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Brazilians Face Population Dilemma

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THE local paper mill in this southern city of 65,000 began a family-planning program in 1977 for its employees, which helped bring the average number of children per couple down to 2.2, from more than five. Today the program has expanded beyond the mill, with the Klabin Company offering its resources and expertise to the population at large, in concert with the city government.

"At the beginning, the [Roman Catholic] Church was radically against this. But today, seeing the relevance and social usefulness of it, the priests and nuns are our allies," says Virgilio Castello Branco, the mill's administrative director.

Questioned in a telephone interview, the local Catholic bishop, Dom Murilo Sebastiao Ramos Krieger, at first says he has no knowledge of the Klabin program. After making inquiries with the local priest about it, he later explains: "It's impossible to fight these things in every corner of the country. The city serves everyone; the church serves its own. It gives a general orientation [on birth-control policy but] ... the method of Christ was to show the ideal, not to use coercion."

Some top church officials here have expressed concern about the growing use of birth control in the world's largest Roman Catholic country. But even they appear resigned to the new reality - long familiar in the industrialized nations - that most Catholics have come to separate their reproductive decisions from their faith. In the process, they have removed one major barrier to solving the problem of runaway population growth.

"The increasing acceptance of contraception and family planning by Catholics will contribute significantly to global efforts to reduce population-growth rates," says a senior United Nations population expert, who asked not to be named.

The determination to make individual decisions is one manifestation of a historic transformation of attitudes toward family planning that has taken place in the shadow of a church that has long opposed efforts to interfere with conception.

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