Kissling lecture ill-conceived

This past Wednesday’s lecture by Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for Free Choice, sponsored by Voice for Choice (VFC), Williams Democrats and the Dean’s Office, proved not to be an illuminating discussion on abortion, but rather a directed attack on the Catholic Church. Posters advertising the lecture contained quotes offensive to Catholics such as, “It’s clear why the Pope breaks out into a cold sweat whenever Kissling gets up on a podium.” Other posters and campus e-mails listed Kissling’s various accomplishments, but failed to include the fact that the U.S. bishops have denounced Kissling and her group twice, in 2000 and 1993.

The timing of Kissling’s talk was also disturbing. The Newman Catholic Community’s leadership voiced objections to VFC bringing Kissling in to speak during Holy Week, the most holy time of the year for Christians and Catholics, on what was initially advertised as “Gender Issues Facing the Catholic Church,” the title of which was later changed to “Bush’s War on Women: Fundamentalism and Reproductive Rights.” The lecture fit neither description.

Kissling split her talk into two halves: the first covered the legal history of abortion, including what she claimed to be the Church’s position and Bush’s efforts to overturn it, while the second addressed the issue of being a pro-choice Catholic. Kissling delivered a polemic against the Church instead of focusing on the political facets of abortion as the talk’s title suggested. Misrepresenting the Church’s position on abortion by making it appear that its position was ambiguous and confused, she cited various snippets of Church documents, but did not cite paragraph 2270 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church’s official book on faith and doctrine, which states, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” Kissling combined such glaring omissions with patronizing jokes belittling the Church and its history.

Holistically, we must view Kissling’s talk as not one of respectful and reasoned political discourse, but instead as hate speech. Recently there was a huge furor over the Horowitz ad taken out in the Record. Kissling’s talk deeply offended many Catholic students and if the same groups, faculty, and members of the administration that denounced the Horowitz ad do not denounce Kissling’s talk, they will have revealed themselves as having no moral or intellectual integrity in their claims to defend respectful speech and discussion.

Anti-Catholic sentiment, however, is present elsewhere. A student cannot study Catholicism academically, even though over 400 Catholic students attend Williams. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, has his name on the side of Stetson, but one cannot intimately study his work. When asked why there was a huge gap in his introductory philosophy course, skipping the medieval period, Aquinas, and Augustine, one professor replied that including them was difficult since it would be “too hard to separate their philosophy from their theology.” Separate? Their philosophy was intimately tied to their beliefs; it would be a gross misrepresentation of their work not to discuss it in context with that faith and it would be an insult to assume their philosophy does not have great value, despite its religious nature. The department teaches an entire course on Kant: why not a course on Aquinas and Augustine? The religion department has some courses in early Christianity but nothing about modern Christianity or Catholicism, specifically. If one in five students is Catholic, shouldn’t they be given an opportunity to rigorously study their faith in the classroom?

Over my four years here, there has been an explosion in Catholic activity. Support from College Council (CC) and the administration, though, has been slow to accompany this growth. Ryan Mayhew ’01, former CC treasurer, once publicly characterized Newman’s increased budget as “supremely inflated” when explaining why much of its request had been denied.

Many of you are also aware of the recent scandal in the Church. Catholics have been betrayed by those whom we most trusted. Those scars run deep and penetrate through the Purple Bubble, yet the administration has made no great efforts to find and offer support for those Catholic students affected by the scandal. Meetings with members of the administration (including President Schapiro) wherein students have asked for more space and resources to better support Catholics in these trying times and better accommodate this increased activity have been met with little gusto. Instead of jumping at the opportunity to support its students, the administration has floundered.

We as Catholics must thus turn to each other for solace and strength, but when other students engage in such hateful behavior as the Kissling talk, it makes our task to support each other all the more daunting. I hope that this recent act of anti-Catholicism on campus will cause all members of the Williams community to fully question whether they truly uphold the ideals of respect that so many speak of. If we do not actively cherish and cultivate a respect for others and their beliefs, Williams will cease to be a great school. This piece is not meant to be taken as an indictment against certain segments of the campus, but instead a call in good faith for greater respect towards all students, Catholic or otherwise.

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