Stephen Phelan


Using NFP to halt overpopulation?

Stephen Phelan

“Population growth imperils society” blares the headline on, a web site that bills itself as “Asia’s most trusted independent Catholic news source.”

Before we have a chance to ask how this “most trusted” source purports to defend this headline, we are confronted with the equally puzzling subheading: “Church’s natural family planning can brake growth.”

It may be that the marketing department came up with the “independent” line in an attempt to lend secular credibility to the site, so for now perhaps we can leave aside questions about how something can be both independent from the Church but also somehow “Catholic.” To be fair, those of us who follow international news concerning life and family issues often find good reporting on UCA News, particularly in its coverage of the fight over the Reproductive Health Bill in the Philippines.

This article, however, has problems that might be instructive for all pro-lifers. Bangladesh’s rapidly falling birthrate, in which the author seems to find cause for optimism, comes with drastic social costs that must be considered, especially in poor nations where the security of the elderly is a traditional concern of the family. And, with China’s draconian one-child policy as a painful ongoing reminder, we must also be very careful before, as the author does in the article, speaking approvingly of governmental fertility targets.

But the biggest problem is the article’s headline and subheading: to champion NFP as a means of halting overpopulation demonstrates serious confusion about both NFP and overpopulation. Catholics, even those with the best intentions, need to be careful about adopting the error- and agenda-filled language of those whose preferred means of eliminating poverty in the developing world is to reducing the number of poor people through population control.

Worldwide “overpopulation” is a myth. It was first popularized by the now thoroughly discredited entomologist Paul Erlich, whose 1968 book The Population Bomb predicted hundreds of millions of deaths by starvation in the 1970s, and other dire consequences sure to befall humanity due to what the author believed were unacceptably high fertility rates. Because of the religious fervor to which his thesis gave birth, however, the idea that there are too many people in the world has proven difficult to extricate from the modern imagination. Ehrlich, the man who taught Western progressives to see people of the developing world as something similar to the overbreeding insects that were the subjects of Erlich’s primary area of research, remains a hero of the environmentalist movement; and his basic thesis, though excoriated even by fellow liberals for decades, somehow remains unassailable to the international development cartels: To save the world, we must get rid of a whole lot of people

Now, it is true that the people of the densely-populated and poverty-stricken nation of Bangladesh, whose plight is touched upon in the CNA News article, could benefit from a robust program of authentic human development, including education in natural family planning. It can also be reasonably argued in harmony with Catholic teaching that many, if not most, parents in the Asian nation have what the Church would describe as “grave reasons” for postponing pregnancy, which is one of the possible uses of fertility awareness programs like NFP. Indeed, Mother Teresa famously found creative and simple ways to teach the method to women and men in the slums of Mumbai and other Indian cities where poverty was a crushing burden for too many persons. She showed them how to use fertility awareness – and human freedom, properly understood – to space births. Maya D’Rozario, director of the Caritas Community Health and Natural Family Planning project in Bangladesh, neatly explains this. We should be grateful that she is teaching the method as part of a program of Caritas Internationalis to educate and minister to the people of Bangladesh.

But Mother Teresa also fearlessly and lovingly proclaimed the Gospel. The author of the article makes an error that Catholic international development and news organizations should be careful to avoid: the assumption that Bangladesh’s very real problems are a result of overpopulation.

A prominent theme of Pope Benedict’s papacy is to set right a Catholic development regime that too closely resembles its secular counterparts, and has for the most part given up evangelization as the cornerstone of authentic human development. The stern but charitable words spoken by the Holy Father and by the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Robert Cardinal Sarah, recently to the leadership of Caritas Internationalis are now unmistakably reinforcing key elements of Pope Benedict’s two social encyclicals, Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate.

The charitable work of the Church is not a side project or an option for those who happen to have the time; it is essential to her mission, which is to bring Christ to the world, and the world to Christ. Just as charity is essential to the Church, the fullness of the Gospel and Church teaching are essential to authentic Charity: and these cannot be reduced to certain quotes that secular collaborators find inoffensive. The Church, through properly formed persons and organizations, must, in a spirit of both solidarity and subsidiarity, directly confront poverty and other social ills, and respond with material and non-material assistance. But the Church must respond in truth, addressing the needs of the whole person, not only his material needs. Every single one of the 160 million Bangladeshis, just like every one of us, is made in the image and likeness of God, and thus has inviolable dignity. Encountering poverty and suffering on the scale of that found in Bangladesh, suffering which is a grave offense to human dignity, must move a heart formed in truth, calling for a response adequate to the challenge. This, although too simply put, is how the Church sees authentic and integral human development; and many new ministries are forming every year that creatively and faithfully answer Our Lord’s challenge to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The Church does not confront the real problems of the people of Bangladesh with the secular view that the real problem is that there are too many people. This is to continue the destructive error of Ehrlich and too many others who clearly do not share an authentically Christian view of human nature and human flourishing. This is why population control has become a cornerstone of multi-billion dollar “development” organizations like the United Nations Population Fund, USAID, International Planned Parenthood Foundation, and Marie Stopes International.

In other words, it isn’t population growth that imperils society, it is turning away from God and adopting the flawed assumptions and false solutions of those who have already given up on Him that is the true source of social decay. And NFP isn’t about satisfying a government’s desired fertility rate. Those in Catholic media who want to speak for the Church, and those who want to respond to poverty and injustice with the heart of the Church, must not be afraid to suffer the slings and arrows of their secular colleagues by embracing and proclaiming the fullness of her teaching.

Stephen Phelan is communications director for Human Life International (HLI). The article was originally published on HLI’s international blog,

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‘After Tiller’: ‘heartfelt’ film about late-term abortion providers is a deluge of propaganda

Stephen Phelan

This is one of those stories where it helps to take a deep breath, and remember that because of the lies surrounding abortion, many people simply don’t realize what they are defending. They are on a sort of moral crusade as well, one which they would say is about defending women’s rights.

That being said, however, sometimes the gap between “good intentions” and actions is harder to understand. Such is the case when artists set out to tell “a more human” story about abortion, and end up leaving out crucial information that any journalist would naturally find important. This is pretty much the definition of propaganda. 

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Premiering today at the Sundance Film Festival as part of the U.S. documentary competition, “After Tiller” is an intimate and heartfelt look at the four doctors performing third-trimester abortions in the United States, doing so even after the 2009 assassination of such a physician, Dr. George Tiller.

Not mentioned in the absolutely uncritical “news” article on this documentary is whether the filmmakers take an “intimate and heartfelt look at” women who have had their third trimester child - translated “viable, living human being” – aborted. Say, if they follow them through their next, wanted, pregnancy and capture their reaction to the ultrasound of their child at the point where their last one was aborted. Now that would be courageous storytelling.

… the film brings an emotional clarity to an issue in which every nuanced turn of phrase has been made politically complicated

“Anyone who has proclaimed violence his method inexorably must choose lying as his principle,” is the way Alexander Solzhenitsyn – a man of some emotional clarity – referred to the “nuanced turn of phrase” to hide the slaughter of innocents. Yes, killing human beings en masse does result in, among other things, political complications.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

The author of the Times article describes how the event’s organizers made sure that “visible security measures were in place, including police and armed sheriffs in green jumpsuits.” Because as everyone knows, you can’t be too careful: one of those little old ladies with their rosaries might show up, and, well… things can get out of hand quickly. Or, given the framing of the entire story as being “After Tiller,” is this part of the stagecraft of the film, as promoters are wont to do at Sundance and other such festivals.

“I feel like our generation has been really alienated from the abortion debate,” added Wilson. (Both filmmakers are 29.) “It’s just become a shouting match. We wanted to make something that would show the complexity and the gray area. The gray area over this issue is where real women are making real decisions about their lives.”

Actually, somewhere just below a third of your generation has been permanently alienated from the abortion debate because they’re dead. They were killed in abortions. And is the debate back on now? Because the pro-abortion left keeps telling us that the debate over abortion, including the abortion of fully viable human beings, is over. If the debate is back on, this is a positive development: maybe we can get young filmmakers to make a documentary about last-trimester abortion, have them actually show the procedure, and start a conversation about whether this sort of thing should be legal. Unfortunately, I don’t think these filmmakers consider this a relevant part of the conversation.

Put another way, would those affected by sex slavery benefit from an attempt to get past the moral judgments involved, and look at the traffickers and buyers as being more human, with complicated reasons for engaging in the kidnapping, sale and purchase of young children for sex? I think a good argument could be made that such a documentary would not help those harmed in sex trafficking, and people would wonder about the real motivations of the filmmakers. Back to the article.

Even in the face of threats and the killing of [murdered late term abortionist George] Tiller, the doctors see their work as important and worth continuing. As to whether the protests against what he does ever gave him doubts regarding his work, Dr. LeRoy Carhart said, “I never even give it a second thought.”

Here again we see the “frame” alluded to in the title. Since these four doctors pursue their non-lifesaving work even “After [the murder of George] Tiller,” they must be courageous and selfless heroes. This framing is extremely offensive, and is not nearly as objective as the filmmakers and the writer of this article would have us believe. 

Still, even in such bias there are insights to be gleaned. For Carhart, the protests don’t elicit a second thought. How about admonishments from the Maryland board of physicians? Or the horrifying ordeal and death of 19-year-old Christin Gilbert in 2005?

We are requesting a copy of the film, to see if these and several other narrative-complicating issues are treated in it. If they are not, then one is forced to conclude that this movie is not so much about “starting a conversation” (which is what EVERY SINGLE documentary filmmaker says is the goal of her project) as it is about covering over the fact that late term abortion is the violent destruction of a human beings – little babies who are often healthy and capable of living outside the womb.

Doctors do not avoid this particularly gruesome practice for fear of being killed, they avoid it because they have consciences and do not want to kill innocent, viable children. Yes, let’s have a conversation about late term abortion, but let’s look at the whole story.

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Framing the battle over ‘gay rights’ in Africa

Stephen Phelan

From Voice of America, the U.S. taxpayer-funded “objective” news outfit, comes a scary story about how Western Christian groups are harming homosexuals and the quest for “gay rights” in Africa.  Let’s cut to the story, Fr. Z style, shall we?

Lesbian, Gay Rights in Africa Hit Roadblocks

LONDON — The arrest in Uganda of British theatre producer David Cecil, who staged a play about a gay man despite a ban by the country’s media authorities, has raised questions about the influence of some Western Christian groups in Africa. [Questions raised by whom, exactly? Besides reporters for Voice of America, that is.] Analysts [Analysts? Or “gay rights” activists?] say this influence has had a part to play in a number of African governments cracking down on gay rights. [Note that what the governments are doing is “cracking down” on “rights,” and not defending traditional African values from the influence of powerful and obscenely wealthy Western governments and NGOs. But we’ll get to that in a minute]

Released on bail Monday, after being arrested two weeks ago over a play about a gay businessman who was killed by his staff, David Cecil’s case highlights the recent homophobic activity across Africa. [You’ve all heard of a “framing device,” right? An image or anecdote that humanizes, dramatizes and sets the tone for an argument, article or story? And “homophobic activity” is apparently highlighted by this arrest, says the reporter. Amazing what one can find when one is looking for precisely that thing and no conflicting stories. It’s also interesting that the reporter did not choose as his framing device a speech from UK Prime Minister David Cameron threatening to cut off aid to African nations unless they got on the LGBT bandwagon. That would have been the wrong “frame” for the reporter’s argument.]

“On the one hand there is a noticeable increase of homophobia on the continent but that’s also a reflection of the growing strength of the LGBT movement,” said Graeme Reid, the Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. [This must be one of those “analysts” we heard about before. No agenda here, folks…just keep moving along.]

Phil Clarke, a lecturer [and “analyst,” we may safely presume] in comparative politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, says the main reasons behind this apparent increase in anti-gay activity are religious lobbying and African governments’ desire to express self-determination.

“I think the reason we’re seeing crackdowns in some countries is that firstly politicians are reacting to very powerful religious lobby groups that they need to curry favor with and there’s also, I think, a sense that this is one way in which African governments can express some degree of self-determination and difference from western interference,” he said. [Since Human Life International (HLI) is, we’re about to learn, one of the “very powerful religious lobby groups” implicated here, I am obliged to thank Mr. Clarke for the terrific fundraising quote. But this is also probably the right place to raise the obvious question that didn’t occur to the reporter: “Which combination of ‘religious lobbying groups’ has more money and power than the British and American governments, which together spend hundreds of millions per annum in ‘aid,’ with LGBT strings firmly attached?” We’re about to find out.]

According to a [“]report[“] released earlier this year by the progressive group Political Research Associates, or PRA, Western Christian groups such as Human Life International, Family Watch International and the American Center for Law and Justice have been building up influence across the region. [For more on this PRA “report”, which was, to put it as charitably as possible, lacking in the fact check department, click here. This “report” wouldn’t have gotten beyond a few homosexual activist blogs if the Associated Press hadn’t uncritically accepted PRA’s claims without input from the accused organizations, like HLI.]

Clarke says much of this funding is promoting homophobia.

“We’ve seen, especially in Uganda and Kenya, the very powerful influence of Western churches which have poured a great deal of funding into these anti-homosexuality campaigns in Africa,” he said. “So an anti-homosexuality stance has become very lucrative for many Ugandan and Kenyan parishes. Those churches on the ground in Africa have often made homosexuality a bigger political deal than they may have in the past.” [Again, the idea that opposing the radical homosexual agenda is “lucrative,” compared to the millions available from Western governments pushing the agenda, is absurd. It’s also interesting how the reporter doesn’t consider the possibility that homosexuality is a big deal now because it is being pushed so hard by the UN and Western NGOs and governments, forcing African governments and leaders to respond. No, that’s the wrong narrative, and doesn’t fit in the “frame.”]

Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian Anglican priest and researcher [and “analyst,” no doubt!] for the group, says African homophobia is being encouraged by American conservatives. [No mention here of the fact that Kaoma is paid by the “progressive” Western (American) activist group PRA to create “reports” on homophobia in Africa.]

“The growth of the evangelical or Pentecostal movement across sub-Saharan Africa has also brought about the growth in homophobia because of the teachings which have been promoted by the conservatives in America across Africa,” said Kaoma.

The Catholic group Human Life International disputes these claims. According to the PRA report, the group has been involved in drafting amendments and constitutions in Zambia and Kenya, as well as working against the decriminalization of abortions in the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Stephen Phelan, a spokesman [I guess I’m not an analyst.] for the Catholic group, says the group’s message on sexuality agrees with African values.

“The term homophobia is itself a Western import,” he said. “We’re the ones who tend to speak very naturally to African values so there’s little conflict in what we have to say. We just want to reaffirm them and let them know that the culture wars that we’re having in the west are sadly coming to Africa, being imposed not by Africans a lot of the time but by western governments who are much better funded than the small Christian and Catholic organizations like ourselves.” [Not included here was our invitation to debate the question of who exactly is doing more to colonialize Africa with foreign values – a few, relatively small Christian groups or a massive coalition of governments and NGOs with billions of dollars to spend. But hey, at least they called.]

Click “like” if you want to defend true marriage.

This is getting pretty long, and you get the idea. A few suspicious and “homophobic” American Christian groups are somehow beating the great powers of the West in influencing African politics, so innocent people are being put in jail.

Look, if it’s about opposing unjust discrimination against homosexuals, we’re with you, as is the Catholic Church. But we can’t turn a blind eye while Western powers use billions of dollars to force African countries to abandon their pro-life and pro-family values and join in the suicide of the West.

We remain open to having this conversation whenever any major media outlet finally decides to treat the issue objectively and honestly.


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A question for the administration and supporters of the mandate…

Stephen Phelan

If the Catholic Church and Catholic-run entities like hospitals, schools, charities and for that matter, private businesses, have been “discriminating against women” and “denying essential care” all these years, how is it that “99%” (the administration’s figure) of women have been able to use contraception - without the mandate being in effect?

Mr. President? Mr. Carney? Anyone?

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