Did you know that the Roman Catholic Church used to lean prochoice?
This was (shocking) news to most of the attendees of Friday’s screening of The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics–even those who were themselves Roman Catholic. Sensational tidbits from the new Catholics for Choice film included the fact that in the 1600s, Church hierarchy and theologians considered abortion justifiable in the case of a physical threat to the woman (including if her family might kill her) or stark ruin to her reputation, according to theologian and Marquette University professor of ethics Dan C. Maguire. This was “promoting life.” Maguire related that prominent 17th century Jesuit writer Thomas Sanchez even went into “the delicate case of being engaged to one man, but slightly pregnant from another,” which would also justify abortion.
In contrast, these days, a Roman Catholic nun can be excommunicated for approving an abortion to save a woman’s life. Even facing a “close to 100 percent” certainty of death. Even though the 11-week fetus could not survive if the pregnant woman died. With the explicit justification that sometimes the woman and fetus both need to die.
The film moves between seven Roman Catholic theologians who provide insights into the Church’s past and present stance on topics such as abortion, contraception, sexuality, and, of course, sex. And the topics under discussion make watching theologians sitting and expounding unexpectedly popcorn-worthy.
Watchers were further surprised to learn that two of the most influential men in Church doctrine, St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, suggested that a fetus gained a soul not at conception, but rather anywhere from a few weeks to a few months down the line.
You can watch the 45-minute film yourself, or shorter clips on key topics from condoms to conscience, on the Catholics for Choice website or on Vimeo.