by Gail Quinn
April 14, 2000
In the early 1980s, a one time candidate for a religious order of nuns and co-founder of a trade organization for abortion providers (really!) took over the reins of Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC). CFFC was started in 1970 to thwart the Church's effort to help repeal New York's law allowing abortion. Its first public event was the mock crowning of a female Pope on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, and for years those associated with it would show up at pro-abortion events to lend a "Catholic" voice to the proceedings. Its first President, Joseph O'Rourke, S.J. was expelled from the Jesuits in 1974, although he remained as CFFC president until 1979.
By the early '80s, the rag-tag group was a bit more visible. Foundations that had been funding other pro-abortion groups found a new front and began to throw money CFFC's way. The group opened a new office in the nation's capital, and Frances Kissling said goodbye to the trade association (the National Abortion Federation) and signed on to lead CFFC. Today she continues to preach her message: Although the Catholic Church teaches that killing innocent human beings is wrong, that is not the only Catholic teaching on the matter because. . . well, because she says so. And besides, there are some other people who were baptized Catholic who agree with her.
As you follow CFFC's story, it is amazing to see what money can buy. Here was a former abortion counselor, who said she was Catholic, claiming in essence that anything said by anyone of Catholic background is ipso facto a Catholic teaching. For reasons hard to fathom this passed the straight-face test with the media. Maybe the media they like the lady's message. Maybe they bought it because the think every story needs some controversy. Or maybe they don't like religion or the Catholic Church. No matter, they bought it.
And so "news" stories often read something like this: "Today Cardinal John O'Connor, preaching in St. Patrick's Catheral, told Catholics that innocent human life is sacred and must be protected from conception on. Francis Kissling took exception to that and explained. No, no, no . . ..the Cardinal doesn't represent all Catholics. Some of us think it's OK to kill a child as long as you do it before it's born, and we're Catholic, so that's also a Catholic teaching.
Back to our former postulant turned abortion counselor turned media darling. Once you've got your agenda figured out--in this case a program to undermine the Catholic Church and its teachings--how do you get people to know that you exist and want to be heard? Kissling takes out ads in major newspapers, puts out lots of press releases, calls reporters, hangs out with like-minded folks who get in the news, publishes lots of stuff, and travels around so that she can seem to be everywhere. A little bit of everything for everyone! This, of course, takes lots of money.
Where does the money come from? From the Combined Federal Campaign. From the United Way. Planned Parenthood. The Ford Foundation (Ford alone has donated millions). The Gerbode and Gund Foundations. The Public Welfare Foundation. The Sunnen Foundation. The David & Lucile Packard Foundation. Even the Playboy Foundation has gotten into the act. Like Kissling, these foundations have an agenda. It used to be population control and abortion. Now their agenda includes undermining the Catholic Church through front groups. "I spent twenty years looking for a government that I could overthrow without being thrown in jail," Ms.Kissling once said. "I finally found one in the Catholic Church" (Mother Jones, May/June 1991, p. 11).
Money allows one to veil distortions and lies with a patina of respectability. It even allows one to disguise anti-Catholic bigotry as a religious voice. But in the end, neither media nor money can make a virtue of what is inherently evil, and neither can change Catholic teaching or Catholic beliefs. And despite the label on the letterhead, there is nothing Catholic about Catholics for a Free Choice. And neither money nor media can make it so.
Gail Quinn is executive director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.