal ones. They do not threaten Papal authority! Only legal abortions do, because their legalization establishes their morality. Thus, the bishops take no significant actions to halt abortions in Latin America.

In Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites[19], published by The University of California Press in 1980, Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Montreal, closely examines the sources of papal power. It is derived in significant part from papal authority. If the Pope’s authority is diminished, papal power is diminished. However, some authority is derived from papal power and if papal power is diminished, then authority is undermined. The relationship is circular. Less authority means less power which means even less authority. With diminishing power, survival of the institution of the Roman Catholic Church in its present hierarchical form is gravely threatened. Thus, the very survival of the Vatican is threatened by programs to control population growth.[20]

In April, 1992, in a rare public admission of this threat, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, delivering a major address to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, acknowledged, “The fact is that attacks on the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion—unless they are rebutted—effectively erode Church authority on all matters, indeed on the authority of God himself.”[21]

This threat was recognized decades ago by the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control which met from 1964 until 1966. The Commission was created by Pope John XXIII but completed its work under Pope Paul IV. According to Commission member Thomas Burch, Pope Paul himself assigned the Commission the task of finding a way to modify the Church’s position on birth control without destroying papal authority,[22] which is essential for the continued survival of the Vatican and the Catholic Church as we know it today. The Commission, of course, failed to find a way and the result was the encyclical Humanae Vitae which banned the use of contraception.

The Vatican clearly sees that if the solutions to the population problem are applied, the dominance of the papacy will be vitiated. Thus, it is in no position to compromise with our national policy. NSSM 200 forthrightly opposes Rome on population strategy, family planning and abortion. But the Vatican simply cannot adjust to U.S. security interests and survive in its present form.

The Rigidity of the Catholic Dogma on Family Planning

A thorough understanding of the Catholic principle of papal infallibility and how it evolved is needed to understand the reasoning that underlies the position now taken by the Holy See on contraception and abortion. Catholic theologian and historian, August Bernhard Hasler, in his book How the Pope Became Infallible (1979), explains this reasoning.[23] Hasler had served in the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity for five years during which he was given access to the Vatican Archives. There he discovered numerous documents which had not been studied before, revealing the history of Vatican Council I and adoption of the infallibility dogma in 1870.

Hasler learned that in 1870, the Papacy, until then a powerful institution, feared that it would soon face extinction.[24] Pope Pius IX and his advisors were convinced that a declaration of papal infallibility was vital to the continuation of papal authority. According to Catholic Sociologist Jean-Guy Vaillancourt:

During the Middle Ages and under feudalism, when the Catholic Church was a dominant institution in society, papal power grew in importance, relying often on force to attain its ends, which were political as much as they were religious. The Crusades and, later on, the Inquisition, stand as the two most notorious of these violent papal ventures. But with the decline of the Portuguese and Spanish empires, with the advent of the Reformation and of the intellectual, democratic, and industrial revolutions, the Catholic hierarchy lost much of its influence and power. Unable to continue using physical coercion, the Papacy was led to strengthen its organizational structure and perfect a wide range of normative means of control. The declaration of papal infallibility by the first Vatican Council…was an important milestone in that direction. The stress on the absolute authority of the pope in questions of faith and morals helped turn the Church into a unified and powerful bureaucratic organization, and paved the way for the establishment of the Papacy-laity relationship as we know it today.[25]

Faced with the loss of most of its traditional sources of power, the Holy See recognized the enormous potential power offered by the dogma of Papal infallibility, since with it would come almost endless possibilities for normative means of control. Indeed, until the mid-1960s, when the Church began to self-destruct following the proclamation by Pope Paul VI of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae banning contraception as intrinsically evil, this new arrangement worked just as Pius IX had hoped, and the Papacy continued to be a politically powerful institution.

However, in 1870, as Hasler discovered, the intellectual leadership of the Church was strongly opposed to the concept of papal infallibility on the grounds that some time in the future, as the world changed, the Church would find itself down some blind alley from which there would be no escape, with disintegration of the papacy inevitably following. In the 1870s, intellectual leaders left the Church in droves,[26] with no idea what the nature of the future “blind alley” would turn out to be.

We now know that the central issues of family planning are the blind alley. Recognizing this more than a century later, the renowned Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, wrote in his 31-page introduction to Hasler’s book, “The only way to solve the problem of contraception is to solve the problem of infallibility.”[27] Few dilemmas, if any, have received so much thought from so many intellectuals in the Church over the past few decades. No solution acceptable to the Holy See has been found.

Once the nature of the principle of infallibility and its origins are understood, it is evident that no solution to the birth control dilemma, short of the demise of the papacy as we know it, is likely. This became widely understood by Vatican decision-makers in the 1960s, as a result of Pope John XXIII’s creation of the Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control, noted earlier. The two-tiered commission consisted of a group of 15 cardinals and bishops and a group of 64 lay experts representing a variety of disciplines.[28] Finding a way to change the Church’s position on birth control without destroying papal authority was the only assignment given the Commission. The Commission failed. None was found.[29]

The failure came after the Commission studied the dilemma for two years. The laymen voted 60 to 4 and the clerics 9 to 6 to change the Church’s teaching on birth control,[30] even though it would mean a loss of papal authority, because it was the right thing to do.[31] However, the minority also submitted a report to the pope. Among the authors of the minority report was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II. Hasler quotes from the minority report:

If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti Connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XII’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half a century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error.

This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved.[32]

Thus, change in the Church’s position at this point would mean destruction of the principle of papal infallibility. The logic of the minority report was flawless and the result was publication in 1968 of Humanae Vitae, banning the use of contraception as noted. But the problem was even deeper. As one examines the principle of infallibility and it origins, it becomes evident that as soon as this principle was adopted in 1870, it immediately became the fundamental principle of Catholic teaching and authority. If this principle is somehow destroyed, the foundation upon which all other Catholic principles rest is also destroyed. Pope John Paul II has said this in his own words. In a May 15, 1980 letter to the German Bishops’ Conference, John Paul II said:

I am convinced that the doctrine of infallibility is in a certain sense the key to the certainty with which the faith is confessed and proclaimed, as well as to the life and conduct of the faithful. For once this essential foundation is shaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down.[33]

In these two quotes, Pope John Paul II acknowledges the obvious—and inevitable. Birth control had indeed become the “blind alley” the Church intellectuals so feared in 1870. The Church cannot change its position on birth control without destroying itself. The institution has defined morality in such a way as to attempt prevention of self-destruction—by asserting that birth control is morally wrong.

There is much wishful thinking that the next pope, or the pope after him, will support family planning. But this wishfulness does not take this dilemma into account and can be very destructive. Indeed, if I were a decision-maker in the Holy See, I would be spreading such wishful disinformation—in order to discourage any current efforts to confront the Vatican, forcefully and forthrightly, on the issues of abortion and contraception, a tenacious confrontation by people who are concerned, morally and practically about global stewardship—stewards who recognize that contraception and abortion are vital to the survival of our species—and many others.

Since his installation 17 years ago, Pope John Paul II has now appointed 84 percent of all voting cardinals. They are like-minded. There is precious little chance that the next pope, or the one following, will change the Church’s position on family planning.

The Vatican and U.S. Immigration Policy

Many polls and studies show that U.S. Catholic lay couples exhibit the same family planning behavior as non-Catholics and hold the same beliefs about U.S. and world population growth. The Vatican is in conflict with many lay American Catholics on family planning, abortion and immigration. For example, a recent study by Catholic priest Andrew Greeley of the National Opinion Research Center found that only 7 percent of U.S. Catholics support the Vatican position on abortion.[34] The security-survival interests of the Catholic laymen are pitted against the security-survival interests of the Papacy. For many reasons—economic, medical, and social—family planning enhances the security of the layman and his/her family and increase their odds of survival and well being. But, family planning, abortion, etc., because they undermine papal authority, also undermine the security of the Papacy and threaten its very survival.

Likewise, Vatican demands for open borders of the U.S. are rejected by a large majority of U.S. Catholics.[35] American Catholic lay persons are statistically as opposed to unrestricted immigration into the United States as non-Catholic Americans. Yet, a recent study of the positions of religious denominations in the U.S. toward immigration highlighted the role played by the Catholic Church in respect of large-scale immigration:

No religious group wields more power on behalf of high immigration to the U.S. than the Catholic Church. Thanks to the 1880-1914 and 1970-present Great Waves of immigration consisting primarily of Catholics, the Church towers over all other American religious groups. Its 59 million members give it immense financial, institutional and political clout, even though polls suggest the majority of its members probably don’t agree with its pro-immigration stances.[36]

A November 8, 1992, National Catholic Register article reveals why the Vatican is taking these positions. In it, Father Richard J. Ryscavage, executive director of the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Catholic Conference noted that immigration is the

…growing edge of Catholicism in the United States…. We are in the middle of a huge wave of immigration…and most of them are Catholics…. It’s the key to our future and the key to why the Church is going to be very healthy in the 21st century.

Another recent study[37] examines some of the Catholic leadership stances which many Americans will find shocking: Catholic leaders assert that the US. does not have an inherent right to limit migration; that every human has a right to migrate to the U.S. and take up residence there—to seek better living conditions; that the Catholic Church rejects the concept of national sovereignty; that all immigrants and their offspring have a right to keep their native language primarily; that most immigration restrictions are immoral; that the U.S. government distinction between political and economic refugees is unacceptable. These are all official papal positions. The author of this study is David Simeox. He is a Roman Catholic, a former foreign service officer, and the first executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), 1985-1992. He offers the following comment:

Archbishop Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who presides over the United States’ largest concentration of illegal aliens, put it in these terms: ‘If the question is between the right of a nation to control its borders and the right of a person to emigrate in order to seek safe haven from hunger or violence (or both), we believe that the first right must give way to the second’ (1987).

The reasons for American lay Catholic opposition to the Vatican’s stance on unrestricted immigration into the U.S. are obvious. While the security-survival of the Papacy is greatly enhanced by this migration, as described by Ryscavage, the security-survival of Catholic layman and their families is undermined economically, educationally, medically, socially and in other ways bearing on the quality of life. Thus, as with family planning and abortion, the security-survival interests of the Catholic layman is pitted against the security-survival interests of the Papacy.

The Vatican Claims Protection from “Harmful Laws”

The Vatican claims the right to protect itself against “harmful laws”—even when democratically legislated! The central difficulty here, of course, is that what the Vatican considers “harmful” to itself and its authority often is exactly what lay Catholic men and women thoughtfully consider beneficial to themselves and their families. In a letter to American bishops from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the most powerful Vatican office—Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger reminded the bishops that “The Church has the responsibility to protect herself from the application of harmful laws.” This letter was keep secret from 55 million American Catholics until a brief notice written by Peter Steinfels for The New York Times appeared July 10, 1992. The actual text remained hidden from the public until it was leaked to the press on July 15, 1992.[38] Obviously, if an institution has the “responsibility,” it also claims the “right.” The Vatican exercised its “right” to protect itself from the application of harmful laws, in the autocratic way it defines as “harmful,” when it blocked U.S. adoption of the Rockefeller Commission recommendations and implementation of the NSSM 200 policies approved by President Ford. “To protect herself,” the Church moved quickly and efficiently to kill the two most important initiatives to control population growth in American history.

The Bishops’ “Pastoral Plan”

Two decades ago the Vatican determined that if it were to survive, it must become much more active in U.S. politics at the national level. Up until this time the Vatican’s involvement was more concentrated at the local level than national. Vatican influence over politics in large Catholic cities is well known and undisputed. Then the bishops decided that only by being highly organized and active politically on all levels of government could the Vatican overcome the mounting surge of political will seeking world population growth control.

On November 20, 1975, the American Catholic bishops issued their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities.[39] This was just 6 days before President Ford made NSSM 200 public policy. The success of their Pastoral Plan is confirmed in an excellent February 24, 1992 article in Time which I will touch on later.

This Plan is a frank and superbly detailed blueprint of the bishops’ strategy for influencing and working through the American democratic process at the national, state and local levels. It maps out a national political machine controlled by the bishops. A prime purpose of the Plan is to kill the political will of the United States to seriously tackle the global overpopulation problem. In the Plan, abortion was the issue chosen to galvanize the movement as proposed by Jesuit priest Virgil Blum in his 1971 America magazine article.[40] The Plan details a 3-pronged attack, one devoted to each of the three branches of our federal government: legislative, judicial and administrative.

As the Time article shows, with the election of anti-abortion Ronald Reagan and anti-abortion George Bush in 1980, the views of the Vatican gained substantial influence within the administrative branch of the U.S. government in the area of population and family planning policy. In their 12 years, these two presidents appointed 5 Supreme Court Justices and 70 percent of all sitting judges in the federal court system. All were anti-abortion, another goal of the Pastoral Plan. The legislative branch has been more difficult for those opposed to family planning, although they did achieve sufficient influence in Congress to the extent that pro-choice Congressmen could not override a presidential veto of family planning bills. As long as the anti-family planning interests controlled the White House, however, this was sufficient for their purposes. As noted earlier, even in the Carter years, the bishops were highly successful in undermining federal government population growth control efforts.

During the period 1976-1980, all of the organizations that became known as the “New Right Movement” were created, with one exception: The Christian Coalition was created later to replace the Moral Majority. In their Plan, the bishops said they favored such a movement. Catholics were key players in the creation of all of these organizations and influential in their leadership. This assessment of the creation of this movement and the influence in it of the bishops is well documented.[41],[42] Many Protestant churches, especially some of the Fundamentalist denominations, feel that their institutions are threatened by the solutions to the population problem. Their members are serving in the ranks of the so-called New Right Movement and their influence has been pivotal to the policies of that Movement.

Time Magazine says the Pope Calls the Tune

The February 24, 1992 issue of Time magazine published a story on the alliance between Reagan and the Pope to undermine Communism in Poland, by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein, which included significant revelations about matters other than the overthrow of Communism. According to Bernstein:

The Catholic Team: The key Administration players were all devout Roman Catholics—CIA chief William Casey, [Richard] Allen [Reagan’s first National Security Advisor], [William] Clark [Reagan’s second National Security Advisor], [Alexander] Haig [Secretary of State], [Vernon] Walters [Ambassador at Large] and William Wilson, Reagan’s first ambassador to the Vatican. They regarded the U.S.-Vatican relationship as a holy alliance: the moral force of the Pope and the teachings of their church combined with…their notion of American Democracy.

In a section of his article headed “The U.S. and the Vatican on Birth Control,” Bernstein includes three more revealing paragraphs:

In response to concerns of the Vatican, the Reagan Administration agreed to alter its foreign aid program to comply with the church’s teachings on birth control. According to William Wilson, the President’s first ambassador to the Vatican, the State Department reluctantly agreed to an outright ban on the use of any U.S. aid funds by either countries or international health organizations for the promotion of…abortions. As a result of this position, announced at the World Conference on Population in Mexico City in 1984, the U.S. withdrew funding from, among others, two of the world’s largest family planning organizations: the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.

‘American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican’s not agreeing with our policy,’ Wilson writes, ‘American aid programs around the world did not meet the criteria the Vatican had for family planning. AID [the Agency for International Development] sent various people from [the Department of] State to Rome, and I’d accompany them to meet the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and in long discussions they finally got the message. But it was a struggle. They finally selected different programs and abandoned others as a result of this intervention.’

‘I might have touched on that in some of my discussions with [CIA director William] Casey,’ acknowledges Pio Cardinal Laghi, the former apostolic delegate to Washington. ‘Certainly Casey already knew about our positions about that.’

Thus Bernstein indicates what the cadre of devout Catholics in the Reagan Administration did to protect the Papacy from NSSM 200. He quotes our ambassador to the Vatican, William Wilson, who reveals that during the Reagan Administration, Papal policy on birth control and abortion, in effect, simply replaced the policy set forth by NSSM 200. (The bishops enjoyed considerable success with their Pastoral Plan at the state level as well.)[43]

Presidents Reagan and Bush were arguably the most pro-Catholic Presidents in American history. The bishops gained influence over the Republican party just as they set out to do, according to their Pastoral Plan. In November 1992, outgoing Republican National Committee Chairman Richard Bond told the members of that committee on January 29, 1993, that it was time for the Republican Party to abandon the papal position on abortion. Bond said that the party should not be governed by “zealotry masquerading as principle.”[44]

Silence Cloaks NSSM 200

Although President Ford endorsed the recommendations of NSSM 200 on November 26, 1975, the report was never printed. There are only a handful of photocopies available. Those who wrote the report recommended that it be classified for 5 years. Werner Fornos, President of the Population Institute, with the aid of several members of Congress, succeeded in getting the NSSM 200 report declassified for a brief period in 1976. Despite his best efforts, and the explosiveness of the report, he was unable to achieve any press coverage whatsoever. Instead, he soon found the report reclassified as a result of the objections of “members of the national security establishment” to the early declassification.[45]

In the end, the document remained classified for 14 years, rather than the recommended 5 years. The only institution that benefits from this continued silence is the Roman Catholic Church. Says James Scheuer, “The Roman Catholic Church and its allies cannot be allowed to dictate the rules of the game when it comes to the preservation of life on this planet, at some level of decency.”[4]

Congressman Scheuer put it succinctly:

The issue of population growth is too crucial to the future welfare of our nation and of the world to be left to…the Roman Catholic hierarchy and its allies in the fundamentalist movement.[4]

In Summary

NSSM 200′s most important accomplishment was that it defined U.S. security interests regarding world population growth control, and identified the opponents of population growth control as enemies of the United States. U.S. security interests are personal and profound for us all: the peace, well-being and prospects of the American people. Papal security-survival along with the influence of fundamentalist Protestant opposition to birth control is now pitted against the U.S. and world security-survival. Intervention is now crucial if the overpopulation trajectory projected by NSSM 200 is to be broken. The alternative is chaos and ecologic disaster.

Political will has always been the most crucial element in seeking solutions to the population crisis. No matter how concerned we are as individuals or organizations, nothing substantial and significant is likely to happen to reach our goals in this endeavor without mobilizing our political will as a nation. Therefore we must direct our energies now to identifying obstructions to rebuilding our political will to deal with overpopulation and converting this will to action.

We have everything to lose—and so very much to save.


[1] Nixon R. “Special Message to the Congress on Problems of Population Growth,” July 18, 1969. Public Papers of the Presidents, No. 271, p. 521, Office of the Federal Register, National Archives, Washington, DC, 1971.
[2] Commission on Population Growth and the American Future. “Population and the American Future.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972. 176 pp.
[3] Nixon R. “Statement About the Report of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future,” May 5, 1972. Public Papers of the Presidents, No. 142, p. 576, Office of the Federal Register, National Archives, Washington, DC, 1974.
[4] Scheuer J. “A disappointing outcome: United States and World Population Trends since the Rockefeller Commission.” The Social Contract 1992; Summer:203-206.
[5] Schmidt AW. Personal Communication. August 28, 1992.
[6] Mosher WD, Williams LB, Johnson DP. “Religion and fertility in the United States: new patterns.” Demography 1992; 29(2):199-214.
[7] “U.S. religious groups vary in patterns of method use, but not in overall contraceptive prevalence.” Fam Plann Perspect 1991; 23(6):288-89.
[8] Rossi AS, Sitaraman B. “Abortion in context: historical trends and future changes.” Fam Plann Perspect 1988; 20(6): 273-81.
[9] Greeley AM. “Who are the Catholic conservatives?” America 1991; 165(7):158-62.
[10] Illegal Immigration. “Special Report of the Environmental Fund.” November 1978. The Roper Poll reported on showed that 91% of the public want all illegal immigration halted. To achieve this proportion would require that the vast majority of both Catholics and non-Catholics concur.
[11] National Security Council. “National Security Study Memorandum 200.” Washington, D.C., April 24, 1974. 2 pp.
[12] National Security Council. NSSM 200: Implications of worldwide population growth for U.S. security and overseas interests. Washington, D.C., December 10, 1974. 227 pp.
[13] National Security Council. “National Security Decision Memorandum 314.” Washington, D.C., November 26, 1975. 4 pp.
[14] Mumford SD. “Abortion: a national security issue.” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 1982; 142:951-953.
[15] Mumford SD, Kessel E. “Is wide availability of abortion essential to national population growth control programs? Experiences of 116 countries.” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 1984; 149:639-645.
[16] Ravenholt RT. “Pronatalist Zealotry and Population Pressure Conflicts: How Catholics Seized Control of U.S. Family Planning Programs.” Center for Research on Population and Security, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709. May 1991, 27 pp.
[17] Beck R. “Religions and the Environment: Commitment High Until U.S. Population Issues Raised.” The Social Contract 1993; 3:76- 89.
[18] King MH. “Shifting the two-child paradigm.” School of Medicine, University of Leeds course handout. 28 February 1995.
[19] Vaillancourt JG. Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
[20] Mumford SD. “‘Right to Life’ Derivation.” The Churchman’s Human Quest 1989; CCIII(2):14-15.
[21] King HV. “Cardinal O’Connor Declares That Church Teaching On Abortion Underpins All Else.” The Wanderer April 23, 1992. p. 1.
[22] Jones A. Vatican, “International Agencies Hone Family, Population Positions.” National Catholic Reporter (reprinted in Conscience, May/June 1984. p. 7).
[23] Hasler, AB. How the Pope Became Infallible. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1981. Originally published in German under the title “Wie der Papst Unfehlbar Wurde: Macht und Ohnmacht eines Dogmas.” Verlag, Munchen: R. Piper & Company, 1979.
[24] Ibid., p. 51-52.
[25] Vaillancourt, op.cit., p. 2.
[26] Hasler, op.cit., p. 227, 240, 250.
[27] Ibid., p. 25.
[28] Murphy FX, Erhart JF. “Catholic perspectives on population Issues.” Pop Bulletin 1975; 30(6):3-31.
[29] Jones A. Vatican, “International Agencies Hone Family, Population Positions.” National Catholic Reporter (reprinted in Conscience May/June 1984, p. 7.)
[30] Murphy, Erhart. op.cit.
[31] Jones, op.cit.
[32] Hasler, op.cit., p.270.
[33] Ibid., p. 313.
[34] Greeley AM. “Who are the Catholic conservatives?” America 1991; 165(7):158-62.
[35] Beck. Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Simcox D. “The Catholic Hierarchy and Immigration: Boundless Compassion, Limited Responsibility.” The Social Contract 1993; 3:90-95.
[38] Likoudis P. “Vatican letter calls on bishops to oppose homosexual rights laws.” The Wanderer 1992 July 30;1.
[39] United States Catholic Conference. “Pastoral plan for pro-life activities.” Washington, D.C., 1975. 13 pp. (Copies are available from the Center for Research on Population and Security, P.O. Box 13067, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709)
[40] Blum VC. “Public policy making: Why the churches strike out.” America 1971; 124(9):224-8.
[41] Mumford SD. American Democracy & The Vatican: Population Growth and National Security. Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1984. 268 pp.
[42] Mumford SD. 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. 82 pp.
[43] Mumford SD. “The Catholic bishops’ pastoral plan for pro-life activities and its implications for Democracy in North Carolina.” Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1987.
[44] Droleskey T. “Zealotry masquerading as principle?” The Wanderer 1993 February 18;10.
[45] Fornos W. Personal Communication. July 10, 1992.

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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