Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

the night cometh

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 13, 2007

You're standing in the room, and the woman is on the table, and the vacuum aspirator is turned on. The doctor goes in her body, and then there is that point where they turn the aspirator on, and you see the look on the face of that woman. The absolute awareness of every person in the room at that instant of what is happening lasts for maybe 60 seconds. It's a profound moment, no matter how tiny that fetal life is. There is that consciousness in an instant of something being sucked out, destroyed. How can you not be affected? You see an instant of enlightenment or of recognition of the profound event that is happening. That just makes it impossible to look at the issue in totally abstract ways or as simply good or bad.

"How can you not be affected?"

Yet another exit interview with Frances Kissling, this one published in her own magazine, Conscience. William Saletan departs from his usual hardball journo act and, in his role as interviewer, pitches underhand to Aunt Fran. The results are surprising. Now and again there are glimpses of the old Kissling truculence, but she seems to be losing her grip on her dogma -- or better, she seems more willing to admit that the absolutism of "abortion any time any reason" is a useful, perhaps indispensable, political slogan, but that her true beliefs on the matter are more complex.

I've long nursed a suspicion that Kissling was never interested in abortion per se -- or in "choice," for that matter. Her real crusade is aimed against the Catholic hierarchy, for whom she displays the antipathies typical of an educated feminist of her generation: the girls who, now in their 70s, still cherish resentment at injuries received fifty years earlier. Energized by wrath, and more nimble than the comparatively slow-moving and slow-thinking herbivores that had pastoral custody of Church teaching, Kissling spent her life enjoying the delights of vengeance, by claiming to be a good Catholic while pro-abortion -- and watching the reaction. She was canny enough to realize both the sputtering outrage that her claim would provoke in her targets, and their impotence at hitting back. She also understood, and capitalized on, the support her stance would attract from the Church's powerful and wealthy despisers.

Kissling has never shown any genuine interest in or knowledge of the post-Conciliar Catholic Church. She applauds some Catholic relief efforts, but in a way no different from the Clintons or the Euro-Communists. She shrewdly continues to identify herself as a Catholic in good standing, however, which gives her the double advantage of newsworthiness ("proof" that the Church embraces a "diversity of positions" on abortion), and of positioning her in media eyes as David against Goliath -- Goliath being her old foe the hierarchy, of course.

Given the overwhelming media sympathy for her position, Kissling's game was not a hard one to play, but even so she carried it off very well, and clearly enjoyed twisting the tails of her opponents, safe in the knowledge that they were powerless to hurt her in return. The show's just about over now, and most of the fun is past. Now perhaps the ultrasound videos that she must have seen from time to time take on a new meaning, and images of those shadowy "somethings" somersaulting in the womb may make unwelcome intrusions into her wakeful hours at night. "How can you not be affected?," she asks Saletan, pointing to the scene in the surgical theater. There are hesitations in these farewell interviews we haven't heard before.

"Revenge is barren," declared Friedrich Schiller, "its delight is murder, and its satiety, despair." Having devoted her life to the amusements of pay-back, Kissling can congratulate herself on murder, satiety, and despair -- which, in this case, takes the form of a sardonically emphatic childlessness not her own. As with her colleague Kate Michelman -- who hoped that retirement would allow her "to indulge that 'grandmother' part of me" and who hoped that God would assure her on the day of judgment "that I was a good person" -- Kissling seems on the brink of the realization that the joke is wearing thin.

"The night cometh," Jesus said (John 9:4), "when no man can work." Or snicker.

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