“Frances Kissling, President of Catholics for Free Choice (CFFC), which frequently appears in the media criticizing church teaching, admitted on WRKO Radio in Boston on August 21 that CFFC is not a membership organization. She also stated that they received funds in the past from Hugh Hefner and Playboy. Her remarks came in a debate on ‘The Jeanine Graf Show’ with C.J. Doyle, Massachusetts executive director of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. CFFC, which purports to represent an alternative Catholic view on abortion, had previously claimed thousands of members nationwide.” (National Catholic Register, Sept, 19, 1993.)
This revelation comes as no surprise to faithful Catholics and other pro-lifers. The view espoused by such organizations as CFFC represents a very small minority opinion. Kissling has built a career out of hatred for the Catholic church. In fact, she had just returned from Denver where she did a media tour during Pope John Paul’s visit.
Kissling and Catholics For Free Choice, Inc. first gained national attention in 1984 with a controversial ad which ran in the New York Times. “A diversity of opinions regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics,” stated the ad, which was signed by four priests, twenty-four nuns and sixty-nine lay people. It continued with claims that direct abortion can sometimes be a moral choice and a call to end any restrictions of legal abortions.
The signers, already part of an anti-hierarchy Catholic counter-culture, were responding to what they claimed was unfair criticism of vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s pro-abortion position. Ferraro insisted on identifying herself as a pro-choice Catholic. Several bishops publicly stated in effect that Ferraro could not have it both ways.
The media, of course, loved it. Kissling and some of the ad’s signers made the rounds on talk shows and lecture circuits. In the meantime, the Vatican contacted the bishops and superiors of the clergy and religious who had signed and required that they retract or face dismissal.
In their autobiographical account, No Turning Back, Barbara Ferraro (no relation to Geraldine) and Patricia Hussey shed some light on what motivated the signers of the ad. By 1984, even as members of a religious order, they were so alienated that it is no exaggeration to say they despised the Catholic Church. In fact, they were no longer Christian by any meaningful definition.
Although the focus of the book is unabashed self-glorification, between the lines the reader can find evidence of what happened to many religious orders beginning in the late sixties. The post-Vatican II era caused confusion among many religious communities and the loosening of traditional restrictions and greater contact with the “real” world left many young minds prey to radical ideologies.
Both Ferraro and Hussey were young and naive when they entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1962 and 1967. Curiously, neither woman describes having had a relationship with God, nor any natural inclination to piety. The reader senses that the authors are less than forthcoming about their motives for entering religious life.
Most striking about their story is that both women seem quite adolescent and emotionally undeveloped, both intellectually and spiritually. They rail against their perception of patriarchy, but their arguments and evidence lack reflection and credibility. They are easily offended and show no interest in a fair assessment of the other side of an issue, whether big or small.
It is evident that both women were easily influenced by the liberal ideology which had such a strong hold on campuses at the time they were pursuing their education. They were women who needed the discipline and protection of convent life. Outside, they became hapless dupes of anti-Catholic, anti-male, anti-establishment activists whose ideas were already passé outside of ideology schools.
After reading No Turning Back, I felt real pity for Ferraro and Hussey and so many others, victims of an ideology which destroyed many vocations. Of all the priests and religious who signed the New York Times ad, only two refused to recant. They left their order in 1986.
As for Catholics For Free Choice, “We now have confirmation that Frances Kissling is the spokesperson for nothing more than a well-funded letterhead,” says the Catholic League’s C.J. Doyle.