Friday, June 22, 2007

Frances Kissling (can't keep quiet)

Today's WSJ has a rather unusual letter by Frances Kissling (she of the "for a Free Choice" motto). She was responding to a June 8 article which noted how Catholic bishops who speak up to say that Catholic politicos are obliged in conscience to support laws that are consistent with the moral law are vilified (by certain Catholic politicos) as enemies of free speech, unwelcome censors of liberty, while in the early days of the civil rights movements, when bishops spoke up to say that Catholics (legislators and ordinary parishioners alike) would be excommunicated for refusing orders to desegregate Catholic schools and parishes, it was the conservatives who vilified the bishops and the liberals who cheered.
On the latest brouhaha involving the bishops, Kissling first makes a claim that I can actually agree with: there is a problem with Catholics who stridently support the bishops on life issues, but feel free to disagree with Church teaching on war, economic policy, capital punishment (and I would add immigration issues). As for the bishops, Kissling claims that they know not what they do. Nor, according to Kissling, are they (or the Pope) justified by Canon Law, for "nowhere in the code is there a provision for either self-excommunication or official excommunication based on any public policy position." (As if that were really the point.) Further, she distances herself from those "liberals" fifty years ago who applauded the bishops on integration. (I guess she can't bring herself to applaud them at all.) They "were right on integration and wrong on church law and charity" just as "the few bishops today who want to sanction policy makers who support legal abortion...are out of step with current thinking about both canon law and religious freedom."
I don't know where Kissling got her Canon Law degree, but it seems to me that no one is speaking about canonical excommunication here. It is a matter of subjective conditions for Eucharistic communion being met or not. And it's not only the politicos who need to make an examination of conscience before deciding to receive communion. We are all expected to do that.


Anonymous said...

Methinks that Ms. Kissling has run into a buzz saw in a habit. Let's hear it for Sr. Anne. spqr

Anonymous said...

In Church teaching, abortion is not equivalent to war, the death penalty, and economic issues. In fact, the Holy Father himself said so in 2004 as Cardinal Ratzinger in a letter to Cardinal McCarrick. See

Kissling's opposition to excommunicating segregationists could her in trouble with liberals. They nearly threw her out after the 2004 election when she departed from leftist orthodoxy on abortion and called on using different language, etc. on abortion.

xaipe said...

Granted that abortion and related beginning-of-life issues have a radically binding nature all their own, it very well could be that the distinction is lost on many who, as St. Paul said, are "weak in faith." They may not at all see the difference between one Catholic "dissenting" from Church teaching on embryonic stem cell research and another who "dissents" in the area of capital punishment. All they see is behavior that conforms to the American gold standard: when it comes down to it, I decide what is right or wrong, according to my own standards.
This means that Catholics who are public about their disagreement with the bishops on the morality of certain public policy positions make it easier for other Catholics, who may not be as firmly grounded in the nuances of Church teaching, to reserve for themselves the right to decide what is morally acceptable in other areas that relate to public policy and law.
In short, public dissent can be a form of scandal.

DB said...

There is another dimension to this that neither anonymous nor xaipe have pointed out. If, in the 60's, bishops actually did excommunicate people over desegregation (and they did), that could be an indication for us that in matters of social justice in today's news (death penalty, preventative war, etc.), "dissenting" Catholics may still be separating themselves from the communion of saints. I am not saying that is definitely the case, only that it might be that aggressively supporting the death penalty or preventative wars, while not "equivalent" to abortion, is still very gravely wrong, just as the overt racism of the pre-civil rights era was gravely wrong, even though not the equivalent of abortion or genocide.

xaipe said...

Good point, db. Things don't have to be as evil as abortion to be gravely wrong. Catholics who choose to depart from a clear pastoral directive in terms of justice should do so with the biblical "fear and trembling," even while they exercise their right to follow their own well-instructed conscience.