Infallibility and the Population Problem


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the truth behind the Catholic Church hierarchy's war against family planning and women's empowement

Published in: Spiritual, News & Politics
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  • thank you Mr. Diaz. this is truly enlightening and answers a lot of questions about the irrationality of church's recent actions...
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Infallibility and the Population Problem

  1. 1. INFALLIBILITY AND THE POPULATION PROBLEM At a meeting I convened in Washington earlier this month, Stephen Mumford gave the following talk. Thanks to DonCollins for sending this transcript to Stephen D. Mumford, Dr. P.H.An address to Population Strategy Meeting IV Barbara Jordan Conference Center Kaiser Family Foundation Washington,DC October 4, 2010 "The only way to solve the problem of contraception is to solve the problem of infallibility." - Hans Küng, Catholic theologianINTRODUCTION I have been asked to speak about what the Catholic Church has been saying and doing in its opposition to familyplanning. I want to be clear from the outset that I am talking about the Vatican hierarchy and not the Catholic laity. Asmany of you know, studies show that American Catholic women use contraception and abortion at slightly higher ratesthan non-Catholic women. My research has been devoted to the Vaticans thwarting of population initiatives, includingcontraceptive development. Unfortunately, I have documented that modern threats to the institutional survival of theChurch drive Vatican behavior, which has condemned millions to live in poverty by denying them access to resourcesthat could help them lift themselves out of destitution. Arthur Westing, former director of the United Nations Environment Program project on Peace, Security andEnvironment recently shared a profound observation: "Inexplicably [emphasis mine] and inexcusably, recommendationsby the United States, the United Nations and independent research groups essentially never include - and certainlynever stress - population as a contributing factor to global warming." For me, the reason long ago ceased to beinexplicable, and I would like to discuss my journey with you today. I will be covering a great deal of territory, drawing from the work of numerous historians, many of themCatholic themselves. I will illustrate how the Vatican has shown itself to be in opposition to population concerns, andthat the doctrine of papal infallibility underlies their behavior. I must ask you to bear with me as I describe acomplicated sequence of historical events that leads us to this conclusion. Everything I am offering today isdocumented, and has been meticulously referenced in this book, a copy of which is available to you free of charge.GENESIS OF MY FOCUS I would like to begin by saying why the focus of my career in the population field has been somewhat differentfrom others in this field. During a military tour of duty in Korea in 1969 and 1970, I witnessed, for 13 months, the massmigration of the rural population into tent slums in Seoul, at a rate of 100,000 people per month. The population hadoutgrown the capacity of their traditional family farms to support them, undermining their security. As I traveledthroughout Asia during this period, I saw that other countries were having the same experience. This led to my decision,upon my return to the States, to prepare myself for a career in population studies. In 1970, I enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Texas School of Public Health to pursue this careerpath. I had the good fortune of having as my advisor, Milton Siegel, who was just finishing his 24-year career at theWorld Health Organization as an Assistant Director General. Professor Siegel made a statement to me that changed mylife. He said that if I wanted to be a serious student of population, I must become a serious student of the CatholicChurch. And he told me about his experiences that led him to this conclusion. Siegel was present at the founding of the World Health Organization in 1948. The issue of population growtharose at every W.H.O. meeting during those early years. But, as Siegel recounts, he and then W.H.O. Director General,Brock Chisholm, were warned by Vatican representatives that family planning was off limits. "[Vatican representatives] threatened that, if [W.H.O got involved in family planning], they would withdraw
  2. 2. from the organization and take steps to destroy the organization. They went so far as to threaten Chisholm that if hedidnt do what they wanted him to do, they would first withdraw and then create a new organization altogether anddestroy the World Health Organization." - Milton Seigel, W.H.O. Assistant Director General, 1948-1972 This monograph covering the details is available afterwards. Family planning and population growth were indeed ignored by W.H.O. for its first 17 years. This is the kind ofpower the Vatican hierarchy had then and still does today. For example, earlier this year, Frances Kissling [of Catholicsfor Choice] published an article in which she reminded us that, "At the United Nations, the Holy See announced that iffamily planning were designated as a part of primary health care - a designation that would define the terms ofinternational aid for churches and NGOs - it would consider withdrawing from providing health care services in thedeveloping world." - Frances Kissling, "Close Your Eyes and Think of Rome: How close did the Vatican come toembracing birth control?" May/June 2010, Mother Jones Dr. Rei Ravenholt has published on the United States Agency for International Developments experience of thiskind of Vatican intimidation. Copies of his monograph are also available afterwards.INFALLIBILITY These next three slides present a paragraph from the minority report of the popes Commission on Populationand Birth, authored in 1966 by the man who later became Pope John Paul II. This paragraph shows with great clarity thereal motivation of the papacy: institutional survival. "If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly thatthe Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti connubii waspromulgated), in 1951 (Pius XIIs address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society ofHematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half a century the Spiritfailed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error. This would meanthat 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 groundsof principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved." -Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later John Paul II), 1966 The Cardinals message: If we change the Vaticans position on birth control, we will destroy the dogma ofpapal infallibility. What is the dogma of papal infallibility? Papal infallibility means that god speaks directly through the pope, andthus the pope cannot possibly be in error. It means that the pope is incapable of being mistaken when he makesdecisions on matters of faith and morals. Virtually all matters, however - including political, social, economic andprocreative - can be framed in terms of faith and morals. To fully understand the relationship between population concerns and infallibility, we need to discuss thehistory of papal infallibility. Many people are surprised to learn that infallibility only became Catholic dogma in 1870.Prior to that, the pope was merely the bishop of Rome, one of many voting bishops. We owe an enormous debt to theCatholic historian August Bernhard Hasler, who was given complete access to the Vatican archives for a five-yearperiod in the 1970s. Hasler used this unprecedented access to Vatican records to carefully study the Churchs historyduring the period leading up to and just after the proclamation of papal infallibility. He published a book on hisfindings, How the Pope Became Infallible, in 1979. This is an incredible story. It reveals a very ugly internal powerstruggle brought about by gravely threatening events faced by the papacy at that moment. Pius IX - the pope in 1870 - was responding to several events of the times. It is believed that he wished toextend his spiritual jurisdiction as compensation for his loss of secular power resulting from the loss of the Papal States.
  3. 3. In the 1870s, the Church was under siege from many different forces: secularism, liberalism, rationalism and naturalism.The French Revolution had changed the Catholic world permanently. Pius desperately needed to contain the democraticforces of unbridled journalism which were wreaking havoc on every aspect of the institution of the papacy, especially inFrance. He believed that the principle of infallibility would counteract the principles of democracy, embodied in theFrench Revolution. After 1870, the Vatican no longer had at its disposal the option of physical coercion -ranging from detentionto annihilation - which was not infrequently used by the pope. In fact, in 1870, Pius IX was still regularly beheadingand hanging people who threatened the papacy. In his 1864 encyclical Quanta Cura, Pius IX had listed 80 contemporary errors and condemned them. This isreferred to as the Syllabus of Errors. The Syllabus of Errors condemned many of the freedoms Americans holddearest: freedoms of conscience, speech, the press, and religion. Pius IX rightfully recognized that American-styledemocracy gravely threatened the papacy. The Syllabus was his definitive challenge to the modern state. The free presses of Europe and North America were, at the time, gravely undermining papal authority. Theproponents of the doctrine of papal infallibility were convinced that this doctrine would lead to control of the worldpress on matters vital to papal authority. The control of individuals in the press - as well as individuals who could beused to manipulate the press in various ways, including intimidation, in order to protect papal authority - was a keyargument for adoption. The promoters of the infallibility dogma believed that by raising the popes authority to its utmost limit theycould gradually break society of its liberal and democratic tendencies. According to Hasler, "The plan was to enhancethe popes authority as much as possible, not only in hopes of strengthening the old hierarchical order within theChurch but, above all, in society at large." This objective was largely achieved, especially in the United States, asbishops and lay Catholics marched in lock-step until 1968 when the encyclical Humanae Vitae was issued, whichforever ruled out Catholics use of contraception. My research has shown that during the period 1917 to 1968, theAmerican press was largely controlled and did not report critically on Vatican activities. For example, the Knights of Columbus, the largest organization of Catholic laity in the world, was founded in1882, soon after the dogma of infallibility was adopted, by a priest in New Haven, Connecticut. The mission: protectthe faith. By 1914, the Knights had evolved into a national organization with considerable capability to intimidatethose who spoke out against the Church, regardless of whether the criticisms were justified. The Knights of Columbuscreated the Commission on Religious Prejudices, chaired by Patrick Henry Callahan, to shut down the presss criticismof the Church. According to their 1915 report, the Commission sponsored an education campaign by "informing andcorrecting editors and journalists who allowed religious prejudices to surface in their newspapers." Callahan pointedout that between August 1914 and January 1917, the number of publications that published material critical of theChurch dropped nationwide from 60 to two or three. Until that time, the American press had been free to be critical of the pope, the Vatican and the bishops. Butsince the days of Callahans Commission, the American press has not been free to report on their considerable politicalactivities, and, most importantly, the motivations behind those activities. Hasler wrote, "The dogma of infallibility was not just one more doctrine among many others. It took acomprehensive position on the issue of truth. It involved a very broad claim, namely, that the pope could pronounceon questions of faith and morals with guaranteed certainty. The truth was no longer to be brought to light bylaborious research and investigation but by the determination of an infallible authority."INFALLIBILITY REPLACES SCIENTIFIC TRUTH From that point forward, the issue has been papal infallibility versus scientific truth, the problem we grapplewith today. From Hasler again: "The Church does indeed gain, at first, in unity and uniformity, but it blocks off its ownfree access to the real world and ultimately stands in danger of losing touch with reality completely.... On the onehand, Catholicism gains in...political muscle; on the other, its conflict with science grows more intense. Its dogmatic
  4. 4. commitments make it harder for the Church to adapt to circumstances; they lessen its flexibility and the chances forreform. The Church loses it credibility with many people and draws in on itself." The papacy has acquired enormous political muscle as a result of this dogma. In the April 25, 1993 issue of TheIndependent On Sunday published in London, Mark Hertsgaard states, "The Vatican has managed to derail everyinternational effort to curb the population explosion." This is despite the fact that we are overwhelmed withevidence that unbridled population growth gravely threatens almost everything we value. This accomplishment hasrequired enormous political power. The Vatican ignores the findings of science when their acknowledgment threatens to undermine papalauthority. The best examples are the innumerable scientific findings showing that overpopulation is causing oftenpermanent degradation of our planet, and reducing the number of people Earth can support on a sustainable basis.The Vatican sets about deliberately undermining the credibility of science in its campaign for institutional survival. Asa result of the hierarchys efforts to survive the onslaught of scientific information, including facts about globalwarming, we are all continuously bombarded with disinformation which seeks to throw these findings into question.But science continues, on nearly a daily basis, to produce alarming evidence that the Vaticans position on familyplanning and contraception is indefensible. Referring to the Churchs teaching on contraception, Humanae Vitae, Dr. Küng states, "This teaching...has laid aheavy burden on the conscience of innumerable people, even in industrially developed countries with decliningbirthrates. But for the people in many underdeveloped countries, especially in Latin America, it constitutes a sourceof incalculable harm, a crime in which the Church has implicated itself." I believe that contraception has resulted in the greatest crisis in the Church since the loss of the Papal Statesin 1870. The Church simply cannot change its position on contraception without destroying the principle ofinfallibility. Pope John Paul II made this clear in 1980 in a letter sent to the German Bishops Conference, "I amconvinced that the doctrine of infallibility is in a certain sense the key to the certainty with which the faith isconfessed and proclaimed, as well as to the life and conduct of the faithful. For once this essential foundation isshaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down." In this statement, Pope John Paul II acknowledges the obvious. The principle of papal infallibility is now thefundamental principle of the Church. It is the glue that holds all dogma, all Church teachings, together. Without it, thewhole Catholic system would disintegrate. For this reason, the primary focus of the Vatican hierarchy is on protection of the principle of infallibility. Ifthis principle is undermined, the system will self-destruct. But more important to us as Americans, this despotic authority exercised by the pope has serious implicationsfor the way in which we should view bishops who serve in America. Since American security-survival interests… and thesecurity-survival interests of the papacy, as defined by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, are squarely in conflict, theAmerican bishops cannot possibly represent the interests of both.THE U.S. BISHOPS PASTORAL PLAN FOR PRO-LIFE ACTIVITIES I am convinced that the most important step taken by the Vatican to rein in American population efforts wasthe creation - in answer to the passage of Roe v. Wade - of the United States Bishops Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activitiesin November 1975. I have copies of the Plan as published in 1975, which is a little different from the one currently ontheir website, with me today. Given its importance, it is unfortunate that time does not permit my talking in depthabout the Pastoral Plan. Thus, I will summarize. In a nutshell, the Pastoral Plan outlines the creation of an extraordinary pro-life political machine. Success ofthe Plan would place proponents in all levels of government and society. When this Plan was approved by the bishopsat their annual meeting in November 1975, the National Catholic Reporter newspaper editorialized that it would result
  5. 5. in the creation of an American Catholic political party. It appears, however, that rather than a new party, the bishopsmerely appropriated the Republican Party. I believe this Plan was the most important American political development of the last half of the 20th Century. Itis discussed in detail in two chapters in my book. It is my opinion that there is no greater influence on American politicstoday than the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities.CONCLUSION "The only way to solve the problem of contraception is to solve the problem of infallibility." - Hans Küng, Catholic theologian For me, Dr. Küngs statement best summarizes the world population problem. To protect the dogma ofinfallibility, the Vatican has been forced to undermine the political will of governments which have been striving todeal with overpopulation. It has been largely successful in undermining the political will to deal with this problem inall countries, except in China. And, political will is vital to halting rapid population growth. Thus, the dogma ofinfallibility lies at the very heart of the overpopulation dilemma. When I entered the population field, the worlds population was growing at a rate of about 70 to 80 million ayear. For 40 years now, I have watched it grow at about that rate. What we have been doing to slow this growth hasnot worked. We must now take Dr. Küngs observation seriously. "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor freedom of the press be limited without danger of losing our liberty." "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." - Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson knew that transparency of the truth is paramount for a functioning democracy. Thefounders of our nation included freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights so that Americans freedom would beprotected by our access to the truth. The Vaticans plan for imposing its doctrines includes limiting citizens access totruth by silencing any critical press. In this way, the Vatican is able to avoid transparency of its activities as itmanipulates our response to the population crisis. To succeed in our work, we and our colleagues in the population field need transparency of these facts. Wemust be bold and tenacious in confronting this disconcerting and uncomfortable truth.I thank you for your time.Best wishes,Bill---William N. Ryerson, PresidentPopulation Media Center and Population Institute145 Pine Haven Shores Road, Suite 2011P.O. Box 547, Shelburne, Vermont 05482-0547, U.S.A.Email: ryerson@populationmedia.orgPMC website: www.populationmedia.orgPI website: www.populationinstitute.orgSkype name: billryersonFollow us on TwitterBecome a fan of PMC on FacebookWe want to hear from you! Check out our blog,, where you can read andcomment on the articles distributed via my daily population email listserv. Please note that it may take up to 48 hoursfor this article to appear on the website.