By William A. Donohue
“I spent twenty years looking for a government that I could overthrow without being thrown in jail. I finally found one in the Catholic church.” That is how Frances Kissling, the president of Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), explained her mission to a reporter from the magazine, Mother Jones. As the record shows, her rhetoric is anything but empty.
One way that Kissling works to attack the Catholic Church is to challenge
the status of the Holy See at the United Nations. The Holy See is a sovereign state and has maintained a diplomatic corps since at least the 15th century. Kissling is determined to try to convince the 170 countries around the world that exchange diplomats with the Holy See that it is unworthy of such recognition. To that end, she has orchestrated a “See Change” campaign to strip the Vatican of its permanent observer status at the U.N.
“Vatican representatives have misrepresented, distorted and lied about what women want.” This is the language that Kissling chose to characterize the Holy See at the outset of the Fourth U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing. Following the precedent she set in Cairo, Kissling sought to remove the Vatican delegation from the Beijing Conference. She failed in that attempt but not in her quest to condemn the pope and the entire Catholic Church.
CFFC is often described as the nation’s largest Catholic pro-choice organization. This is twice wrong: it is not Catholic and it is not an organization. It has been openly denounced by both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops as being a fraud, and it has no members. Funded almost entirely by pro-choice foundations, CFFC is not only an oxymoron, it is the establishment’s most persistently anti-Catholic letterhead.
CFFC was founded in 1973, setting up shop in the headquarters of New York’s Planned Parenthood office building. Once Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, CFFC joined with the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, moving decisively to counter efforts for a Human Life Amendment. Its first president, Father Joseph O’Rourke, was expelled from the Jesuits in 1974; he served as CFFC president until 1979. Kissling took over in 1982 and has been responsible for shaping the anti-Catholic agenda of CFFC more than anyone else.
Kissling has long thrived on direct confrontation with the Vatican. In October 1984, CFFC ran an ad in the New York Times titled “Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion.” The ad, which was designed and placed through Planned Parenthood, maintained that there were differing “legitimate Catholic positions” on abortion. Such reasoning has become a staple of CFFC thought and informs its approach to Catholicism in general. For Kissling, there can never be enough dissent from the Catholic Church.
The credibility of CFFC hangs on its alleged Catholicity. The media court CFFC because it allegedly offers a contrasting voice within the Catholic community on the subject of abortion. Now no one doubts that there are some Catholics (approximately one-third) who differ with the Catholic Church’s position on abortion. The question, however, is to what extent can CFFC be considered a Catholic group? Deny it the status of a Catholic organization and CFFC collapses to simply another player in the pro-abortion lobby.
The following statement is typical of the way CFFC distorts Catholic teaching: “The bishops won’t tell you, but CFFC will: There is an authentic prochoice Catholic position.” It was due to misrepresentations like this one that on November 4, 1993, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) released a statement stating, “many people, including Catholics, may be led to believe that it