Sometimes a headline and a by-line just don’t match. Yesterday, at Salon.com, there appeared an article entitled "Obama’s poor choice for faith leader" written by Frances Kissling, the founder of Catholics for Choice. Now, asking Ms. Kissling to assess the choice of a "faith leader" is a bit like asking a strict vegetarian whether you should have the foie gras or the sweetbreads. Sadly, the article that followed was a predictable rant by someone ill-equipped to assess the question at hand.
Kissling attacked the selection of Alexia Kelley to serve as the Director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Kissling is upset because, in her words, "Kelley has sought to narrow the interpretation of common ground on abortion to efforts to reduce the number of abortions by providing women who are already pregnant with economic support for continuing the pregnancy and making adoption easier." Is there some other "common ground" about which Kissling wants to enlighten us? Or, more likely, does she think the only common ground is if the other side caves and adopts her own position, a stance from the pro-choice side that is functionally no different from that of Randall Terry on the pro-life side.
Kissling is also intent to charge Kelley with being opposed to contraception. I have never asked Kelley her thoughts on the matter, either theologically or as a matter of public policy. Certainly, Catholic theology – never Kissling’s strong suit – holds that contraception is an intrinsic evil, but it has not been seen as the kind of thing that, say, gets you uninvited from Notre Dame. Besides, isolating birth control, or abortion for that matter, from the fabric of the Church’s teachings misses the point: I hope no one follows the Church’s teaching on birth control or any other moral issue only because they think of the Church as an ethical authority that must be obeyed. This extrinsic view of morality, that reduces faith to morals, has been repeatedly warned against by Pope Benedict. Unless the faithful see the connection between the empty tomb and our teachings on all ethical matters, we Catholics have our work set out for us.
This is the sense in which Cardinal Bernardin’s "seamless garment" approach must be seen, not as a way to wiggle out of the Church’s opposition to abortion nor to deny that theological analogy requires recognizing differences as well as similarities when weighing and ordering the relative import of moral issues in the public square. The garment metaphor did not come to the late Cardinal because he visited a dressmaker. The seamless garment is the garment of Christ himself, for which those who crucified him cast lots because it had no seam. It isn’t just that it is wrong to see the Catholic vocation in the political life as a one-issue vocation. It is that all issues for the Catholic must be seen through the prism of the horror and the beauty of the Cross and the Crucified.
Of course, none of this is Kissling’s concern. She merely wants to takedown a pro-life Democrat who represents a new generation of women, a generation tired of the "Stay away from my ovaries!" pro-choice shouting that Kissling made famous. The good news is that the President is evidently listening to Kelley not Kissling. The bishops who are about to meet in San Antonio should note that fact. And, we pro-life Democrats should make sure the White House knows that we applaud the selection of Kelley for such an important and sensitive position.