The group Catholics for Choice released a 45-minute documentary on Tuesday that seeks to educate viewers about moral theology and reproductive ethics not typically associated with Catholicism.
“Contrary to popular opinion, there is more to Catholics’ beliefs than what the hierarchy espouses,” Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said. “We put together this film with some of the top theologians in the world to get at the heart of Catholic teaching: that people become Catholics through their baptism and are given both a free will and a conscience to make important decisions. We hope that anyone seeking to discuss ‘what Catholics think,’ how they vote or, most importantly, what Catholics believe, will consider this film.”
The documentary explains that the Catholic Church’s current position on contraception could be traced back to Saint Augustine of Hippo. The Latin philosopher and influential bishop believed that sexual intercourse was always a sinful act, though it could be permitted by the Church to conceive a child. That view was later challenged unsuccessfully by the Second Vatican Council, which called for restrictions on contraception to be lifted.
Bishops in the United States have recently claimed that requiring Catholic employers to provide health care plans that cover contraception violates their “institutional conscience.” However, Theologian Anthony Padovano questioned whether such a thing even really existed.
“An institution cannot have a conscience. Conscience belongs to a person. What an institution has is a policy; that’s a very different thing,” he says in the film.
“The bishops have claimed that the institutional conscience of the church may be offended if contraception has to be part of healthcare plans. But it’s important to notice that that ‘institutional conscience’ is at odds with about 98 percent of Catholics’ consciences,” Professor Daniel Dombrowski adds.
On the issue of abortion, the documentary explains that the Catholic Church had a more pro-choice approach during the 16th century than it does now. At the time, the church believed in a wide range instances where abortions were permissible. Later in the 17th century, scientists came to believe that the fetus was conceived in its final form and merely enlarged over time. As a result, the Catholic Church took a more prohibitive view on abortion. Though our understanding of fetal development has changed dramatically, the Church has not changed its position.
Watch the documentary below: