Letters: Kissling Lecture

Frances Kissling, who spoke at Williams on April 16, purports to present an alternate Catholic teaching on abortion; however, her claim to expound authentic Catholic teaching is completely unjustified.

Kissling argues that the Gospels (thus, Jesus) say nothing about abortion. Indeed, as is written in John 21:25, Jesus said many things that were not recorded in the Gospels. However, the Church draws doctrine from both Scripture and Sacred Tradition (teachings not recorded in Scripture). For example, the epistle of Barnabas (written before 138 A.D.) says: “do not murder a child by abortion or commit infanticide.” Though the Gospels say nothing on abortion, Sacred Tradition tells us what the early Church taught.

Kissling also claims the Church has been inconsistent on the personhood of the unborn. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) flatly contradicts this: “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. Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable” (CCC 2270-1).

To circumvent this, Kissling argues that Church teaching requires obedience to the dictates of conscience; if her conscience indicates that abortion is not immoral, her duty is to disobey this Church teaching. While the Catechism affirms the obligation to follow the dictates of one’s conscience (CCC 1782, 2106), Catholics also have a duty to inform their consciences according to Church teaching to avoid error: “Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of the autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgement in moral conduct” (CCC 1792). “Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church” (2039); Church teaching is binding on Catholics, not subject to the individual conscience.

Some of Kissling’s claims border on preposterous; for instance, that the Church forbids abortion because women are not moral agents capable of making autonomous decisions. First, the Church’s reason for forbidding abortion is clear: it violates the right to life of the unborn person (CCC 2270). Second, if the Church didn’t consider women moral agents, it couldn’t make moral demands on them. Yet the Church makes high moral demands of women, as of men. That women are expected to confess their sins presupposes moral agency (reason, free will). That women are considered inferior is flatly rebutted by the Catechism: “Man and woman have been created…in perfect equality as human persons.Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity ‘in the image of God’” (369).

Kissling may argue the pro-choice position; but presenting her views as authentic Catholic doctrine is deceitful. Her views are in clear contradiction to the teachings of the Church.

Joe McDonough ’06