How the Vatican influences population growth policy

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 27 December 2016
Church and State

(Credit: Riccardo De Luca – Update /

This excerpt has been adapted from Chapter 10 of 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.

Vatican Influence on Domestic and Foreign Policy-making in the United States

Most of the Vatican’s political influence in this country has been developed within this century. To achieve this end, it is undeniable that the Vatican has taken advantage of the fundamental fair-minded­ness of the American people, and the hierarchy continues to gain strength in the genial and tolerant climate of America. Though it is apparent that the Vatican is influencing U.S. policy in other areas, such as the defense and military, we shall concern ourselves only with population growth control at this point.

The Vatican began its opposition to birth control in 1914; in 1930, the hierarchy became the world’s leading opponent of contra­ception.[1] Since then, the hierarchy has been methodically crippling, prostituting, or destroying population growth control institutions around the world. With its “divine authority,” the Church has exer­cised its sovereignty over the United States in matters of “faith and morals” and politically opposed those activities at variance with “Catholic morality,” including all activities related to population growth control.

As late as September 20, 1983, the pope stated in the clearest of language the Church’s implacable position on contraception. Speak­ing at Castel Gandolfo to fifty bishops attending a seminar on responsi­ble parenthood, the pope condemned artificial contraception in unprecedentedly severe terms. “Contraception,” he said, “is so illicit that it can never, for any reasons, be justified.”[2] If there was any remaining doubt about this pope or the Church changing its position on contraception, it disappeared with this and other recent proclama­tions.

In December 1983, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education issued “Educational Guidance in Human Love.” The docu­ment reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on sexuality. However, para­graph sixty-five of the document states, “It is the task of the state to safeguard its citizens against injustice and moral disorders such as the … improper use of demographic information.” The purpose of this paragraph is plain. The 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family had decried “improper” use of demographic statistics to cause “hysteria” or other “emotional reactions” of despair. According to a report in Population Today, “This new warning against employing ‘improper’ demographics was based on the same concern, and—like the 1980 statement—was aimed squarely at governments. Preventing the ‘mis­use’ of demographics is, according to the guideline, a government’s responsibility.”[3]

In other words, it is the responsibility of governments to censor demographic information that suggests the existence of a population problem. Shortly after Reagan was elected, this “misuse” or “improp­er” use of demographic information all but stopped flowing from our government. Not since the Global 2000 Report was published in 1980 by the Carter administration has there been any significant informa­tion on overpopulation published by our government, no doubt in response to the 1980 Synod statement. It is as if the Reagan adminis­tration expects the problem of overpopulation to go away if it is ig­nored.

More recently, the Vatican has issued a new proclamation, Charter of the Rights of the Family (see, appendix five). According to this proclamation, governments and international agencies are obli­gated to: perform their duties in accordance with the “objective moral order” which excludes recourse to contraception, sterilization, and abortion; ban the concept of population growth control; ban incen­tives and disincentives for having small families; and provide big families with adequate public welfare (Article 3). Human life must be protected from the moment of conception (Article 4). Parents have the right to educate their children, and the Vatican will tell them what’s in the best interest of the children—not the federal Department of Education. Parents should receive tuition tax credits, and the government has a responsibility to subsidize church schools. Govern­ments should ban sex education in schools. School prayer should be in all public schools. Government must control information and enter­tainment, favoring censorship in order to ensure public morality (Article 5). Public authorities must not grant divorce (Article 6). Families have the right to form “New Right” organizations to protect the family, undertake censorship, and so forth, and to lobby the government (Article 9). Governments must make it possible for mothers to have as many children as they choose and to be able to stay home and raise their families (Article 10).

“The Vatican is sending copies of its Family Charter to all govern­ments and international agencies to serve ‘as a model and a point of reference for the drawing up of future legislation and family policy,’ according to Archbishop Edouard Gagnon, the Vatican’s family expert.”[4] Furthermore, in a blatant show of bigotry and arrogance, the Holy See distributed copies of this document at the World Population Conference in Mexico City in August 1984.

We can expect to soon see these new pronouncements reflected in Reagan administration policy. In December 1981, it made one serious attempt to completely eliminate the international population assistance program by leaving the program out of the budget.[5] It is appar­ently complying with the Vatican request to “protect the public morality” by censoring demographic information. Only one month later, Population Today reported the following:

“Demographic trends of the last two decades have greatly influ­enced major institutions in American society and have caused significant changes in public policies…. Future trends will be at least as influential.”

That quotation comes not from some data-making guru but from a Reagan administration report—one that the public will not see. Prepared last fall, the internal study was written for the Cabinet Council of Economic Affairs—one of about ten such groups of cabinet secretaries that meet on a frequent basis to con­sider future national policy.

Though their study was made for internal consumption only and is unobtainable, the Washington Post typically gained access to a copy and in January published excerpts that make intriguing reading….[6]

How does the Vatican influence U.S. policy? In hundreds of ways. Most important in creating many of these opportunities is the Church’s almost unimaginable wealth. Recently Luigi Di Fonzo, a Harvard professor, published an extensive study of Vatican wealth. “The Vatican’s total assets—not including the assets of the Roman Catholic Church, but including stock it controls on the New York and American stock exchanges, and property, gold reserves, and paintings—are probably $50 billion to $60 billion….[7] The Catholic Church in the United States, with “assets of more than $100 billion, today possesses more than ten times the combined wealth of IBM, Exxon, General Motors, and U.S. Steel.”[8] There is no accountability for these funds to anyone except the Vatican. Everything is done in com­plete secrecy.[9] It is simply mind-boggling to see Vatican claims of compassion for the poverty-stricken in Latin America in the face of this fantastic accumulation of wealth.

(Photo by Tejj on Unsplash)

Given our tax laws, and in the continued absence of any kind of redistribution of this wealth, the Church will continue to amass wealth indefinitely. Mexico was witness to the behavior of the Church that we are seeing in the United States today. By the time of its independ­ence, the Church in Mexico had acquired perhaps half the land and capital wealth of the country. This is the reason that in Latin America “priests have become identified in the minds of the people with exploi­tation, superstition, and tyranny.”[10]

One of its most important accomplishments is instilling children in its school system with the idea that Catholics are persecuted, that non-Catholics are determined to injure them, that all criticism of the Church and its hierarchy is directed against them personally. Children are taught to reject all criticism of the Church as being unjust, to be angered by this criticism, to hate the individuals at the source of the criticism. Catholic children who are active in the Church are “pro­grammed” to respond this way. The thought process is blocked in such a way that negative information about the Church cannot be received and evaluated by using one’s intelligence. Instead, it is automatically rejected no matter how truthful or justified it may be.

The hierarchy is a master at capitalizing on the anger and hatred generated by this criticism, capturing it, and channeling it in ways to make it productive for the advancement of its own agenda. This gener­ates the considerable human energy that drives Catholic Action and many individual Roman Catholics.

The hierarchy avoids most direct attempts to influence policy. These activities are restricted to vociferous support for a public policy or announcements that they will lead a defiance movement if a certain policy is enacted.

As Congressman William Clay (D-Missouri) found (see, note twenty-six, chapter one), whenever any issue arises in Congress that affects Catholic interests, a seasoned lobbyist in priestly garb is likely to appear in a Congressman’s office reminding the legislator that 52 million Catholics in America feel thus and so about this matter. Even when the legislator knows full well that the opinion is actually that of a handful of top-ranking bishops, acting on orders from Rome, he may swallow his convictions and say, “Yes, yes,” because he is aware that in America the powerful bishops speak for American Catholics. Should he not comply, Catholic pressures can be mortally effective in swinging any close election against him.[11]

The hierarchy has learned to act indirectly through Catholic lay­persons. The hierarchy acts through Catholic politicians such as Lindy Boggs (D-Louisiana) and Charles Rangel (D-New York). There are many similar examples directly affecting population growth control. Ravenholt, in his memo, pointed to several acts of Clement Zablocki (D-Wisconsin). Other obvious examples include Tip O’Neill (D-Massachusetts), who killed the Simpson-Mazzoli bill in a thinly veiled act in December 1983, Henry Hyde (D-Illinois), and Jeremiah Denton (R-Alabama). They act through hundreds of bureaucrats such as John H. Murphy and John H. Sullivan, as Ravenholt pointed out in his memo. They act through Catholic laypersons not associated with the government, such as Paul Brown, executive director, Life Amendment Political Action Committee (LAPAC), Phyllis Schlafly, executive director of Eagle Forum, and Peter Donaldson and John Ganly of Family Health International.

The hierarchy has also learned to act indirectly through political, bureaucratic, and religious “independents”—non-Catholics who have something to gain by cooperation. Examples include Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), Robert Kasten (R-Wisconsin), and Mark Siljander (R-Michigan), who were elected with considerable assistance from the hierarchy and are dependent upon its continued support, financial and otherwise, for reelection. The Helms Amendment that has blocked international population assistance for abortion activities for a decade was written by John H. Sullivan, a Catholic. Examples of non-Catho­lic bureaucrats who have “cooperated” with the Church include Sander Levin and Dr. Stephen Joseph, two key figures mentioned in Ravenholt’s memorandum. Examples of nongovernment non-Catho­lics who have “cooperated” with the Church include Malcolm Potts and Sharon Camp. I can name scores of non-Catholics in these cate­gories just from my own experience in population and I am sure that population is only the tip of the iceberg. In a sense, the non-Catholics are the most important to the Church for influencing policy. They allow the hierarchy to keep their hands perfectly clean.

[1] Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, p. 138.
[2] Le Monde, Paris (September 20, 1983).
[3] “Vatican on Misuse of Statistics,” Population Today (1984), 12:2:5.
[4] “Vatican Charter Urges Government Support for Parochiaid, Censorship, Population Growth,” Church and State (1984), 37:1:16.
[5] “President Is Urged to Strengthen U.S. Population Resolve,” Popline (1982), 4:11:1.
[6] “Administration Tracking Demographic Trends,” Population Today (1984), 12:3:3.
[7] R. Benedetto, “Vatican Influence,” U.S.A. Today June 17, 1983), p. 11.
[8] D. W. Foster, “God and the IRS,” The Humanist (1984), 44:1:14.
[9] S. Salerno, “All This and Heaven Too,” Harper’s (June 1982), p. 54.
[10] Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, p. 281.
[11] Ibid., p. 29.

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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