Are you really a Catholic, or do you just play one on TV?

Frances Kissling, go-to gal for media quotes about all things Catholic, has stepped down as head of Catholics for a Free Choice. Religion reporting just got a whole lot harder.

Catholics for a Free Choice is a Catholic group of abortion activists' dreams. If you hit the CFFC Web site, you'll read: "Ask Pope Benedict to Lift the Ban on Condoms!" And in a closing salvo in the group's magazine, "Conscience," Kissling asks, "Is abortion a morally neutral act? Is it, as some have said, an unambiguous moral good?" Usually a group with the word "Catholic" in its name would be clear on those kinds of questions.

But Catholics for a Free Choice is not a Catholic group; it's a "Catholic" group, one whose Catholic identity doesn't go much deeper than the name on its letterhead. In reality, it's something much closer to a liberal-Democratic group – who it comes closest to speaking for – than anything else.

As the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference has pointed out, CFFC's claims to be Catholic are bogus. In a 2000 statement – not the first – they declared: "A group calling itself Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) has been publicly supporting abortion while claiming it speaks as an authentic Catholic voice. That claim is false. In fact, the group's activity is directed to rejection and distortion of Catholic teaching about the respect and protection due to defenseless unborn human life ... (CFFC) is an arm of the abortion lobby in the United States and throughout the world."



But that chicanery seems to work as a "Catholic" source for many a reporter anyway.

You could feel the pain, in fact, on the pages of The New York Times when Kissling stepped down in February. A headline described her as "Backing Abortion Rights While Keeping the Faith." The same story quoted her saying, "I'm so Catholic, I can't get away from it." Underlining the point that conservatives are terribly judgmental (the fools believe in right and wrong), the Times reporter described Kissling as "one of the most vocal of the so-called bad Catholics, those who manage to accommodate the opposing sentiments of love for the church and anger at much of its doctrine."

Kissling's retirement marks an opportunity for The New York Times to report on some other Catholics - maybe even Catholics who actually believe what the Church teaches to take to the media.

In her exit interview, Kissling complained to the "Times" about the Church hierarchy: "It abuses nuns, anyone who thinks, homosexuals, women who have abortions. It sexually abuses children. It treats people badly, and something has to be done to change its abusive nature."

Yes, the Catholic Church has its share of sinners and corruption. But giving further evidence that Kissling's been right in line with the Democrats, her diatribe sounded a lot like the anti-Catholic rantings of a blogger recently hired and allowed to resign by the John Edwards presidential campaign. Describing the pope as a "dictator," the blogger said that the Catholic doctrine of limbo is "wielded by everyday Catholics to explain where the souls of unborn babies go, which is just an extra way to guilt trip women who have abortions."

Perhaps now that Kissling has time on her hands, she can do some freelancing for Edwards?

The media have been inadvertently helpful to the Catholic Church over the years. Their relentless investigation earlier this decade uncovered abuse. In the wake of the scandals, John Paul II biographer George Weigel thanked reporters at the likes of the Boston Globe for what they did: "If God could work through the Assyrians in the Old Testament, God can certainly work through The New York Times and the Boston Globe today, whether the Times or the Globe realizes what's happening or not. ... The trauma of the Catholic Church in the United States in 2002 will become an opportunity to deepen and extend the reforms of Vatican II if the Church becomes more Catholic, not less -- if the Church rediscovers the courage to be Catholic."

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