The Family Planning Fiasco: How the Vatican Subverted Family Planning in the Developing World

The Family Planning Fiasco: How the Vatican Subverted Family Planning in the Developing World

By Dieter Ehrhardt
Kindle Publisher: Church and State Press (December 3, 2014)
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Praise for The Family Planning Fiasco

“This book is consistent with my own life experience with population and should be read by everyone concerned with the future of the planet.”
—Dr. Halfdan Mahler, WHO Director-General, 1972-1988

“I welcome your publication.”
—Professor Dr. Hans Küng, Catholic theologian

“Continue your work as it is important.”
—Professor Dr. Leonardo Boff, Latin-American liberation theologian and Laureate of the Alternative Nobel Prize

“… Tons of books/reports have been written about population explosions etc etc but there are very few, I would bet, which look under the bonnet and examine the machine …”
—Conor Murphy, Retired Ambassador of Ireland

“Gripping, comprehensive eyewitness exposé by a veteran senior development official about the unholy decades long influence of Catholic hierarchy against family planning. Shocking, authentic, tragic. A must read.”
—Donald A. Collins, Pioneer Population Activist, USA

“… As Ehrhardt details in his book, intelligent and persistent assistive actions by donors were needed to advance adequate birth control practices in Jamaica, Kenya, Turkey [etc]. But in the less developed countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Vatican induced opposition to effective birth control practices still imposes excessive fertility, grinding poverty and killing fields unending.”
—Reimert Thorolf Ravenholt, M.D., Director, Office of Population, U.S. Agency for International Development, 1966-1979

“… In this important memoir retired UN population expert Dieter Ehrhardt lays out the struggles to cope internationally with out of control population growth.”
—Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty

“My hat is off to the author for having written an extraordinary book on Population/Family Planning. It is very well researched and documented …”
—John Paul James, Senior Regional Population Advisor, USAID (ret.)

“Your book is an exceedingly important contribution to the world population literature.”
—Dr. Stephen D. Mumford, President, Center for Research on Population and Security in North Carolina

“Congratulations on managing this great feat …”
—Gerald Danaher, Retired Medical Practitioner

“A masterpiece.”
—Professor Dr. Michael Bohnet, Under-Secretary (ret.), German Ministry for Economic Cooperation

“Your text reminds me strongly of Joseph Heller, a genius among American satirists.”
—Dieter Hildebrandt, The foremost German satirist

Excerpt from The Family Planning Fiasco

(Credit: Mistervlad /

Chapter 16: The Influence of the Catholic Church on the Global Population Explosion

“Poverty and underdevelopment in the Third World, the population explosion, birth control, the encyclical Humanae vitae, the infallibility of traditional church doctrine – all these things are now so tightly connected that people who preach such loud sermons to outsiders actually ought to shout this message to those inside the Church instead of keeping silent on the whole business of infallibility.” —Hans Küng*1

It all started in 1950, two years after the World Health Organisation (WHO) was founded in Geneva and almost 20 years before Humanae Vitae. The delegate from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) demanded a family planning programme from the WHO. Others, including the Canadian WHO Director-General, Brock Chisholm, wanted the same thing.*2 The delegates of the Holy See, who had no right to speak at WHO, sent the delegates of the Catholic countries, Ireland, Italy and Belgium to see Chisholm and demanded that he should make a clear statement to the WHO assembly that he would not propose any kind of family planning programme.

The three countries threatened, “that they would withdraw from the organization and take steps to destroy the organization and then create a new organisation altogether” (literally!).*3

WHO Director General Chisholm made this statement in the WHO plenary assembly which the Vatican had forced him into. After this, the WHO undertook no family planning measures whatsoever for seven to nine years – as “the result of the very effective job done by the Vatican and its representatives, not only at WHO, but also at meetings of the UN and other organizations.”*4

After these shocking facts allow me to tell a fairy tale – in an attempt to calm the reader down.

Once upon a time, there was a German development aid minister. Lying on his desk there was a draft, a press release in favour of family planning, and a courtier was standing around in the background. Then ringing sounds from a small black gadget filled the majestic room and the minister talked to this black thing. So the courtier overheard the following: “Greetings, Your Grace … oh, just a moment”. Then the minister waved his hand of authority gently to indicate that the courtier should wait outside. Once the courtier had been summoned back to the room, the minister spoke: “That was the Great Cardinal who lives in the foothills of the Alps – and I will certainly never sign this press release.”

Now we must find our way back to reality …

The trail in the church which was to become solid in the future in the form of Humanae Vitae started under Pope John XXIII. He understood that more love, more Jesus, more enlightenment in the sense of Immanuel Kant and more clarity in the church had to come and so he summoned the second Vatican Council.

In the words of Hans Küng: “Only under John XXIII did the energies which had been forcibly repressed and dammed up for so long come bursting forth, leading to … a new attitude on the part of the Catholic Church towards itself, the other Christian churches, the Jews … Things tabooed under Pius IX (such as religious freedom and tolerance, ecumenism and human rights) were now loudly praised as Catholic teaching.”*5

John XXIII had prescribed a breath of fresh air for the church and decreed that questions of birth control and artificial contraception should not be dealt with by the Council, but by a separate interdisciplinary commission of experts, with 64 participants from all over the world. He had set up this commission in 1962 and it met until 1966. His successor, Cardinal Montini, was elected Pope, became Paul VI in June 1963 and took over the chair of the Council. “He forbad the bishops to debate the most serious questions, such as … birth control.”*6 This issue was in the hands of the commission of experts anyway. The new Pope had extended it to 68 members.

In 1966, these experts voted on their final report. The result was 64: 4 in favour of “a change in the Catholic Church’s stand on birth control was both possible and advisable.”*7

The four who disagreed were the American Jesuit, John Ford, the Franciscan, Emengildo Lio, the Dutch Theology professor and Redemptorist, Jan Visser and the Jesuit, Marcellino Zalba. Cardinal Ottaviani, Secretary of the Holy Office, “was determined that Paul VI was not about to budge on the issue of birth control,” so he “contacted the four … and persuaded them to enlarge their dissenting conclusions in a special report.”*8 Then “the so-called minority sent the petition to the Pope behind the back of the rest of the Commission,”*9 “and in doing so they acted in an unethical manner.”*10

In the meantime, a smaller group consisting of 20 cardinals and bishops had been set up headed by Cardinal Ottaviani: “For any liberalizing recommendation from the group of 68 to reach the Pope it had to pass through this smaller group.”*11 To quote Yallop further: “in mid-1966 the report was submitted to the Commission of cardinals and bishops who were overseeing the Pontifical Commission (68 members)”. These churchmen reacted with some perplexity (to the result 64:4). Obliged to record their own views on the report, 6 of the prelates abstained, 8 voted in favour of recommending the report to the Pope, and 6 voted against it.”*12

In the end a fourth statement was placed on Paul VI’s desk. The Pope had “also asked for the opinion of Cardinal Urbani, the patriarch of Venice,” and “he and all his bishops had decided that Luciani should draw up the report.”*13

Albino Luciani – Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, then Patriarch of Venice and later, as Pope John Paul I, the successor of Paul VI – had witnessed the plight of his brother, Eduardo, who had to earn a living for his ten children.

For this reason Luciani believed that, “to deny men and women the right of artificial birth control was to plunge the Church back to the Dark Ages.”*14 In April 1968, Luciani’s report was finished.*15 Cardinal Urbani had seen it later lying on Paul VI’s desk in Castel Gandolfo: “The central thrust of the report was to recommend to the Pope that the Roman Catholic Church should approve the use of the anovulant pill developed by Professor Pincus. That it should become the Catholic birth control pill.”

Only thirty-three days after his election, Pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani, died in strange circumstances. (Credit: Sentinelle del mattino International / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Paul VI assured Urbani that “he valued the report greatly”. On his return journey to Venice, Urbani called in on Luciani and told him personally how pleased the Pope had been with the report.

For Paul VI this decision was a heavy burden.

In October 1965, he granted the journalist, Alberto Cavallari, an interview, in which Cavallari deliberately did not mention the problem of artificial contraception in order to avoid possibly offending Paul VI.

However, the Pope himself brought up the subject in the pluralis majestatis he preferred: “Take birth control, for example. The world asks what we think and we find ourselves trying to give an answer. But what answer? … So, the commissions meet, the reports pile up … Oh, they study a lot, you know. But then we still have to make the final decisions and in deciding, we are all alone … We have to say something. But what? God will simply have to enlighten us”.

The reports which were “piling up” were four in particular, three calling for fundamental change and one insisting on continuing the previous policy:

– the positive majority vote of 64 experts,

– the positive vote of the small group of 20 cardinals and bishops,

– the positive report of Cardinal Urbani (with Luciani),

– and the negative vote of the four experts, which Ottaviani, the Prefect in the Holy Office, had arranged for Pope Paul VI to see “behind the back of the rest of the commission”.*16

The four – John Ford, Emengildo Lio, Jan Visser and Marcellino Zalba – had written to Pope Paul VI. According to Mumford, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II had been the co-author of the minority report – and not until 1995 was Wojtyla revealed as a major contributor to Humanae Vitae.*17

The essence of their petition is:

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*18), 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) (sic). It should likewise have to be admitted that for 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 (sic). 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 … (sic) 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 (sic), which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved.*19

Thus, to prevent it becoming obvious that “thousands of innocent human acts were [wrongly] condemned under pain of eternal damnation”, it has to be accepted that from now on millions of such acts also incur this punishment.

Hasler comments: “Thus it became only too clear that the core of the problem was not the pill, but the authority, continuity, and the infallibility of the Church’s magisterium.”*20

Yallop adds: “Ottaviani made sure that the Cardinals Cicognani, Browne, Parente and Samore daily just happened to meet the Pope. Daily they told him that to approve artificial birth control would be to betray the Church’s heritage.”*21

Bishop Luciani’s arguments in favour of allowing artificial contraception had greatly appealed to Pope Paul VI: The anovulant pill should become the Catholic birth control pill.*22

This Pope had set his heart on this solution.

On the other hand, Paul VI felt bound by these declarations of his predecessors.*23

It was the eternal human struggle and conflict between feelings and the claims of duty.

Pope Paul VI decided in favour of upholding continuity, the position of the four, thus yielding to the discipline in his church.

The Pope signed the Humanae Vitae and, in doing so, acted against his own convictions. Is this the most momentous case of inner conflict in a pope in history?

Has the perpetuation of the population explosion been sealed with this signature, exposing half of mankind to inconceivable wretchedness and suffering? Paul VI could have been better advised on the crucial question of whether the Church would have been harmed if he had decided in accordance with his convictions.

After all, there have been several cases in which Church teaching and decisions have been revised later. They only prove that the Holy Spirit drifts when and where it wants. Perhaps the Holy Spirit sees this drifting around as its contribution to promoting ecumenism.

Two cases are worth mentioning: At the Council of Constance (1414-1418) it was decided that every Catholic, including the Pope, must obey any Council – and since the first Vatican Council (1870) the ruling has been that a Council may only make a decision with the Pope, not against and not without him. In this case, the Holy Spirit “supported the Protestant churches”,*24 for centuries without either the Church’s authority or ministry suffering any noticeable harm.

The case of Galileo Galilei is just as important. The heretic – he was a follower of Copernicus’ teaching – was sentenced to indefinite imprisonment in 1633, went blind in 1637 and died in 1641. Thus for eight years “he was condemned to suffer eternal damnation”.*25 In 1968 it would have been enough for Pope Paul VI to be aware, when deciding on Humanae Vitae, that in 1822 under Pope Pius VII, the printing of a book that dealt with the Copernican system as a reality in physics and was permitted to be published for the first time, thus retroactively depriving Galilei’s punishment of any justification. This the Pope ought to have known.

After the decision in favour of the continuity, authority and infallibility of traditional Church doctrine, the publication of the Humanae Vitae encyclical on 25 July 1968 represents the continuation of the previous line.

First, let us look back to the 13th century. Albertus Magnus, his pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura had described “sexual enjoyment as naturally good” and Thomas Aquinas had added: “its orderly affirmation in marriage is also a virtue”.*26

However, Article 12 (“Union and Procreation”) of Humanae Vitae orders: “This particular doctrine … is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent in the marriage act.”

Was St. Thomas Aquinas right or the Humanae Vitae?

In Article 14 Humanae Vitae it says: “Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We … declare that the direct interruption of the generative process and … all direct abortion … are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children … Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation – whether as an end or as a means.”

On the other hand, the Catholic Lexikon states: “A man is not obliged to forego normal intercourse if he anticipates and cannot prevent the woman from taking steps afterwards to avoid conception.” And the next sentence says: “Participating in intercourse using contraceptives is formally participating in sin and as such, is categorically forbidden”.*27

In Article 12 Humanae Vitae a kind of summary follows: “If each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.”

Can’t they make up their minds one way or the other?

The last sentence in Article 12 Humanae Vitae is only acceptable if one looks at it from the “Christian doctrine” view: “We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason (sic).”

Failing this, people will be paralyzed from shock.

At first, “reason” guided Paul VI and was close to his heart, in line with Luciani’s ideas that “Contraception must be allowed”. When Pope Paul VI signed this encyclical shortly afterwards, his “reason” obviously became part of Humanae Vitae.

The Humanae Vitae encyclical threw many Catholics into conflicts of conscience. Only 36 days after it was published, the German Bishops’ Conference released their circular, the Königstein Declaration. The comment in Kathpedia on this subject: “Here the point about what the right conscience is remains deliberately ambiguous and was later given narrower definitions by bishops to conform to the encyclical (e.g. by Karl Lehmann in 1993); however, this was not able to erase the popular interpretation of this declaration as “giving the go-ahead to the Pill”. This meant Germany was the last country to submit to Humanae Vitae.

The Humanae Vitae constitutes the Vatican’s own law, on the basis of which the Vatican phased out family planning in the developing world, by forbidding the governments of the First World to make the necessary funding available – see the following account.

Within the scope of this chapter “The Influence of the Catholic Church on the World Population Explosion”, two further developments have to be scrutinized.

These relate to the fact that the Vatican not only broke the political will of the biggest world power in a question of humanity but also how this was achieved.

1. In 1974 the possibility of the world population explosion continuing unimpeded set the alarm bells ringing in the US government. “President Nixon directed the Secretaries of Defense and Agriculture, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Deputy Secretary of State and the Administrator of US-AID to study the impact of world population growth on U.S. security and overseas interests.”*28

This report came to be known as “NSSM 200” (National Security Study Memorandum number 200). It was available in December 1974 “but only a handful of people have seen it”*29 because “it was declassified only in March 1989 by F. Graboske of the National Security Council.”*30

Stephen D. Mumford, President of the “Center for Research on Population and Security” in Triangle Park, North Carolina, spent years researching the details of the report, the political conclusions drawn by US presidents and the destruction of this policy by the Vatican. This research was duly presented to the world in his 580 page book of The Life and Death of NSSM 200 – How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy in 1996.

Professor Hans Küng, in his review of the book, commented as follows: “This book provides 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 manoeuvres of the Vatican are discussed in public.”*31

NSSM 200 states that “world population growth is widely recognized within the US government as a current danger of the highest magnitude calling for urgent measures. 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.”*32 The report reaches the following conclusion “that the only institutional opposition to population growth control is the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church”.*33

Some of the NSSM 200 closing recommendations were: “The U.S. would provide world leadership in population growth control” and “a goal for the U.S. would be to achieve a 2-child family in the developing countries by 2000” and “the U.S. would provide substantial funds to help achieve these goals.”*34

In 1975, US President Gerald Ford endorsed the population policy recommendations contained in NSSM 200.*35

However, subsequently the U.S. did not provide these “substantial funds” – because:

2. Just a year later, the fledgling US family planning policy in the developing world was already over. “Following a meeting, 15 Catholic leaders pressed to deemphasize federal support for family planning in exchange for a modicum of Catholic support for his Presidential race. President-elect Carter proceeded to put the two federal agencies with family planning programs under Catholic control.”*36

According to an opinion poll conducted by the New York Times/CBS News in 1995, 17 million American Catholics, “whom the Catholic bishops still claim as Catholics”, had left the church and become Protestants.*37

These and the numerous other Catholics who had become estranged from the Catholic church would certainly have voted for President Carter if he had resisted the pressure from Rome and had made the public aware of what was going on. Today he would be regarded as an honourable ex-president.

The next success achieved by the Vatican, just under ten years later, during the Reagan administration, was even more significant. In 1992, eight years after the Mexico Conference of 1984, the journalist, Carl Bernstein, reported that six helpers had contributed to it: “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.”

Reagan’s “Catholic Team” had been responsible. “All the key Administration players were devout Roman Catholics: Alexander Haig (Secretary of State), CIA Director William Casey, Richard Allen (Reagan’s first National Security advisor), William Clark (Reagan’s second National Security advisor), Vernon Walters (ambassador at large), and William Wilson, (Reagan’s first ambassador to the Vatican). They regarded the US-Vatican relationship as a holy alliance: the moral force of the Pope and the teachings of their church combined with the American notion of democracy”.*38

Stephen D. Mumford comments: “The Pope called the tune. Simply put, these strategically placed Catholic laymen, and the U.S. bishops with direct papal support and intervention, succeeded in destroying the American political will to deal with the population problem”.*39

It is one thing for the magisterium of a Church to prescribe behaviours for its faithful. The centuries-old custom that a Church imposes its dictates on governments, however, is no longer acceptable. Besides, the custom clashes with Pope Francis’ determination to build a “Poor Church” which surely implies refraining from interference with other governments’ policies.

And the Holy Spirit prevailed among Catholics and nothing changed. When the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, interviewed Professor Hans Küng in September 2011 on the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Germany, this leading theologian declared: “The wantonness with which the collegiality of Vatican politics has kept quiet since the Second Vatican Council is unprecedented … I find this appalling. If he (Benedict) wanted to, he could change everything overnight (sic).”

Der Spiegel: “So he doesn’t want to?”

Küng: “No, he doesn’t. I have no doubt about it, because he has the authority, he would only have to use it in the spirit of the Gospel.”*40

This gave rise to Professor Küng’s question: “Jesus at a triumphal pontifical Mass in St. Peter’s?”

And his answer: “It does not bear contemplating!”*41


*1 See Küng, “The Infallibility Debate – Where Are We Now?”, in: Hasler, How the Pope became infallible, page 3.
*2 On this and following topics: Professor Milton P. Siegel, assistant WHO Director General (1946-1970), in 1993 in an interview with Stephen D. Mumford, see Mumford, ibid., pages 561 ff.
*3 See Mumford, ibid., page 565.
*4 Siegel to Mumford, see Mumford, ibid., page 567.
*5 See Küng in Hasler, ibid., page 15.
*6 See Hasler, ibid., page 268.
*7 See Yallop, ibid., page 17.
*8 See Yallop, ibid., page 18.
*9 See Hasler, ibid., page 270.
*10 See Yallop, ibid., page 18.
*11 See Yallop, ibid., page 16.
*12 See Yallop, ibid., page 17.
*13 See Yallop, ibid., page 19.
*14 See Yallop, ibid., page 20.
*15 On the following see Yallop, ibid., pages 16-20.
*16 See Hasler, ibid., page 270.
*17 See Mumford, ibid., pages 124/125.
*18 Pius XI: “Artificial contraception is immoral behaviour.”
*19 See Hasler, ibid., page 158.
*20 See Hasler, ibid., page 270.
*21 See Yallop, ibid., page 19.
*22 See above, page 158.
*23 See Hasler, ibid., page 270.
*24 See Hasler, ibid., page 270.
*25 In 1992 the same church under John Paul II had formally rehabilitated Galileo. So in Galileo’s case the Holy Spirit had been supporting “the Protestant churches for at least 189 years”.
*26 See Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, under the heading Chastity, page 134. Thomas Aquinas is one of the 35 most important theologians, see Wikipedia.
*27 See Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Geburtenkontrolle, page 565.
*28 See Mumford, ibid., page 61.
*29 See Mumford, ibid., page 17.
*30 See Mumford, ibid., page 435.
*31 See Mumford, ibid., back cover. According to Würzburg University Library information in 2013, Mumford’s academic book is neither to be found in Germany’s National Library, nor in any German university library.
*32 There can be no doubt that these recommendations not only applied to the USA, but, without exception, to at least all the countries of the so-called First World. It is all the more surprising that this expertise is unknown particularly in Europe’s First World nations, nor has it provoked any discussions.
*33 See Mumford, ibid., page 98.
*34 See Mumford, ibid., page 24.
*35 See Mumford, ibid., page 15.
*36 See Mumford, ibid., page 100 f.
*37 See Mumford, ibid., page 245.
*38 See Carl Bernstein, “The U.S. and the Vatican on Birth Control”, Time Magazine, 24 February 1992.
*39 See Mumford, ibid., page 133.
*40 See Der Spiegel 38/2011, page 72.
*41 See Küng, “Kirche soll zu Jesus zurückkehren”, cf. Google.

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.

Professor Milton Siegel, who for 24 years was the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaks to Dr. Stephen Mumford in 1992 to reveal that although there was a consensus that overpopulation was a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future, the Vatican successfully fought off the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

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  1. I have just read the latest edition of Ehrhardt's important book and hope that somehow it can be made more widely available to US readers. American and media indifference to the overpopulation problem, coupled with the Vatican's insane opposition to family planning may well doom our planet. — Edd Doerr


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