Papal Infallibility and the Catholic Church

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH | 4 March 2024
Church and State

(Photo: Shqipe Asani / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

The following has been extracted from a chapter from our Chairman Dr. Stephen D. Mumford’s seminal book, The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (1996). It reveals how and why the Catholic principle of infallibility was created and its implications. The book is available at Kindle here and to read for free here.

Chapter 11: The Cross of Papal Infallibility

“THE ONLY way to solve the problem of contraception is to solve the problem of infallibility.”

Hans Küng
Catholic theologian

For me, no other single statement better summarizes the world population problem. To protect the dogma of infallibility, the Vatican has been forced to undermine the political will of governments which have been striving to deal with overpopulation. It has been largely successful in killing the political will to deal with this problem in all countries (where it exists) except in China. And, political will is vital to halting rapid population growth. Thus the dogma of infallibility lies at the very heart of the overpopulation dilemma.

There is wide agreement that the world population problem cannot be successfully dealt with unless we solve the contraception problem. However, there is a nearly total lack of awareness that the problem of contraception is related to the problem of papal infallibility, as noted by Hans Küng above.

There is a time warp involved here—a decisive action, or event, that occurred more than a century ago. It had a direct bearing on the mushrooming of population that didn’t really get up to speed until the 1930s. The event was the action of Pope Pius IX and Vatican Council I in 1870. Understanding the principle of infallibility and how it came to pass is essential to understanding the world population problem. This Chapter is devoted to how and why this principle was created and its implications.

For decades, Americans have been subjected to pseudodiscussion of the population problem as American writers and speakers have gone about deflecting attention from the only population issue that really matters—that the Papacy is threatened with annihilation as civil authorities make contraception and abortion legally available to their constituents. We are all deeply indebted to both Hans Küng, arguably the world’s leading Catholic theologian, and certainly the best known, and to August Bernhard Hasler, for his book, How the Pope Became Infallible.[98] In this Chapter, the wisdom of Dr. Küng’s statement will become evident.

Threat to the Papacy

In Chapter 6, I cite a paragraph from the minority report of Pope Paul VI’s Commission on Population and Birth authored in 1966 by the man who latter became Pope John Paul II. This paragraph shows with great clarity the real motivation of the Papacy: institutional survival. It is so important, I repeat it here:

If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XII’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half a century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved.[43]

The pope’s claim that “morality” demands that the Church maintain its current position on contraception is merely deception. This will become evident as we discuss the doctrine of papal infallibility and the doctrine of primacy of the pope, and why they are vital to the survival of the institution of the Papacy itself.

History of the Pope’s Infallibility

Two dogmas were proclaimed at Vatican Council I on July 18, 1870 and they are linked. The dogma of the primacy of papal jurisdiction means that the pope has universal jurisdiction. He has “direct sovereignty over the entire church”:[99] “The pope can intervene authoritatively at any time in any situation in any diocese, and in every instance where the pope intervenes the bishops are obliged to obey and submit to his decisions.”[100] The bishops were at that moment, according to Küng, reduced to mere lackeys of Rome,[101] and this arrangement continues to this day.

The second dogma proclaimed that day, the dogma of papal infallibility, means that the pope is incapable of error when he makes ex cathedra decisions on matters of faith and morals. However, virtually all matters, including political, social and economic, can be framed in terms of faith and morals. Hasler describes this dogma as elastic, meaning that it expands and contracts. Whenever it seems opportune, infallibility, thanks to its vagueness, can be stretched far beyond the limits of ex cathedra decisions. The ordinary papal teaching now becomes infallible too. In a sense, such “infallible” decisions are much more important to the Vatican and the Church’s bureaucratic machine than the rare ex cathedra declarations. The aura of infallibility counts more than its actual use.[102] Papal infallibility means that the pope has an interpretive monopoly. He no longer needs the Church’s approval. His decisions are beyond appeal.

Infallibility was first attributed to the pope in 1279 by a Franciscan priest.[103] In 1324 Pope John XXII condemned this idea as the work of the devil[104] (which may explain why Pope John XXIII chose this name, the first in 550 years, and then set about ignoring the dogma of infallibility). Later on, in their struggle against Protestantism, popes once more considered infallibility a practical weapon.[105] In 1800, papal infallibility was still generally rejected except in Italy and Spain.[106] Pope Gregory XVI (1831-46) was the first pope to claim that popes were infallible. His encyclical, Mirari, also viewed freedom of conscience as “a false and absurd concept,” indeed a mad delusion. According to him, freedom of the press could never be sufficiently abhorred.[107]

Pope Pius IX (1846-78), was absolutely committed to making papal infallibility a dogma. Indeed, it is unlikely that it would have ever become a dogma had it not been for this man. In his first encyclical letter (1846), he laid implicit claim to infallibility.[108] In 1854 Pius IX, on his own authority, elevated the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception—the belief that the mother of Jesus was born without any stain of original sin—to the status of dogma.[109] With this act, he had de facto demonstrated his own infallibility.

Papacy Faced Extinction in 1870

The times set the stage for Pius IX to act. The Papacy seemed to be facing extinction.[110] The Church was under siege from many different forces: secularization, liberalism, rationalism and naturalism. The French Revolution had changed the Catholic world permanently.

Pius IX was responding to several events of the times. It is believed that he wished to extend his spiritual jurisdiction as compensation for his loss of secular power because of the loss of the Papal States.[111] He believed that the principle of authority would counteract the principles of the French Revolution. He desperately needed to contain the forces of unbridled journalism which were wreaking havoc.[112] There was a hope that this principle of authority would bring about the return of lands already lost by the Papacy. The French Revolution destroyed centuries old patterns of Church government,[113] threatening the very existence of the Church.

The Church no longer had at its disposal the option of physical coercion that ranged from detention to annihilation, which was not infrequently used by the pope. For example, in “1868 Pius IX ordered the Italian revolutionaries, Monti and Tognetti beheaded in the Piazza del Popolo for attempting to blow up a papal barracks. And just two weeks before Rome was taken by storm, a certain Paolo Muzi was hanged in Frosinone, the last citizen of the Papal States to be executed.”[114] This hanging took place just 6 weeks after papal infallibility became a dogma. With great disappointment, the pope knew the power he derived from the threat of annihilation was rapidly coming to an end.

Professor Vaillancourt, cited in Chapter 6, states, “…it has become increasingly difficult to enforce unpopular decisions through coercion and exclusion. Consequently, the Vatican must now try to exercise its control over Catholics through normative and manipulative means (e.g., through socialization and co-optation) rather than through coercive and repressive power….The declaration of papal infallibility…was an important milestone in that direction. The stress on the absolute authority of the pope in questions of faith and morals helped turn the Church into a unified and powerful bureaucratic organization, and paved the way for the establishment of the Papacy-laity relationship as we know it today.”[115]

In his encyclical Quanta Cura (1864), Pius IX had listed eighty contemporary errors and condemned them. This is referred to as the Syllabus of Errors. In it he condemned many of the freedoms Americans hold dearest: freedoms of conscience, speech, the press, and religion. He rightfully recognized that American style democracy gravely threatened the Papacy. (If Americans are permitted to exercise these rights, American democracy may yet bring about the extinction of the Papacy.) The Syllabus was the definitive challenge to the modern state.[116]

With the Syllabus and numerous actions, the pope set the stage for his counterattack against the modern world and all that was threatening the Church. Now he needed the authority to carry out his wide ranging plan.

Pius IX felt that he must acquire absolute authority over the entire Church if the Papacy was to survive. Even in the early days of his Papacy, he was untrusting of his bishops to hold the line against these threats, so he forbade the formation of national bishops’ conferences and directed that there be as little contact as possible between bishops. They were to communicate with Rome. For this reason, Pius IX introduced the obligation of regular visits to the Holy See, a practice that still continues. Control was the objective. All bishops had to administer their diocese in strict subordination to the pope under the threat of coercion.[117]


[43] Hasler, op. cit., p. 270.
[98] Hasler, op. cit.
[99] Ibid., p. 27.
[100] Ibid., p. 150.
[101] Ibid., p. 15.
[102] Ibid., p. 281.
[103] Ibid., p. 36.
[104] Ibid., p. 37.
[105] Ibid., p. 164.
[106] Ibid., p. 39.
[107] Ibid., p. 43.
[108] Ibid., p. 81.
[109] Ibid., p. 45.
[110] Ibid., p. 39.
[111] Ibid., p. 52.
[112] Ibid., p. 52.
[113] Ibid., p. 39.
[114] Ibid., p. 293.
[115] Ibid., p. 5.
[116] Ibid., p. 238.
[117] Ibid., p. 43.

Dr. Stephen Mumford is the founder and President of the North Carolina-based Center for Research on Population and Security. He has his doctorate in Public Health. His principal research interest has been the relationship between world population growth and national and global security. He has been called to provide expert testimony before the U.S. Congress on the implications of world population growth.

Dr. Mumford has decades of international experience in fertility research where he is widely published, and has addressed conferences worldwide on new contraceptive technologies and the stresses to the security of families, societies and nations that are created by continued uncontrolled population growth. Using church policy documents and writings of the Vatican elite, he has introduced research showing the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as the principal power behind efforts to block the availability of contraceptive services worldwide.

In addition to his books on biomedical and social aspects of family planning, as well as scientific articles in more than a score of journals, Dr. Mumford’s major works include American Democracy and the Vatican: Population Growth and National Security (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1984), The Pope and the New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1986), and The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security, 1996).

The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy

By Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH
Paperback Publisher: Center for Research on Population and Security (October 1996)
Kindle Publisher: Church and State Press (February 6, 2015)
Kindle Store

During the formative years of the World Health Organization (WHO), broad consensus existed among United Nations member countries that overpopulation is a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future. One of the founding fathers of the WHO, the late Milton P. Siegel, speaks to Dr. Mumford in 1992. He explains how the Vatican successfully stymied the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

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  1. August Bernhard Hasler’s How the Pope Became Infallible, which purports to be a history of the question. The mistake made by Hasler is one of credulity. They too willingly have believed opponents of Rome. They have unquestioningly attributed to Strossmayer a speech he never made. They have not checked their facts, thinking there to be no need. What Strossmayer purported said sounds right, according to their prejudices, so they printed it. The quotation quoted by Hasler did not come from Strossmayer at all–it was a forgery composed by a former Augustinian priest named Jose Augustin de Escudero.


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