The National Catholic Review

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.

 

 

 

Comments

Anonymous | 6/16/2009 - 6:08am
In Ireland contraception and abortion were unknown, and the choice Mortal Sin for males was coitus interruptus, for females refusing their marital duty. Result: a host of unwanted children who were dumped in hell-hole schools. The dogmatism about these issues among conservative Catholics is a masterpiece of unreason and inhumanity, as Frances Kissling is teaching us. However, please note that Paul VI called contraception intrinsice inhonestum, not intrinsice malum. Moreoever in a letter to Cardinal O'Boyle of Washington he said that objectively immoral acts could be diminished in guilt, inculpable or subjectively defensible. This was a charter for confessors to treat artificial contraception as something best left to the conscience of the penitent. Today if people make a song and dance about the evil of contraception one can only suspect them of being provocateurs, cranks, Theology of the Body cultists, or aspirants to ecclesiastical office.
Anonymous | 6/15/2009 - 5:40pm
I think Winters is right. Frances Kissling assumes "a stance from the pro-choice side that is functionally no different from that of Randall Terry on the pro-life side." Already, in her comment on this article, she is fusing a cartoonish rhetoric of victimhood with a paranoid cynicism, saying that Catholics in Alliance "made a strategic decision that they wanted to be seen as 'authentic Catholics' unlike Catholics for Choice in order to help candidates they wanted to see elected get elected." A mirror image of the Randall Terrys of the Catholic far-right, Kissling self-righteously pretends to know the motivations of her opponents: simple political expedience. But this, the inability to grasp the legitimate moral basis of rival positions, and the willingness to cast fellow Catholics as Machiavellian power-players, suggests a failure of imagination and a misunderstanding of her own faith. Public discourse on issues this fundamental must rise above this kind of childish insulting and posturing. Polarization and black-and-white ways of framing these complex matters of policy will get us nowhere. Like Pres. Obama, Alexia Kelley sees this. (Mocking her commitment to a "common ground" approach used to be the province of the right-wing; now Kissling's taken that unfortunate route.) It's safe to say that the black-and-white "abstinence vs. contraception" scheme will only result in a dead end. It is too reductive. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy recognizes this reality.
Anonymous | 6/15/2009 - 3:17pm
Funny, isn't it, that Ms. Kissling's comment calls into question whether or not Kelley favors contraception, but never once provides validation from Kelley's own comments or record. Where has Kelley indicated that SHE opposes contraception? Just because a speaker associated with CIA, who is clergy, no less, expressed that contraception must be opposed does not mean that Kelley agrees in any way. Seems Frances Kissling would realize the inconsistencies in her argument; because she doesn't or won't admit she does indicates to me she's trying to mine CIA's associates and associated organizations' comments for something with which to attack Kelley. That's the same old trick she's always performed.
Anonymous | 6/15/2009 - 9:42am
If Ms. Kelley is indeed against contraception, she should absolutely not be appointed for that position. Pope Paul VI erred when he finally decided to oppose contraception, against the advice of a majority of consulted people from all sides of the Catholic Church. If sexual education was well done and contraception available, there would undoubtedly be many fewer abortions. Until this is understood, a few will continue to "abortionize" the US Catholic Church and this is too bad.
Anonymous | 6/13/2009 - 2:43am
Something ''intrinsically evil'' in the Catholic understanding cannot be justified under any circumstances. That does mean, however, that anything which is ''intrinsically evil'' is just as bad as everything else. Deliberately and directly hurting an innocent person is intrinsically evil and never justified, but it is not as bad as killing an innocent person. In regard to contraception, we could put the general principle this way: if contraception is fundamentally opposed to human life, then it is intrinsically evil and is a kind of horror, though less than the others Jack mentioned. If contraception is not fundamentally opposed to human life (or to some other essential human good), it is not intrinsically evil. The Church understands artificial contraception to be objectively a kind of denial of the good of human life to which marital intercouse is ordered, and therefore intrinsically evil. Of course, because subjectively the denial of this kind may be very weak or nearly non-existent (e.g., if there are very strong pressures from outside), the concrete significance of contraceptive acts may vary greatly.
Anonymous | 6/11/2009 - 9:35am
Jen - Kissling's claim isn't so unsubstantiated.  Actually page 95 of Kelley's book, A Nation for All, which she co-authored with Chris Korzen, states. ''In recent years, many members of Congress have dedicated their energies to passing legislation aimed specifically at combating the root causes of abortion.  They are not all perfect; some include contraception.'' Unfortunately, Kelley does oppose contraception - an evidence-based measure to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce the need for abortion.
Anonymous | 6/10/2009 - 8:12pm
Yes, it would be useful for someone to ask Alexia Kelley if she is opposed to contraception. I have no idea what answer she would give now. I can tell you I assert that with very good evidence that Catholcis in Alliance and Catholics United which present themselves as sister organizations are opposed to contraception. What is that evidence? In part: At a press conference several years ago, probably in late 2006, Catholics in Alliance spoke in favor of the Ryan De Lauro bill which includes both contraceptive provision and help to women already pregnant as a way to reduce abortions. The nun who spoke for CIA said they could not support the contraceptive provisions because they are Catholics. The press representative for Catholics in Alliance told me twice on the record that they do not support contracpetion because they are Catholics and do not want to dissent from church teachings  (we had a much longer off the record conversation, but the confirmatio of the position on contraception was on record) The study done by CIA on ways to reduce abortion excluded contraception as one of the methods, the method most researchers know is best. A all the organizations materials and statements on reducing abortion and common ground exclude contraception as a way to reduce abortion ans speak only about what to do once women are pregnant. The oly reason to ignore the method that works best is because you are opposed to it. The Voters Guide CIA  used in 2006 which was produced by Catholics United clearly stated that Catholics cannot disagree with church teaching at all. What theology! I do not doubt that it is possible that in spite of such public positions Kelley and others in CIA are. perhaps privately dissenting from the position on contraception (indeed a number of board and advisory members are pro-choice on abortion itself)  and made a strategic decision that they wanted to be seen as ''authentic Catholics'' unlike Catholics for Choice in order to help candidates they wanted to see elected get elected. Electoral politics almost always involves some form of lying, omission or subterfuge which is why Catholics for Choice, when I was here, avoided it like the plague. But Alexia Kelley can clear this up in an instant. Why is she not doing so?
Anonymous | 6/10/2009 - 2:10pm
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.'' I sure wish somebody had.  Kissling's unsubstantiated claim is being repeated as fact all over the blogosphere.  Maybe it's true, but you can't tell from that Salon piece.
Anonymous | 6/10/2009 - 11:15am
I have not been trained in Catholic moral philosophy and do not understand its nuances and jargon. But when I hear someone say that contraception is ''intrinsically evil,'' then look up the words ''intrinsic'' and ''evil'' in the dictionary, I am left to wonder where reason left the discussion. Is contraception as bad or worse than murder? As bearing false witness to destroy another person? As using God's name to justify our own agendas? Normal readers, just using the dictionary, will understand ''intrinsically evil'' to mean something that is both horrible and unjustifiable in all circumstances. Such strong statements are instantly polarizing and make further discussion or charity impossible. Slavery came to be regarded as so horrible and unjustifiable as to be worth killing and wounding one million Americans between 1861 and 1865. Likewise for the Nazi gas chambers. But contraception???
Anonymous | 6/10/2009 - 10:03am

Cardinal Bernardin's words need to be understood correctly: “I don’t see how you can subscribe to the consistent ethic and then vote for someone who feels that abortion is a ‘basic right’ of the individual.” He went on to say, “I know that some people on the left, if I may use that label, have used the consistent ethic to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important anymore, that you should be against abortion in a general way but that there are more important issues, so don’t hold anybody’s feet to the fire just on abortion. That’s a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it.”

Anonymous | 6/11/2009 - 8:51am
Pro-Life and Abortion:  a Christian abuse problem all over again   Pro-Lifers should be forced to look at abortion the way Catholics were forced to look at the symptoms of sexual abuse.  Symptoms were not the main problem to be solved but a sign of a deeper issue.  Symptoms of the victims of priest sexual abuse include but are not limited to: suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and social withdraw.  Women, who are abused - sexually, psychologically, and emotionally - exhibit similar behaviors and often turn to abortion.        Pro-Lifers are ignoring the abuse of women the same way Catholics ignored the abuse of children by priests.  The Church never wanted to admit or investigate that there was an underlying abuse problem.  Pro-Lifers don’t want to admit or investigate an underlying problem either.  Pro-Lifers need to admit something is wrong in society the same way Catholics had to admit something was wrong in their church.   Also, Catholics blamed the children for the symptoms of abuse.  It was double abuse.  Pro-Lifers do the same.  They blame women for exhibiting symptoms of abuse.  If Pro-Lifers really want to be Pro-Life, they need to help stop the abuse just like the Catholic Church helped stop the abuse.   Then and only then will abortions will be reduced and eventually stop.    In the meantime, when I think of a Pro-Lifer I think of them as a person who would turn their back on abuse in the Church and create an environment in which normally healthy children turn to suicide.  People are turning their back on abuse toward women and normally healthy women are turning to abortion.    Making abortion illegal won’t solve the problem.  Women will only turn to back-street abortion providers in the same way abused Christian children found ways to commit suicide.