Population growth the single greatest threat to world peace – and activities by the Catholic hierarchy the greatest deterrent

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 16 March 2015
Church and State

(Credit: Adriana Mahdalova / Shutterstock.com)

This excerpt has been adapted from our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s book, American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (1984). The book is available at Kindle here and to read for free here.

Chapter 1: Population Growth and Global Security: Toward an American Strategic Commitment

Prefatory Note

As the year 2000 approaches, the nightmares of overpopulation, widespread famine and disease, and an exhaustive depletion of our natural resources are quickly becoming realities. The Center for Strategic and International Studies’s population studies program, long cognizant of these dangers, has been involved in a project addressing some sensitive and complex political questions surrounding international population growth control efforts. We are convinced that global population growth issues should be concerns of national security decision makers and we are perplexed by the government’s deliberateness in not acknowledging this basic relationship.

With this fifth CSIS Note published within the framework of the Population Policy Roundtable, Dr. Stephen Mumford has written a monograph certain to incite controversy. CSIS clearly does not subscribe to every position taken in it; however, by placing demographic growth, global security, and American strategic interests on the same continuum, the author has produced a unique analysis of the population problem. He attacks the problem by highlighting three crucial areas for consideration: the relationship between population growth control and national security issues, the role of American leadership in resolving the problem, and the barriers to effective action—most notably, the anachronistic tenets of the Roman Catholic Church with regard to abortion and contraception. Dr. Mumford stresses the need for global cooperation and commitment if the problem is to be arrested, and he urges the United States to assume the responsibility of leading other countries in the fight to control population growth.

The recently published Global 2000 Report to the President concurs with many of Dr. Mumford’s conclusions. It recognizes the “progressive degradation and impoverishment of the earth’s natural resource base” and the need for international cooperation. And like Dr. Mumford’s monograph, the Global 2000 Report realizes the political impact that an uncontrolled population growth would have on the relationship between industrialized nations and less developed countries (LOCs) where the greatest growth rates occur. In this modern political system of interdependence, the fates of both industrialized nations and LOCs are inextricably linked.

Dr. Mumford has held the position of scientist at the International Fertility Research Program (IFRP) since 1977, where he is primarily responsible for the development of surgical contraception research strategies. He has a degree in agriculture from the University of Kentucky and was later commissioned in the Army Medical Service Corps, leaving active duty with the rank of captain. During a tour of duty in Asia, he first recognized the linkage between political stability and population pressures. He obtained his doctorate in population studies from the University of Texas. Dr. Mumford is the author of Population Growth Control: The Next Move is America’s (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1977) and has written several other books and articles on the biomedical and social aspects of family planning. In 1978, he testified before the House Select Committee on Population on the topic of world population growth as a national security threat.

There is indisputable need to re-examine current population policies and to investigate alternative solutions to this potentially devastating problem.

Georges A. Fauriol
Population Studies
Third World Program
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Georgetown University
August 1980


In the past three decades, a new threat to international and domestic security has emerged: uncontrolled world population movements, compounded by a global natural resource interdependence. If current growth rates continue, the inevitability of widespread social and political instability by the year 2000 makes population growth the most serious threat—a threat more often recognized than acknowledged. Widespread acknowledgment and a corresponding political, moral, and economic commitment are essential if this strategic threat to world peace is to be countered. Yet, although some of our nation’s finest minds have acknowledged the profound security implications of population growth over the past six years, they remain no more than a handful. Key factors delaying the appropriate commitment are the desire to avoid: (1) thinking about the gravity of the world predicament; (2) the issues of abortion and teenage childbearing; (3) confrontation with pronatalist organizations; and, most significant, (4) confrontation with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church has exerted great influence on U.S. policy in population matters as a result of its intimidation of elected officials and the built-in reverence most Americans have for an ecclesiastical hierarchy. The teachings of the Church and its hierarchy’s insistence that these teachings be followed have resulted in an unintentional suppression of the substantial knowledge about the consequences of overpopulation. The main source of energy, organization, and direction for the anti-abortion movement in the United States and the movement to frustrate enforcement of U.S. immigration laws is the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately, either humankind or nature will sharply limit population growth—preferably, it will be humankind.

The current world population growth control effort is essentially ineffective. If we are to reverse this trend, the United States must overcome the formidable obstacle that the Catholic hierarchy presents and accept a new leadership role. I suggest that the United States is the only nation capable of successfully surmounting this obstacle.

Redefining National Security

Americans would like to forget that their national security is the foundation for the freedoms and privileges that they cherish. Freedom of political activity, of personal expression, and of the press cannot be realized in the absence of national security. But what do we mean by that? Two decades ago, Arnold Wolfers characterized national security as an ambiguous symbol fraught with semantic and definitional problems. The last quarter of the twentieth century has brought home the realization that threats can no longer be defined solely in terms of armies and the sophistication of their military hardware. It has become increasingly apparent that to the long-standing interest in military affairs and a defense policy must be added topics that affect national security in less obvious but increasingly important ways: energy resources, availability of industrial raw materials, the diffusion of military technology, chronic unemployment, and food production. In this rapidly changing environment, one overwhelming factor underlying these issues remains: global population growth.

Two of the most significant changes in history have occurred since 1945. The first is a drastic decrease in worldwide death rates without a concomitant decrease in birth rates. The second is the sharply increased dependence of affluent nations upon the less affluent nations as suppliers of industrial raw materials.

The world added a fourth billion to its population in a mere fifteen years (1960-1975), and from 1976 to 2000 it will add an additional 2.5 billion. To avert catastrophic food shortages, world food production must increase by 43 percent in the next two decades.*1 This will not occur automatically. Many agriculturists believe a 20 percent increase in food production is a more realistic hope—one percent per year. If we have only a 20 percent increase in food production in the next twenty years, we will have a shortfall equal to the total food requirements of one billion people—one-third of the world’s presently underfed developing world population beyond the existing (1980) shortfall. The International Food Policy Research Institute predicts that even by 1990 the world food deficit will be 120 to 140 million metric tons per year*2—the total food requirements of 660 to 770 million people calculated using the current Indian average of 400 pounds of grain per capita per year. The realistic possibility that hunger may cause widespread disruption of social organization makes world population growth a serious security issue.

Ninety percent of the world’s population growth occurs in the developing world, where growth rates are 2 percent or more per year.*3 It is in the countries of the developing world that the disparity between food production and population growth is the greatest. Hunger-induced social disorganization will cause some nations to lose their domestic stability and internal cohesion. As the security of a nation slips away, surrounding nations will have to be concerned not only with their own diminishing per capita food production but also with the migration of hungry people from neighboring countries. Alternatively, a weakened social fabric may easily result in incremental decreases in food supplies. A catastrophic spiral is thereby set in motion.

Witness Cambodia. Initially, the Pol Pot government deliberately took steps to destroy the existing social organization. Fewer crops were planted, harvested, and distributed; the result was great hunger. Continuing civil strife further reduced food production, and hunger became more widespread. Then, hunger itself hastened social disorganization; both contributed to increased civil strife and damaged the infrastructure of the agricultural system. With each growing season, fewer and fewer crops were planted and hunger increased. Seed stocks were eaten, and fuel needed for food production became less available; draft animals and breeding stocks were slaughtered. By 1979, only a small portion of the food produced just five years earlier was harvested. Social organization has been completely shattered. The millions of deaths due to starvation and the large number of violent deaths are direct results of the destruction of social organization. Hunger did not initiate the devastation in Cambodia, but it has obviously exacerbated its impact.

One of the most significant changes in history is the sharply increased dependence of affluent, developed nations upon the less affluent, developing nations for a steady supply of industrialized raw materials. Modern industry requires steady supplies of aluminum, chromium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, tin, tungsten, and zinc. Out of thirty-six basic raw materials, the United States is now self-sufficient in only ten and is dependent upon foreign sources for increasing percentages of the other twenty-six.*4 In 1979, the U.S. Bureau of Mines released the following figures, which show just how dependent America has become:

Ninety-nine percent of all platinum comes from South Africa, U.S.S.R., and Canada; 90 percent of all cobalt from Zaire, Zambia, Canada, and Morocco; 78 percent of all manganese from South Africa, Gabon, Brazil, and Australia; 70 percent of all chromium from U.S.S.R., South Africa, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and the Philippines; 65 percent of all tin from Malaysia, U.S.S.R., China, and Italy; and 64 percent of all bauxite from Australia, Jamaica, Guinea, and Surinam.*5

In addition, the importance of an uninterrupted supply of petroleum has become evident to all.

It is obvious that political instability in raw-material exporting countries will affect their ability to satisfy the increasing demands of the developed world. Accessibility to these resources can no longer be assumed. A sharp reduction in the flow of essential industrial raw materials to the developed world will have a devastating effect on its industrial systems. Furthermore, the battle is on among the industrialized nations to establish adequate strategic raw material reserves.

The European nations have shown much more concern for securing supplies of strategic materials. West Germany is the leader of the movement with respect to volume, but France has also been quietly stockpiling raw materials since 1975. Emphasis is placed on secrecy. A sharp decline in the import of an essential material can have a devastating effect. For example, a West German government-sponsored report recently noted that a 30 percent decline in chrome imports over one year could cut the country’s entire gross national product by 25 percent because of repercussions in the automobile, aircraft, and defense industries, which depend upon the metal to strengthen steel, among other things.*6

The United States, in the face of sharp reductions in imports of essential industrial raw materials, could realistically expect an urban unemployment/underemployment rate of 30 to 40 percent (rates typical in the developing world today).*7 An unemployment/under-employment rate of this magnitude in American cities, where expectations are high, would impose a direct threat to the nation’s stability.

There are two complicating factors. The first is the threat to U.S. agricultural production capacities. American agriculture enjoys its high productivity, in great part, as a result of the considerable industrial input into the agricultural system. For example, a single farm in the Midwest depends on thousands of chemicals, tools, and pieces of machinery to bring a single crop to the marketplace. Input from the industrial sector is made at every step in the process, from the preparation of hybrid seed to the packaging of the product for supermarket shelves. There are approximately four industrial laborers working to support a single farmer.*8 If our industrial system is severely damaged by the curtailment of raw material imports, our highly industrialized agricultural system would be severely damaged and agricultural production would drop sharply; just how sharply is difficult to predict, but shorter food supplies in the United States would be inevitable.

The second complicating factor is a potential massive influx of illegal immigrants into the United States. A crude estimate is that the number of illegal immigrants during the next twenty years could reach 161 million (see, chapter two). The “boat people” of Indochina are just the first glimmer of what is to come. Even today the boat people of Haiti are landing in southern Florida where more than 25,000 already reside; one-half of this number landing in 1980 alone. More than 110,000 illegal aliens from Cuba, over one percent of the population of that island, were deposited on Florida shores in a seven-week period beginning April 1980.*9

This great migration is bound to have a profound impact on the American socioeconomic environment and is already being felt among the weakest links of our society: the minorities. Managing the domestic impact while minimizing the problems caused by the influx of other migrants will require a considerable investment. Even at the low cost of $1,000 each, the apprehension, detention, processing, and deportation of some 161 million illegal aliens could in theory reach an astounding $161 billion. In these pressures lie the dangers of widespread terrorism, crime against persons and property at a higher rate than now believed possible, and, ultimately, societal disintegration. In comparison, the possibility of a conventional armed attack from the Soviet Union becomes a threat of lesser importance.

Acknowledging the Problem: American Leadership

An acknowledgment that world population growth is a serious threat to the security of all nations, including the United States, is essential if the population problem is to be dealt with successfully. Massive assistance in a population control effort should not be just at the expense of the people of the developing world; rather, it is in everyone’s self-interest to achieve mutual benefits.

Norman Borlaug, father of the green revolution, never looked to his revolution as the solution to the food problem. Rather, he felt that it would buy perhaps an additional fifteen or twenty years, during which the brakes could be applied to population growth.*10 The year 1968 marked the beginning of his revolution. Twelve of those years have now passed, and we have essentially wasted this purchase. In fact, the total impact of the deliberate attempts of governments, excluding China, to achieve population growth control has postponed the scenario described above for only a matter of months. To gain twelve months, population growth control efforts would have to prevent eighty million births—a number that has taken us more than ten years to achieve.*11 Obviously, the present approach is just not working.

Reason dictates that we do not attempt to manage this problem with less than an adequate commitment, and only after world population growth is acknowledged by the United States and other countries to be a serious security threat will adequate allocations be forthcoming and a solution attainable. The United States made the political, moral, and economic commitment to win World War II. Today, it allocates more than one-fourth of its defense budget each year specifically to counter the Russian threat.*12 Arresting population growth requires an enormous effort and a highly complex solution. The exact cost is unknown, but costs comparable to those expended by the United States and the U.S.S.R. to counter the perceived threats to their respective national security cannot be discounted.

The United States has as much at stake as any other nation if the current laissez faire approach to the solution of this extremely complex problem continues. Most countries, expecting the United States to be the leader, have delegated responsibility to us. If the United States does not accept the challenge, the year 2000 will find a world with a billion or more people than it would have had otherwise.

In general, the United States should adopt laws and policies similar to or similar in effect to those of Hong Kong, Singapore, and the People’s Republic of China. Unfortunately, few, if any, nations will follow these governments in the elimination of pronatalist laws and policies and in the institution of antinatalist ones. However, many countries would follow the United States if it boldly instituted these changes.

Pronatalist forces, who encourage births, must be stopped. We must adopt the antinatalist policies that we are suggesting for rapidly growing developing countries. All government policies and laws encouraging childbirth must be changed. All tax incentives for having children must be eliminated, as well as any remaining welfare incentives. Teenage childbearing must be eliminated, and childbearing before the mid-twenties strongly discouraged to lengthen the time between generations. Childless and one-child families must be encouraged.

Leadership is unquestionably the most important component of the world population growth control effort; providing resources or research and development is of far less importance. At this juncture, the United Nations is in no position to provide this leadership. The United Nations possesses neither the influence nor the organizational capacity to do so, nor could leadership be delegated or acquired in some way. We must acknowledge that the United States, with its growing dependence on developing countries, industrialized agriculture, and vulnerability to massive illegal immigration, is as much in jeopardy as any other country. Without this American commitment, the attempt to control population growth will continue to founder, no matter how extensive the research or how great the expenditure.

Taking a Stand

Why has there not been an appropriate government response to global population pressures? Perhaps acknowledgment of the issue must be much more widespread before action by leaders can be expected. An extensive search of the literature indicates that one of the first persons to go on record in this regard was World Population Society founder Dr. Charles Cargill. Cargill emphasized the relationship between national security and population at the first annual meeting of the World Population Society in February 1974 and repeated the point to many groups, including the House Select Committee on Population in 1978.

In 1976, former Assistant Secretary of State George W. Ball referred to demographic pressures in his book, Diplomacy for a Crowded World. In April 1977, World Bank President Robert McNamara underlined the importance of the problem in an address to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. About this same time, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency William Colby made the same avowal in a television news interview and has since reiterated his belief that world population growth is the most serious threat to U.S. security.*13 Lester Brown, ecologist and president of the Worldwatch Institute, has emphasized the salience of population growth factors in his treatise, “Redefining National Security.” In December 1977, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor, referred to these pressures in a press briefing. The same year, former HEW Deputy Assistant Secretary Dr. Louis Hellman recognized the problem in a statement entitled “The U.S. Role in Resolving the World Population Problem,” prepared at the request of President Carter.*14 In February 1978, Ambassador Marshall Green, then coordinator of population affairs, U.S. Department of State, outlined its significance in testimony before the House Select Committee on Population. Retired Army General Maxwell Taylor acknowledged the threat before the same committee in April 1978. In July 1978, former Ohio Governor John J. Gilligan, at that time director of the Agency for International Development (AID), declared world population growth to be a national security threat before the National Press Club. More recently in December 1979, the president’s twenty-member Commission on World Hunger did give some recognition to the threat in their final report.*15 Ambassador Richard Benedick, coordinator of population affairs at the State Department, has made a forceful plea for greater efforts to deal with these threats in an address to the Members of Congress for Peace through Law.

The people listed above represent many careers and political persuasions. This is but a small group of individuals. Ironically enough, there is a conspicuous absence of demographers, the recognized population experts who tend to lead American thought on matters of population. No perceptible government action has yet occurred as a result of these statements. To date, not a single major organization in America has come out and supported these tough positions. Why aren’t more individuals and institutions more courageous in doing so?

Barriers to Effective Action

1. Desire to avoid the issue of abortion. Abortion is an issue that only extremists are comfortable in discussing; there is little room for the middle-of-the-roaders: neutrality invites the enmity of both extremes. To avoid the conflict and the loss of friends, we avoid the subject altogether. Yet, we recognize that no contraceptive method is fail-proof; in fact, some methods, such as rhythm or contraceptive foam, fail quite often. We also recognize that many people do not use a method when they should and some do not have access to a reliable method. Thus, we correctly suspect that any serious population growth control effort will necessarily include great numbers of abortions.

No matter how unfortunate or distasteful, abortion is instrumental in promoting a serious population growth control effort and will remain so for at least another twenty years. Even today, abortion plays a most significant role. Each year there are seventy to ninety million more births than deaths, and each year there are an estimated forty to fifty million or more induced abortions, one-half of which are performed illegally.*16 An abortion followed by use of a moderately effective contraceptive method prevents, on the average, approximately one birth. The world’s growth rate would be roughly 50 percent greater if there were no abortions. Had there been no abortions over the past thirty years, starvation would probably be far more widespread, and our world far more chaotic.

Had birth control been promoted with the same vigor as death control (as advocated by some since the 1940s)*17 from World War II until today, abortion would not need to be encouraged. Now we have no choice but to encourage this procedure. Thus, if we acknowledge that world population growth is a serious threat to the security of all nations, to the security of all persons, and to the survival of all persons, then we will be forced to deal with an issue we prefer to avoid.

2. Desire to avoid the issue of teenage childbearing. In the United States, each year there are approximately one million teenage pregnancies (ages ten to nineteen), accounting for about one out of every four pregnancies. About 300,000 of these pregnancies result in induced abortions, 100,000 result in hasty marriages, and 600,000 result in births.*18 These births cost American taxpayers $8.3 billion every year,*19 an amount greater than the national budget for over one-half of the nations of the world.*20 This is an average of $13,833 for each birth, and is only the direct cost, that is, cash support payments, food stamps, social services, free medical services; the indirect costs are not included in this figure. For example, children raised by teenage parents—little more than children themselves—are far more inclined to become delinquents and criminals and are disproportionately represented in our penal institution population.

Thus far, Americans have failed to compensate for this recent explosion in the number of fertile, sexually active, unwed teenagers. There is but one reason—the lack of courage to deal with four volatile issues: universal sex education; availability and promotion of contraceptives for teenagers; availability and promotion of abortion; and infringement on total reproductive freedom. Therefore, we must unreservedly confront each of these issues before we can deal successfully with the teenage pregnancy problem. The global problems of overpopulation are critical enough without the added pressures of unwanted pregnancies straining the world’s limited resources. Furthermore, the welfare of these accidental births places an overwhelming and unnecessary financial drain on the nation’s domestic economy. Taxpayers should not have to bear the monetary burden for teenagers emotionally and financially unprepared to assume the responsibilities of sexual freedom and subsequent accidental pregnancies. Sex education and the full availability of and accessibility to contraception and abortion are essential if the problem is to be solved. Furthermore, we must adopt the posture that teenagers should not have the freedom to reproduce unless they can handle all direct and indirect costs, and, of course, none can.

3. Desire to avoid confrontation with pronatalist organizations. Pronatalist means encouraging births either intentionally or unintentionally. There are many pronatalist organizations in the United States, many of which are unintentionally pronatalist. An organization providing goods or services for a family on a schedule that is not based on cost per child is pronatalist. It is providing these goods or services free to children of larger families at the expense of smaller families, removing the economic disincentive to have children. Most medical insurance companies and some hotel chains can thus be regarded as pronatalist. If an insurance company, or an employer in its group medical insurance package, requires all employees to share in the costs of childbearing for those who have children during their employment under that package, then that company or employer should be viewed as pronatalist.

The most influential and effective of the pronatalist institutions are the religious institutions. Virtually all religious groups in the United States are pronatalist to some degree. The degree, of course, is determined by their activities to encourage births, ranging from giving prizes each Mother’s Day to the mother with the greatest number of children, to asserting that having many children is an ecclesiastical duty. Significantly, religious groups have always held a special place in the United States. Freedom of religion has been a value treasured since the birth of our nation.

The Role of the Roman Catholic Church Hierarchy

Many of the thoughts in this section are a consequence of a reading of Father Andrew Greeley’s recent book, The Making of the Popes 1978: The Politics of Intrigue in the Vatican (Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, Inc., 1979). Few Americans, Catholic or non-Catholic, have an understanding of the political intrigue that reigns within the Catholic hierarchy, particularly among that small group of older Italian elite headquartered in Rome. In many ways, we Americans have placed our future in their hands. I would suggest that Father Greeley’s book should be considered required reading by every American concerned about the national security of the United States.

The Catholic Church holds a very special place among the pronatalist religious groups and deserves to be discussed separately for several reasons. It is the most influential social institution in the world today and is the best organized religious group, possessing a sophisticated infrastructure, and is highly responsive to the chain of command. In the United States, it is the largest religious group and clearly the most influential.*21 The Church’s teachings on contraception, abortion, and sterilization influence the world’s policies, either with intent or de facto.*22 The Church’s teachings and the hierarchy’s insistence that they be followed is resulting in an unintentional suppression of a vast knowledge of the consequences of overpopulation: that ultimately either man or nature will sharply limit population and that abortion, contraception, and sterilization must be used by every at-risk fertile couple on earth if global peace and security is to be maintained.

While the Catholic Church is no longer influential with its followers in the United States, in matters of reproduction,*23 it is, nevertheless, a powerful political force. Ironically, it is upon the policymakers that the Church’s influence is the greatest. It openly expounds that it no longer honors the concept of the separation of church and state in the United States.*24 It frankly admits its involvement in the political process and its financial support of selected candidates.*25 The Church maintains its political power through the forewarning of our nation’s elected officials by either using or threatening to use its vast resources (funds, communication network, and so forth) and its organization against them.*26 Nowhere is the Catholic hierarchy’s refusal to honor the concept of separation of church and state more obvious than in matters of population growth control.

What has made this tolerance for Catholic influence on U.S. public policy concerns particularly perplexing is that the leadership of the Catholic Church in America owes its allegiance to the leadership in Vatican City, the seat of the Church’s central government, or Curia.*27 Thus, the leaders of the Church in Vatican City are orchestrating this interference in American political affairs. One can suggest that, in effect, a foreign government or a foreign power is interfering with U.S. governmental affairs. Such interference is only one side of the issue.

Causing even greater concern is the recognized difficulty in changing the Church’s stand on contraception, abortion, and population growth control. When Pope John XXIII came to power in 1958, there were fifty-two members of the College of Cardinals, twelve of whom were in their eighties. In 1962, Pope John XXIII called the Ecumenical Council Vatican II amid signs that the teachings of the Church on these matters of contraception, abortion, and population growth control were about to change. Unfortunately, he died before the second of the four sessions commenced. Even before his death, there had been considerable controversy between the progressives (including Pope John) and the ultraconservatives. Pope Paul VI then came to power, giving the edge to the ultraconservative faction. Pope Paul with the assistance (solicited or unsolicited) of Curial reactionaries, including Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, and operating in an information vacuum, solidified his political position on this matter. First, in the selection of new cardinals and bishops to replace those who died, he ranked the candidates by their attitudes toward contraception, abortion, and population control, selecting the most conservative (almost a single-issue selection, as we say in American politics).*28 Second, to dilute the power of the moderates, the Pope expanded the size of the College of Cardinals to an all-time high of 145 in 1973. The number entitled to participate in papal elections was limited to 120.*29 Thus, he ensured that the ultraconservative faction would be selecting the next pope, as well as some others in the future. Certainly no moderation on fertility matters occurred during Pope Paul’s reign.

Pope John Paul I lived just long enough to demonstrate to the world that Pope Paul’s political maneuvers were successful. Pope John Paul II wasted no time confirming that Pope Paul’s strategy had successfully extended beyond the election of his successor. During Pope John Paul II’s visits to the Western Hemisphere, he made it painfully clear that he intends no changes in population control policy. In the words of the Irish writer-diplomat, Conor Cruise O’Brien, “Where Pope Paul was cautiously and colorlessly conservative, Pope John Paul II is a crusading traditionalist ….”*30

The power struggle within the Catholic Church over the past twenty years has made it apparent, even to the casual observer, that abortion, contraception, and population growth control are political issues within the Catholic Church leadership, not moral issues. It is sometimes difficult to believe that the leadership of the Church may regard these as moral issues. The vast majority of Catholic theologians were dismayed by Pope Paul’s continued insistence in his encyclical Humanae Vitae that contraception, abortion, and population growth control are immoral. One need only read the paper “Catholic Perspectives on Population Issues” by Francis X. Murphy, C.S.S.R., and Joseph F. Erhart (Population Reference Bureau, Washington, D.C., 1975)*31, in which the overwhelming support (clearly a majority) for changing the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception, abortion, and population growth control by theologians, clergy, and lay leaders alike is thoroughly documented, to see just how widespread this overwhelmingly negative response to Humanae Vitae was among theologians and lay leaders. From the preceding observations, it is safe to suggest that the men who are leaders of the Catholic Church in America have more in common with their colleagues of the Italian Curia than they do with the mainstream of American Catholics.

Few American Catholics probably believe that it is God’s will to bring hundreds of millions (or more likely billions) of children into the world in the next few decades, only to have them suffer for a few months or a few years and perish—an inevitable prospect under current teachings of birth control. It is estimated that 365 million people were chronically undernourished when Humanae Vitae was issued in 1968.*32 According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in over sixty developing countries, growth in agricultural production did not match population growth during the years 1970 to 1977.*33 The World Food Council estimated that in 1979 the number of people who were severely undernourished had grown to 450 million and that of people with some degree of malnutrition to 1.3 billion.*34

In 1978, according to UNICEF, thirty million children under age five starved to death.*35 In 1978, 134 million children were born and 22 percent of this number died from starvation. The simple reality is that we are bringing more children into the world than we can provide for. At current rates (thirty million per year), 900 million children will be born and will die of starvation in the next thirty years alone. This is a most crushing thought. Even worse, the rate is certain to climb far above thirty million tragic deaths per year even under the best circumstances.

The Vatican leadership of the Church not only is irresponsible for having thwarted unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral efforts to slow population growth for almost thirty years but also for not having led the population growth control effort. As the world’s largest and most influential social organization, the Church could have been the single most important force in preventing the great human tragedy we are just beginning to witness.*36

The Vatican’s current position on population matters has undermined and possibly negated most of the positive contributions it has made in global development in the past two thousand years. An NBC white paper on illegal immigration from Mexico aired March 28, 1980, was most revealing in this regard. In this program, a Catholic priest asked a Mexican couple, who were in the United States illegally, how many children they had. Nine was the response. Exclaimed the priest, “Oh! How wonderful!” It is not wonderful. It is tragic for Mexico and its people, and it has profound implications for the United States and the Western Hemisphere. Such attitudes on the part of a powerful institution make one search for other motives.

The Roman Catholic Church has been a source of considerable pressure in the United States, supporting lax immigration policies. Its support of illegal Mexican immigration cannot be completely accounted for by the Church’s desire to build a political power base, as some have suggested.*37 The March 1980 NBC program demonstrated that the bishops and priests were motivated by an intense feeling of guilt derived from the Church’s absolute insistence that everyone bring more children into the world than our earth can provide for. There is obviously a built-in contradiction resulting in efforts to accept, perhaps increase, the illegal flow of Mexicans into the United States. The Church is suggesting that millions ignore U.S. immigration policies and our relations with Mexico. Certainly nothing has contributed more to the poverty, the despair, and the human suffering of Mexico than the definite encouragement of large families among Mexicans. But, as the NBC program queried, can or should the United States be expected to pay the price?

It is apparent that the influence of the ultraconservative wing of the Catholic Church is shaping opposition to effective population control policies. My own analysis suggests that these ultraconservatives fear any policy that would undermine the Church’s claim to infallibility. Any reversals of traditional, accepted Catholic doctrine might blasphemously imply a previous oversight or misconception on the part of the Catholic Church. Certainly the Church is aware that a population program can only be marginally successful if abortion and sterilization services are not widely available and their use encouraged; nevertheless, the Catholic Church inflexibly adheres to its antiquated tenets. On these issues, confrontation with the Catholic Church has not only affected the tenor of the domestic debate but it has also influenced the range of our foreign assistance programs. I would suggest that the Church has perhaps blocked a productive consideration of global population pressures as a threat to U.S. national security.

Looking into the Future

Failure to acknowledge that population growth threatens persons and nations calls attention to a number of somber scenarios. Those few aspects discussed below provide some indication of the profound challenges we can expect, from family to federal government. Our procrastination in confronting the problem will probably be expensive and the price will increase with each year of continued delay.

There could be great impingement on our personal life-style. As we procrastinate, the degree of regimentation that we will encounter as the demand for food, fuel, and other resources outstrips shrinking supplies will grow rapidly. This continued delay brings us closer and closer to a society similar to George Orwell’s 1984. The People’s Republic of China is a highly regimented society regulated in order to manage effectively a population that had outstripped the resources of the land. To maintain social organization—and to avoid chaos in China—very strict regimentation had to be imposed to derive maximum benefit from scarce resources. Our refusal to respond to the threat of overpopulation is bringing us dangerously close to such a highly regimented society because our resource base is shrinking. The longer we procrastinate, the more strict and the more extensive will be the regimentation.

The great influx of aliens attempting illegal immigration will have a profound impact on American life. The requirement of carrying a national identification card at all times will be imposed. Anti-terrorist activities may force a sharp retreat in the promotion of civil rights. An increased police/domestic military presence to counter terrorist and other criminal activities by underemployed illegal aliens will be more evident. An expansion in our Coast Guard service is most likely. Money spent to halt, apprehend, and deport illegal aliens will be one of the largest expenditures in the U.S. budget. The money spent will include the estimated $161 billion that will be needed over the next twenty years for apprehension, detention, processing, and deportation of the estimated 161 million illegal aliens discussed earlier.

As conditions deteriorate in the United States in the coming decades, American Catholics and non-Catholics alike will look for targets upon which to lay blame for the decline. Some will remember the compassion shown by Pope John XXIII in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the widespread belief among Catholic theologians, clergy, and lay leaders that contraception, abortion, and population growth control were necessary and moral. Some will question why the leadership of the American Catholic Church did not argue for change in the Church’s teachings on these matters. Some will realize that the teachings of the Church, reaffirmed in 1968, were inconsistent with peace, prosperity, or even the continued security of Americans.

The American military establishment will undergo profound changes. For example, its size may drastically increase in response to increasing global insecurity. Soldiers will be asked to fight to ensure the continued supply of materials essential to the survival of Americans and to maintain domestic order.

This is but a sample of the consequences due to our refusal to acknowledge population growth as a security threat. This acknowledgment must occur before an adequate political, economic, and moral commitment will be forthcoming. As our supplies of resources shrink, as social disorganization increases, and as we become concerned with mere survival, the freedoms that Americans have enjoyed for so long will vanish one by one.


This essay has not described a world population growth control program. Presently no one knows the specifics of a successful program; no one has ever seriously outlined the appropriate financial commitment (admittedly an expensive one). There is a frightening lack of respect for the world population problem. Likewise, there is no clear respect for an appropriate response. I would suggest that we are talking about a Marshall Plan or something similar to our space program. Ultimately, it could run in the $30 billion per year range.

The ease with which people assume that the future will be a simple extension of the past, despite the two significant historical changes of unprecedented world population growth and increased American political and economic dependence upon the developing world, may be the single greatest danger that we face in the coming decades. We simply cannot make this assumption. At a minimum, our national leaders should address the issue; it needs to become a key item in our national policy agenda.

The inevitability of widespread social and political chaos in the face of continued unprecedented 2 percent growth for the next two decades makes population growth the single greatest threat to world peace. Strategically, acknowledgment of this new threat is a must if an adequate political, moral, and economic commitment to action is to be forthcoming. The effective opposition to population growth control activities by the Catholic hierarchy has clearly been the single greatest deterrent. This is a political issue that needs to be overcome, hopefully with the help of Catholics themselves. It is fair to say that, using the teachings of the Church, the Vatican has effectively thwarted the development of and successful implementation of population policies worldwide with the exception of the People’s Republic of China. Because of its global geopolitical presence, its economic capabilities, and the strength of its democratic institutions, the only nation capable of successfully addressing that barrier is the United States.

In the face of continued inaction, the scenarios described earlier will become a reality. We should prefer a massive effort that later proves to be unnecessary (but yet had the worldwide side effects of improved food production, nutritional status, maternal and child health, literacy, advancement of women’s rights, environment, and security) to a lesser effort that later proves to be totally inadequate.

In order to avert this demographic disaster, strong decisive leadership is the key. What is needed is a highly influential and respected organization that can elicit unwavering commitments from other countries and command whatever resources deemed necessary to achieve its final goal. The United States alone has the capacity to marshal these commitments and, more importantly, it has the tremendous organizational skills needed for this massive effort. This effort may require ten million full-time employees or more, with a U.S. component of several hundred thousand. The first step, however, must be a dedicated commitment by the United States acted upon immediately.

At present, no such institution exists nor would any combination of those existing suffice. Only the creation of a NASA-type agency, modeled on a military organization, and with a wartime sense of urgency, will be adequate. Selection of this organization will not solve the problem, but it will identify an efficient organizational framework most able to effect a solution.


*1 From a statement by S. T. Keel, senior vice-president of the International Minerals and Chemical Corporation, in World Development Letter (December 17, 1979), 2:24:96.

*2 From the World Development Letter (July 2, 1979), 2:13:50.

*3 Using the 1979 World Population Estimates prepared by the Environmental Fund, the current annual increase in the developed world (North America, Europe, Japan, U.S.S.R., and Oceania) is 8 million as opposed to the annual increase of 74.56 million in the developing world (Latin America, Africa, and Asia excluding Japan) or 9.7 percent and 90.3 percent respectively. Using the same data source, the rates of growth for the two were found to be 0.7 percent and 2.26 percent respectively.

*4 A. W. Schmidt, speech presented at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, June 12, 1978. The Other Side (January 1980), 18:1.

*5 From the World Development Letter (February 12, 1979), 2:3:12.

*6 A. Spence, “European Nations Move on Two Fronts to Secure Supplies of Strategic Materials,” Wall Street Journal (September 9, 1979).

*7 The International Labor Office estimates that 40 percent of the workforce of 700 million people in the developing world outside China and other communist countries are unemployed or underemployed. This estimate combines both urban and rural areas. About 33 million are unemployed and the rest are underemployed and seek additional work either because they work only a few hours per day or too few days per year. Jean van der Tak, Carl Haub, and Elaine Murphy, “Our Population Predicament: A New Look,” Population Bulletin (December 1979), 34:5:21.

*8 From a bulletin devoted to the industrialization of American agriculture. “The Food and Fiber System—How It Works,” Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Information Bulletin No. 383 (March 1975), pp. 1-3.

*9 W. L. Chaze, “In the Last Days of Cuban Boatlift,” U.S. News and World Report (June 16, 1980), p. 29.

*10 L. R. Brown, “Population and Affluence: Growing Pressures on World Food Resources,” Population Bulletin (1973), 29:2: 10.

*11 This estimate of the number of births prevented by organized family planning programs was calculated in the following manner. If we assume that the world population growth rate has declined 0.4 percent—2.3 percent to 1.9 percent—if we assume that one-half of this decline is due to organized programs, a generous assumption, and if we assume that this decline has been in full effect for the past decade, also a generous assumption, then, using the 1975 population of 4.0 billion as a base, 8 million births would have been prevented each year for ten years, for a total of 80 million births prevented. Since the annual growth of the world population is 80 million, this means that all organized efforts to date have only bought us twelve additional months to solve the problem. This estimate shows just how small is the effect of existing programs but, more importantly, it shows us how far we have to go.

*12 From 1978 to 1980, the average defense budget has exceeded $120 billion, and more than $30 billion has been allocated specifically to counter the perceived Russian threat. (From the Budget of the United States, p. 89, Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1979.)

*13 From an article entitled “Population” in the Cincinnati Enquirer (August 13, 1978) that referred to a statement made by Mr. Colby in testimony before a congressional committee a few days earlier.

*14 Dr. Louis Hellman, deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, “The U.S. Role in Resolving the World Population Problem,” submitted to the president upon request, January 1977. The Other Side (July 1978), 13:1.

*15 The report predicts that a major shortage of food could occur in the next twenty years—with disastrous effects for the U.S. Commission Chairman Sol Linowitz, in his accompanying letter to the president, stated that, “A hungry world is an unstable world.” The report goes on to say, “The most potentially explosive force in the world today is the frustrated desire of poor people to attain a decent standard of living. The anger, despair, and often hatred that result represent a real and persistent threat to international order.”

*16 T. M. King, “Abortion and Abortifacients,” The Draper Fund Report (Summer 1978), 6:27.

*17 See, G.I. Burch and E. Pendell, Human Breeding and Survival: Population Roads to Peace or War (New York: Penguin Books, Inc., 1947).

*18 From a fundraising letter prepared for Mary Tyler Moore’s signature by the Population Institute, Washington, D.C., 1979.

*19 The estimate was made by Stanford Research Institute and reported in the Washington Post (May 12, 1979), p. 10.

*20 The World Almanac and Book of Facts (New York: Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc., 1979), pp. 513-599.

*21 This is in spite of the fact that (according to Greeley), after Vatican Council II: “Colorless administrators were appointed to critical positions instead of leaders with broad vision—most notably in the United States (to punish the American Church for supporting Vatican Council II) where, according to one historian, the hierarchy has never been as undistinguished as it is now” (p. 98).

*22 There are three exceptions: People’s Republic of China, Singapore, and Hong Kong. All communist countries, including the Soviet Union, except China, are being influenced by these teachings (see, A.C. White, “A Long Campaign,” People (1980), 7:1:21.

*23 Traditional large family of American Catholics is no longer the norm. Family Planning Perspectives (July/August 1978), 10:4:241. From C.F. Westoff and E.F. Jones, “The End of ‘Catholic’ Fertility” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Atlanta, April 12-15, 1978).

*24 From E. Willis, “Abortion Rights: Overruling Pro-Fascist,” The Village Voice (February 4, 1980), p. 7:

[In] Judge John F. Dooling’s 328-page decision striking down the Hyde Amendment…. He demonstrates that the purpose of the Hyde Amendment was never to save the taxpayers’ money, keep the government neutral on a delicate moral issue, or distinguish between “necessary” and so-called “convenience” abortions. The amendment, says Dooling bluntly, was a ploy by anti-abortion congressmen frustrated in their attempt to pass a constitutional amendment that would override the Supreme Court’s 1973 pro-abortion decision; its purpose was quite simply to circumvent the Court’s ruling and prevent as many abortions as possible. Dooling, a practicing Catholic, makes short work of the anti-abortionists’ pretensions to being a spontaneous grassroots movement that owes its political victories to sheer moral appeal. He confirms that right-to-life’s main source of energy, organization, and direction has been the Catholic Church and describes in detail how the movement uses one-issue voting to put pressure on legislators, candidates, and the party organizations that nominate them—a tactic that gains its influence far out of proportion to its numbers. After quoting various Christian and Jewish theologians’ differing opinions on abortion and the question of fetal personhood, Dooling argues that the anti-abortionists’ absolutist view is not based on any moral or religious consensus but reflects a sectarian position that “is not genuinely argued; it is adamantly asserted…. The Hyde Amendment,” he concludes, “is religiously motivated legislation that imposes a particular theological viewpoint, violating dissenters’ First Amendment rights.”

*25 A fundraising letter from the Fund to Defeat the Abortion Candidates, a project of LIFE-PAC, The Anti-Abortion Political Action Committee, Washington, D.C. (an arm of the Catholic Church), received in March 1980, signed by Father Vincent Tanzola, S.J., containing a color photograph of the pope and a quote, shows how open the Church has been in its political activities. The following excerpts illuminate this point:

For years Catholics have helped to lead the fight against legalized abortions, but we must face the facts, our fight is far from over. For years our efforts have focused on national leaders in national elections and Amendments to the U.S. Constitution…. Local and statewide races are our target. Our goals are very simple and very direct. We plan on cutting the pipeline for all state funds being used to buy the death of unborn children. We’ll do this by voting abortionist legislators, county officials, and other key elected persons out of our local and state government…. And we’ve proven we can do it—LIFE-PAC is the oldest pro-life political action committee, and we have been successful in 82 percent of the races we have worked in…. Most recently, LIFE-PAC scored a major victory by helping elect a solid pro-life candidate to the Governorship of Louisiana…. Now we have the chance to duplicate our efforts in about five hundred specifically targeted local and statewide races. We can defeat abortion candidates and elect pro-life representatives…. Please help LIFE-PAC do our special work. Please hear the words of our beloved Pope John Paul II … and put an end to abortion by helping to elect pro-life candidates to office.

*26 In 1976, Representative Daniel Flood (D-Pennsylvania), a Catholic, spoke eloquently against the first anti-abortion amendment attached to a Medicaid bill. Three weeks later, Flood reversed his position and has been a leader of anti-abortion members since. “My bishop got to me,” Flood told a colleague.

“It’s the holy wars all over again,” said Representative William Clay (D-Missouri), a Catholic from a heavily Catholic district. “I’m here to represent the citizens of the United States, not the Catholic Church. A priest in St. Louis told people it would be a sin to vote for me.”

Representative Frank Thompson (D-New Jersey), a Catholic: “But then the good father speaks from the pulpit. He has the Knights of Columbus, the Altar and Rosary Society, and the PTA approaching their fellow parishioners with petitions and postcards. I think many of them feel coerced into signing.”

Y. Glaser, “Right-to-Vote? Abortion Advocacy Brings Added Pressures to Catholic Congressmen,” Charlotte Observer (August 1978), C-1:27.

*27 Father Greeley defines the Roman Curia as “the Church’s Central Administration Civil Service, internationalized at the top level but still mostly Italian at lower levels” (p. 251), and the Italian Curia “not all of whose members are Italian, is that informal group of churchmen who generally support the policy and the perspective of the more conservative Italian Cardinals residing in Rome. Usually when people speak of the Curia, they mean the Italian Curia” (p. 252). The following passages are most illuminating:

(a) On quest for power: “The Curia leaders are still ruthless in their quest for power, absolutely unforgiving to their enemies, and not very trustworthy to their friends” (p.40).

(b) On the Birth Control Commission: “Only a few members of the commission dissented, but those were Curialists like Cardinal Ottaviani…. Ottaviani and his colleagues began to orchestrate a backstairs campaign against the commission decision, complete with articles in magazines and newspapers, letters from the bishops around the world, and protests from carefully chosen ‘Catholic married couples’” (p. 45). (The Italian Curialists censored information going to the pope.)

*28 Also from Father Greeley: “Humanae Vitae was the catalyst. After that, it’s been all downhill, and everyone in the Church, from parish priest-sociologist on up to would-be Cardinals and Cardinals, has been judged by his response to that encyclical” (p. 84). “The birth control problem was not even open for discussion among Catholic theologians, and loyalty to the decision was a sine qua non for promotion. In some cases, it seemed the only criterion” (p. 100).

*29 F.A. Foy (editor), 1978 Catholic Almanac (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1978), p. 198.

*30 C.C. O’Brien, “The Pope and the Unwanted Child,” People (1980), 7:1:24.

*31 This thirty-one-page monograph is essential for a full understanding of the Church’s “unresolvable moral dilemma.” It discusses the fact that the “Catholic Church still influences a considerable proportion of the world’s thinking.” It demonstrates the Church’s clear understanding of the “catastrophic threat of overpopulation” and “the projected apocalyptic possibility of a doubling of the world’s population.” A thorough history is provided, excluding most of the internal political aspects, of course. Some examples of the interference in the activities of the United Nations agencies (WHO, FAO, UNICEF, UNESCO) regarding family planning and population policy research that completely thwarted efforts for two critical decades, and continues somewhat less effectively today, are provided. Most important, the overwhelming support (clearly a majority) for changing the Church’s teaching on contraception, abortion, and population growth control by theologians, clergy, and lay leaders alike is thoroughly documented.

*32 Based on FAO estimates. Van der Tak, et al., op. cit., p. 25.

*33 “World Hunger and Malnutrition Continue: Slow Progress in Carrying Out World Food Conference Objectives,” report to the Congress of the United States, Comptroller General, ID-80-12 (January 1980), p. 49.

*34 lbid., p. 22.

*35 From an address by Robert S. McNamara, president of the World Bank, to the Board of Governors, Belgrade, Yugoslavia (October 2, 1979).

*36 A four-year study by a group of Roman Catholic theologians documents the scholarly justifications for marked “refinements” in traditional Catholic teachings on contraception, sterilization, and other aspects of sexuality. The report, published by Paulist Press under the title Human Sexuality, New Directions in American Catholic Thought, was commissioned by the prestigious Catholic Theological Society of America, a group of ordained and lay scholars. The theologians traced evidence from biblical scriptures, official Church statements, and documents covering centuries of tradition and theology as well as contemporary knowledge in the empirical sciences. On the basis of these analyses, they concluded that sexual contact should be “conducive to creative growth and integration.” The chapter on pastoral guidelines states:

The attitude, therefore, of “leaving it all in the hands of God and accepting whatever he sends” is both simplistic and morally irresponsible. Responsible parenthood demands readiness to acknowledge that there are situations and conditions where it would be irresponsible and hence immoral to beget children. [emphasis added]

“Theologians Urge ‘Refinements’ in Catholic Teachings on Sex,” Planned Parenthood, World Population Washington Memo (July 15, 1977), p. 4.

*37 M.H. Mothersill, Population Portents (Indianapolis: Mothersill, 1963), p. 73.

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).

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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