How the Catholic Church is threatened by population growth control

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 28 February 2024
Church and State


Excerpt from our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s book, The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning (1984). The book is available at Kindle here and to read for free here.

Appendix 2: How Papal Authority is Threatened by Population Growth Control

The proposed solutions to the problem of population growth threaten the continued existence of the Catholic Church as it has evolved over the past 2000 years.

It is a matter of public record that the leadership of the Church recognizes this threat and are acting accordingly. Their point of view has been discussed in one of their newspapers, The National Catholic Reporter; and in an article reprinted in one of their journals, Conscience, in May 1984. According to Thomas Burch, a Georgetown University sociologist and member of the 1966 Papal Commission on Population and Birth Control, the questions put forth to the Commission by the Vatican were quite frank: “(1) Suppose the Vatican changed its mind on contraception. What can we do to present this in such a way that the Church will not lose its moral influence over people? and (2) Suppose the Vatican changed its mind on these issues [population and birth control]. How can we preserve our (the Church’s) influence over the marital behavior of individuals?” Of course Professor Burch was shocked by the nature of the Vatican’s concerns. The ultimate decision of the Holy See became all too clear with the publication of Humanae Vitae. The Church could not change its position without great loss of authority and power: Instead, this Encyclical initiated the great holy war against family planning now underway.

Unless and until this issue is resolved, there is no hope for population growth control by any humane means. Instead, growth control will be left to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The solutions—abortion, family planning, equal rights for women, sex education—threaten the papacy, the ultimate bastion of the church, because they so seriously undermine the pope’s authority. It is important to understand how such measures can be considered threatening. To do so we must examine the history of the Church and the sources of this authority.

Professor Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, a Catholic and a sociologist who has worked in the Vatican for years, devotes a lengthy book, Papal Power,[1] published by the University of California Press in 1980, to this subject. Most literate people are aware that Pope John Paul II has laid papal authority on the line by repeatedly condemning birth control and abortion, pronouncing many times that neither can ever be justified under any circumstances. Let us first differentiate power, authority and control.

Power is not only actual participation in a decision-making process. Vaillancourt wrote that it is “a capacity to overcome part or all of the resistance, to introduce change in the face of opposition.” Power is not necessarily coercive (based on the use of force). It can be persuasive or utilitarian.

“Authority,” he observed, “is defined as legitimate power. Authority is not competence or personal influence or leadership. It has to do with legitimate, institutionalized, officially sanctioned power. It is the right to make decisions.”

Control is another related concept. According to Vaillancourt, “It can refer to the internalization of norms and values, but it can also refer to power used by one social agent to make another abide by the rules. Social control can be imposed by external force, accepted for economic reasons, or internalized in one’s conscience by socialization and by manipulative techniques.”

The devastating crisis for the papacy derives from the fact that by legalizing contraception, abortion and other solutions and adopting them as government policy, the authority of the State is visibly pitted against that of the Church:

1. The State is publicly questioning the extent of the Church’s legitimate, officially sanctioned power, the very basis of authority.

2. The State is publicly rejecting the claim of papal infallibility.

3. The State is publicly repudiating the Church’s claim of the God-given right to be the supreme governor of all men (Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors[2]).

These, together with the ritual of Confession, are the major underpinnings of the basis of control of both laity and clergy. If the general public, through its government, rejects them outright certainly the authority of the Church will be devastated. A battle to the death between Catholic Church and State is thus underway.

Since the solutions to the population problem (family planning, abortion, etc.) are so popular, and so widely recognized as being absolutely necessary for human survival, there is little doubt who will ultimately prevail. The question remaining is how much suffering and premature death the world will witness in the meantime.


[1] Vaillancourt, J.P. 1980. Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[2] See Appendix 4 In: Mumford, S.D. 1984, American Democracy & The Vatican: Population Growth & National Security. Amherst, New York: Humanist Press.

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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