Volume > Issue > Consumed by Zeal for the Culture of Death

Consumed by Zeal for the Culture of Death

Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church

By Patricia Miller

Publisher: University of California Press

Pages: 332 pages

Price: $34.95

Review Author: Anne Barbeau Gardiner

Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the seventeenth century.

Patricia Miller has been writing for Catholics for Choice (formerly known as Catholics for a Free Choice) for years and even served as editor of its oddly named magazine Conscience. It is hardly surprising, then, that Catholics for Choice (CFC) allowed her to spend a year and a half rooting around in its archives. What is surprising is that a university press should stoop to publish an in-house partisan book like Good Catholics as if it were scholarship.

Miller presents a triumphalist account of CFC’s long battle against Catholic bishops and the Vatican. She says the decades-old organization has fewer than twenty paid employees, and she points out how “a relatively small number of committed individuals” has used the media, the government, and international forums to show that “good Catholics can support abortion rights.” How did they do this? By promoting the “progressive theology” of Catholic dissidents who treated abortion as a moral choice. Yes, everything CFC accomplished was by means of Catholic theologians.

In 1974, when its budget was only $20,000 provided by a single donor, CFC already had dissident Catholics on board, such as the Jesuit Joseph O’Rourke. In a U.S. Senate hearing that year, CFC gained a national audience for the first time when Fr. O’Rourke promoted its “pro-choice Catholic theology.” By 1980 the organization was bringing in $250,000 a year from population-control and eugenics foundations eager to have “a pro-choice Catholic perspective” in the debate.

Frances Kissling was hired in 1982 as director of CFC, a post she would hold for the next twenty-five years. Kissling had entered a convent at age 19 but left within a year. Her first step down into the abyss was running an abortion clinic in New York. Her next steps were opening the first legal abortion clinic in Austria — and an illegal one in Mexico. By the mid-1970s she had plumbed the depths as the first director of the National Federation of Abortion Providers.

Yet, despite her zeal for the culture of death, she was an intellectual lightweight. Therefore, when she became director of CFC, she immediately recruited dissident Catholic theologians, including Daniel Maguire of Marquette University, Marjorie Reiley Maguire, Mary Hunt, and Rosemary Radford Reuther. Miller characterizes these four as “cutting-edge progressive theologians,” but regressive would be the better term since they were bent on returning societies to the rampant baby-killing of pre-Christian antiquity.

Miller alleges that in 1982 CFC was being bombarded with questions about “the morality of abortion,” so Daniel and Marjorie Maguire were asked to prepare a “Catholic” guide on this subject. Abortion: A Guide to Making Ethical Choices (1983) was distributed nationwide to abortion clinics and student health centers to “help Catholic patients dealing with guilt about abortions.” That guilt, of course, was assuaged by the denial of sin. That same year, Daniel Maguire, on behalf of CFC, prepared a briefing for members of Congress in which he “reviewed the theological basis for Catholic pluralism on abortion.” He claimed that there was no single Catholic position on abortion and that to say otherwise was “theologically ungrounded.” He also declared that the issue of abortion was open to “legitimate debate” in the Church, and that “the faithful could dissent from the hierarchy.” He informed Catholic legislators that they had the option of supporting “abortion rights as a matter of public policy, even if they were personally opposed to abortion.”

This was the same nefarious advice that Catholic theologians Robert Drinan, Charles Curran, and Richard McCormick had given to the Kennedy family in 1964 when they advised making “a distinction between their personal beliefs about abortion and the application of these beliefs in public policy in a pluralistic society.” Merely for the sake of public office, they were to allow women to cast their children in the fire at the altar of Moloch.

Maguire’s briefing, distributed to members of Congress, had an endorsement in the form of a cover letter signed by Geraldine Ferraro, who, a short time later, would run for vice president on the Democratic ticket. This letter caused John Cardinal O’Connor, archbishop of New York, to publicly rebuke Congresswoman Ferraro in September 1984 for making untrue statements about Catholic teaching on abortion. That same year, New York Governor Mario Cuomo gave an address at the University of Notre Dame in which he stated that a Catholic politician could be personally opposed to abortion yet be unwilling to impose his Catholic morality on others. The false assumption here is that Catholic teaching on abortion is sectarian rather than a defense of the natural law and the common good.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Marjorie Maguire were drafting a statement to publicize “the division within Catholicism on the morality of abortion” — a division they were zealously working to create. Of course, as theologians, they knew that the Church had prohibited abortion from the time of the Apostles, as evidenced by the Didache. But as strategists for CFC they now called on theologians, nuns, and priests to go on record testifying to “a diversity of opinion on abortion” in the Church, so as to give pro-choice Catholic politicians a fig leaf of legitimacy for their position.

On October 7, 1984, a month before the presidential election, the Maguires’ statement ran as an ad in The New York Times. Signed by ninety-seven Catholic scholars, theologians, priests, and nuns, it declared that “direct abortion” can sometimes be a “moral choice” and that a “diversity of opinions regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics.” Kissling boasted that this ad ended “the hegemony of both bishops and male clerics as the public interpreters of Catholic teaching.”

A surge of media interest in Daniel Maguire ensued: He became the theological spokesman for CFC’s view of abortion as a moral choice. He later followed this line of mis-reasoning to its irrational conclusion in his book Sacred Rights (2003), wherein he made abortion a religious choice, and the denial of access to it persecution.

In a jocular essay recently published in CFC’s Conscience magazine (Vol. 34:3), Mary Hunt applauds Maguire’s book A Merry Memoir of Sex, Death, and Religion (2013) — yes, merry, after all the harm he has caused! Hunt says that Marquette, a Jesuit university and her alma mater, has “by and large had his academic back throughout his tenure,” because administrations have “realized that having him around makes them look good. A Catholic university with a ‘dissenting’ voice has credibility.” Thus, Hunt testifies that Maguire has received encouragement from a Catholic university for zealously sabotaging Catholic teaching for more than thirty years.

Miller admits that, as far back as 1985, CFC was not supported by members but by foundations. It worked “strictly as an educational organization,” seeking “creative ways to make visible Catholic support for abortion rights.” In November 1985 Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities described CFC as a front for population-control and eugenics foundations like the Sunnen, Ford, and Brush Foundations, noting that it accepted money even from the Playboy Foundation. Later, the Catholic League famously attacked CFC as “a well-funded letterhead that functions as a front group for the population-control movement.” Indeed, CFC was a fraud, but it had its stable of dissident Catholic theologians. That is where its power lay.

By 1990 CFC had a budget of $1 million, and by 2000, $3 million — considerably more than Judas’s thirty pieces of silver. In the 1990s it sponsored a lecture tour by Rosemary Reuther with the aim of establishing a pro-abortion network in Latin America, which Reuther later bragged was “among the defining accomplishments of her career.” CFC made inroads into other Catholic nations as well: Poland, Ireland, Yugoslavia, and the Philippines.

In June 1993 CFC arranged a meeting at the White House where, along with other dissident Catholics from Dignity, Women’s Ordination Conference, and Call to Action, it assured the Clinton administration that “progressive Catholic groups” would support a national health-care plan that included “abortion services.” Two years later, CFC advised President Clinton that his veto of a bill banning partial-birth abortions would “not alienate Catholic voters.”

At the 1994 UN Cairo Conference, which Miller calls “a major defeat for the Vatican,” CFC had three theologians present: Reuther, Maguire, and the Jesuit David Toolan. CFC “assembled a briefing packet for the press to refute the Vatican’s criticisms of the Cairo Program of Action.” This briefing, which amply “quoted theologians who opposed the Vatican’s policies on reproductive health,” was mailed out to “every reporter who ever covered anything related to these issues.” It was also handed out to reporters at the Cairo event, making “a huge, huge impact.” O, how zealous are the children of darkness!

Pope St. John Paul II warned that the “very future of humanity” was at stake in the Cairo Program, which he criticized for promoting “an internationally recognized right to access to abortion on demand,” for ignoring marriage and the family, demeaning motherhood, and telling adolescents they could have sex without moral consequences. In response, CFC handed out buttons that read, “I’m Poped Out” and “No Papal Control,” and Maguire praised the Cairo Program as “thoroughly religious.” Five years later, at the Cairo Review, Maguire addressed the UN General Assembly and called on Church leaders to “stop their dogmatism, a dogmatism that offends many Catholics and most of the world’s religions.”

In Milton’s Paradise Regained, our Lord refers to those who slander Him, “Of whom to be dispraised is no small praise.” In just the same way, the praise of Patricia Miller amounts to infamy, and her dispraise to glory. Among the many faithful Catholics on whom she heaps dispraise in this book are John Paul II; Cardinal O’Connor; Fr. Paul Marx, founder of Human Life International and Population Research Institute; Judie Brown, founder of American Life League; and Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family & Human Rights, a UN watchdog group. Who would not wish to be on this roll of honor?

Miller’s triumphalism rises to its zenith when she speaks of a December 2000 episode of 60 Minutes, which, based on CFC “research,” informed seventeen million viewers that “Catholic hospital takeovers” were causing the “curtailment of reproductive health services” in the U.S., and that this curtailment was due to the “long reach of the Vatican.” Here we see people who run no hospitals and who do nothing to help the world’s poor eaten up with envy over the Church’s works of mercy, so much so that they want to usher in a new era of persecution. Their cry is “No Popery.” Why? Because they wish to divide and conquer, the pope being the one who ensures unity in the Church, and Mother Church being the one who most loves and defends the human race.

In 2001 Human Life International published Catholics for a Free Choice Exposed, in which author Brian Clowes quotes Frances Kissling telling Mother Jones magazine that she “spent twenty years looking for a government that I could overthrow without being thrown in jail. I finally found one in the Catholic Church.” Miller calls this a mere “quip,” but it is an insight into CFC’s overweening ambition. It wants to accomplish what Emperor Julian the Apostate and all other pathetic enemies of the Church failed to accomplish in the past two thousand years. In fighting to destroy the Church, all of them hit their heads against the same wall, and so will CFC with its Judas-theologians. According to our Lord’s promise, the Church must endure until the end of time, and the Gates of Hell — heresies, even congeries of heresy like the culture of death — will not prevail against her.


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