Adapted from chapter 7 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 is available to read for free here.
Catholic Hospitals: The Roles They Serve and Don’t Serve
For years after I had completed a doctorate in public health and had worked for some time in hospitals and clinics, I was still under the impression that the Catholic Church substantially supported and administered hospitals solely because of its concern for the social value of health. I assumed that the Church was in the hospital business because of the value of the enterprise. More recently, I have become aware that Catholic hospitals receive billions of dollars in federal monies, although they sharply restrict the delivery of family-planning services. All couples (Catholic and non-Catholic) who use these facilities for fertility related services are provided less than adequate medical care and those who do not have easy access to non-Catholic hospital services find certain choices restricted altogether.
I have learned that bishops regard the building of Catholic hospitals next in importance to the building of churches and schools, not only because of the general social value of hospitals but also because they serve a useful purpose in winning and holding Church members. During times of illness or death, whether one’s own or that of a family member, people are most vulnerable to exploitation. Examples of this exploitation abound. Catholic hospitals are used as partisan and sectarian agencies in spite of public claims by the clergy that they are “community enterprises.” Similarly, priests attempt to impose as much of their moral code as possible on non-Catholics using Catholic hospital services, particularly in such areas as contraceptive sterilization.
Absolutism and Controls (or Morals) and Their Implications for Family Planning
With the recent advances of medicine that have allowed embryo transfers, test-tube babies, and artificial insemination, many Americans have been perplexed by the Catholic Church’s strong negative responses to these advances, given the Church’s so-called pro-life position. However, Americans should not be perplexed.
The Church claims that such conceptions are against “natural” law, and great pains are taken to defend this doctrine with elaborate theological reasoning, all of it sheer nonsense. There is a different reason for its opposition. The very existence of the Church is threatened by these advances. How?
The Catholic Church is an absolute monarchy under absolute and infallible leadership. The Church claims and actually exercises sovereignty over nearly 800 million Catholics. It has a system of law called “canon law,” and, in the “domain” in which the claim of sovereignty is made, canon law is applied. Yet, the Catholic hierarchy exercises this sovereignty without the direct use of force, armies, police, or weapons. How is this possible?
Instead of using physical weapons, the Church uses psychic weapons. The most extreme case was discussed in chapter four: the threat of excommunication. Over the centuries, the Church devised an elaborate system of controls that rely nearly completely upon “psychic terrorism.” The concepts of morals and sins which can only be forgiven by certain members of the hierarchy are examples of controls. Of course, it is purported that both have as their ends “goodness,” and adherents believe this. Yet, some thoughtful people recognize other “ends,” including the maintenance of the power of the Catholic hierarchy and the enhancement and advancement of this power.
All tyrannies in human history that relied upon force have disappeared. Reliance upon force made them conspicuously evil, and people inevitably rose up and destroyed them. What distinguishes the tyranny of the Catholic Church is its explanation of its actions in terms of “virtue.” With the help of great numbers of priests and nuns (today numbering more than one million), the Church has sold the concept of these morals and other controls. Through the Vatican’s constant presentation of the Church’s actions as “virtuous,” recognition of the Church as a tyrant has been thwarted. Characterizing all actions in terms of “goodness” has allowed this tyranny to survive for nearly two thousand years while all others have failed. The effectiveness of the Vatican in convincing the world of the “virtue” of these morals and other controls is best exhibited by American acceptance of the incredible new claim of papal infallibility in the 1870s, despite the fact that it was obviously a move to maintain vast power in the Vatican. It is almost inconceivable that Americans would have accepted this obvious grab for power. (Currently only 50 percent of Catholic Americans believe in the papal claim of infallibility.) The Catholic hierarchy has been appropriately described as a cabal of power that moves under the guise of benevolence. How could this be possible in America?
The pope and the Vatican promote only the most obedient and loyal priests to positions of authority in the hierarchy. It is an extensive review process for promotion of only the most conditioned and indoctrinated. Those who are not are culled as quickly as possible. Hans Kung and Father Drinan are examples. This process assures maintenance of the tyranny but at the same time “changes or adjustments from within” are made most difficult or impossible. In general, this highly obedient hierarchy tells its American priests in great detail what to believe. Usually, the parish priest has no strong inclination toward heretical belief inasmuch as he is the product of the Catholic educational system. A glance at any biographical list of prominent Catholic clergy shows how few of them ever stray from the Catholic educational system.
Since the Vatican has no military apparatus or personnel to physically impose its laws (canons) and maintain and expand its power, it must control its communicants through their minds and through social action. To accomplish this, they use their control over their priests, including American priests.
The Vatican has drawn up a set of rules (morals) by which all must abide. Since the hierarchy had to rely upon more than one million subordinates to ensure that the laity abided by these rules, they had to make these rules simple. The “end” desired by the Church was to out-reproduce non-Catholics everywhere, and many of the rules or laws (morals) of the Church are devoted to this purpose.
To ensure that these rules are enforceable, they made them both simple and absolute. They related to sterilization, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, prostitution, masturbation, and so forth. No exceptions were allowed or ever entertained. Absolutism. With this modality, the Church cannot afford the luxury of exceptions. With interpretations, rules break down.
This, combined with the absolutism imposed by the claim of “infallibility,” is the real source of the opposition of the Catholic Church to family planning and population growth control. So much of the Church is built on the absolutes related to population growth that it cannot even permit “embryonic transfer” without taking a significant risk that the whole system of morals might collapse around them. As soon as the Church begins making exceptions, the whole system of controls would be in jeopardy. Ultimately, there would be so many exceptions and so many special cases that moral judgment would have to shift to the local priests and then to local people. The power of the Vatican would be considerably weakened.
If one examines all of the sex-related prohibitions of the Church, the common denominator is the promotion of the quantity of Catholics produced! This is not a coincidence. There are few exceptions. The needs of the Church with regard to a cadre of celibate priests were discussed earlier, as was the fact that Catholic education represents the rock upon which the whole Church rests and that celibate nuns who work for low wages are the backbone of that system. These two exceptions represent “higher order” needs of the Church than reproduction. Imposed celibacy certainly represents the highest form of perversion of the “natural order,” yet celibacy of nuns and priests is an additional absolute.
 Paul Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power, p. 117.
 Ibid., p. 123.
 Ibid., p. 155.