Press Releases 2012

“The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics”

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Catholics for Choice Releases Film Setting the Record Straight on Catholic Teaching

WASHINGTON, DC — “The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics,” a new documentary-style film produced by Catholics for Choice, sets the record straight about Catholic social teaching on issues related to sex and sexuality. In the wake of a bruising campaign season, during which Catholic bishops politicized the pulpit and tried to drown out the voices of Catholics who disagree with them, this film offers a straightforward explanation of what Catholic social teaching really is on the controversial issues that drive the news cycle—and it’s not simply the dictates of the US bishops.

“Contrary to popular opinion, there is more to Catholics’ beliefs than what the hierarchy espouses,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “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 45-minute film features interviews from theologians and scholars discussing a wide range of issues, starting with a foundational examination of what is the Catholic church and who is a Catholic. It then explores current topics, such as the widespread use of contraception and abortion among Catholics, the legalization of gay marriage and the ordination of women.

“The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics” comes at a time when Catholic bishops have pushed to redefine religious freedom so that it allows their beliefs to run roughshod over the rights of individuals to follow their conscience, particularly in reproductive health decisions. In addition to carefully laying out the historical perspectives of the church on family planning, the voices in the film address the question of whose religious liberty is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

“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,” notes Professor Daniel Dombrowski in the film.

Theologian Anthony Padovano explains why this “institutional conscience” is a misnomer: “An institution cannot have a conscience. Conscience belongs to a person. What an institution has is a policy; that’s a very different thing…You can’t say it has a conscience.”

The experts interviewed in the film include some of the leading authorities on church history—many of whom have been outspoken critics of hierarchical overstepping:

  • Dan C. Maguire, STD, Theologian and Professor of Ethics, Marquette University;
  • Rosemary Radford Ruether, PhD, Professor of Feminist Theology, Claremont Graduate School and Pacific School of Religion;
  • Sheila Briggs, MA, Theologian and Associate Professor of Religion and Gender Studies, University of Southern California;
  • Anthony Padovano, PhD, STD, Theologian and Distinguished Professor of Literature and Philosophy, Ramapo College of New Jersey;
  • Kate Ott, PhD, Assistant Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Drew University Theological School;
  • Daniel A. Dombrowski, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, Seattle University; and
  • Mary E. Hunt, PhD, Theologian and Co-founder of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

This project was produced by Catholics for Choice as part of its work to educate Catholics about moral theology and reproductive healthcare. It shows that there are many ways Catholics can inform their consciences—but not just by listening to the bishops.

“The goal of producing ‘The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics’ was to give the backstory on how the views of the church have changed, as well as the theological perspective that the bishops alone cannot possibly speak for the people in the pews,” said O’Brien. “We want people to know that there are many Catholic opinions on these issues. It is far too simplistic to claim that what the bishops say reflects the views and beliefs of all Catholics.”

“The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics” features interviews with leading experts in the fields of theology, philosophy and ethics who examine Catholic traditions, teachings and beliefs on the following key issues:

  • Abortion and Contraception;
  • HIV and AIDS;
  • Sex and Sexuality; and
  • Religion in Public Policy.

The full-length film and clips can be found here: http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/SecretHistory.asp.

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Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women's well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.