Group's bid to strip Vatican's U.N. status comes under fire
Terence J. Kivlan
The Chronicle (Muskegon, Michigan) May 14, 2000

Don't tell Frances Kissling, the head of Catholics for Free Choice, that she's anti-Catholic because she wants to strip the Vatican of its member-state status in the United Nations.

"There are some people in our society for whom any criticism of the Catholic Church is synonymous with anti-Catholicism and I think that is a rather absurd definition of anti-Catholicism," she said in a recent interview.

"The Catholic Church has done some good things and some things that are not so good ... ," said Kissling, a long-time dissenter to her Church's stance against abortion and artificial birth control programs. "People in the public arena have a right to criticize the Catholic Church for the things it does that they believe are wrong."

As for her group's campaign -- called "See Change" -- to bust the Holy See down to observer status in the United Nations, she said it was actually pro-Catholic. "We recognize that it is more important to be a religion than a state," she said. "We think the Church ... has more moral authority when it speaks as a religion.

Moreover, she argued, "the Vatican is really not a country and what it has to say in the United Nations it should say as a religion." She contended that the Vatican had been a positive force in the U.N. deliberations on human rights issues but that "when it says things like condom use causes AIDS ... that is a dangerous stand to take."

Indeed, Free Choice has charged in its drive to mobilize support for the See Change, the Vatican has put lives at risk by using its "powerful voice" in the United nations to limit access to "safe abortion" and block the implementation of condom education programs in countries wracked by AIDS.

Anti-abortion Catholics want the Vatican's "powerful voice" in the United Nations to be retained. In a recent letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y, argued that See Change would "diminish (its) countless contributions" to the United Nation's debates on a wide range of issues over the past 36 years.

"Although the Holy See has no voting rights, it has used its position as bully pulpit to foster greater understanding and tolerance among the United Nations' diverse population," wrote Fossella, adding that the Vatican had "served as a tireless advocate for those in need" and as a catalyst for consensus "in times of crisis and war."

In short, contended the congressman, the effort by Kissling's group and its pro-choice allies on See Change, including the National Abortion Rights Action League and Women Leaders Online, a feminist dot-com group, is "both short-sighted and needless."

But while Fossella shrank from accusing Kissling and her allies of anti-Catholicism, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson has not. Singling out NARAL and WLO to take the brunt of the attack, Nicholson has labeled See Change a "bigoted plot," and challenged Vice President Al Gore, first lady Hillary Clinton and other pro-choice Democrats to sever their ties to the groups.

"See Change's anti-Catholic goal is to evict the Vatican from the U.N., to silence the voice of Pope John Paul and to prevent 1 billion Catholics from speaking up for morality and justice in the world's most prominent international forum," said Nicholson in one of a series of broadsides on the issue earlier this year.

In another verbal blast, lie ripped three Democratic House members from New York - Nita Lowey, Carolyn Maloney and Louise Slaughter - for agreeing to sit on WLO's advisory board. When the group reacted to the "smear" by abolishing the board, Nicholson accused the congresswomen of playing "a game of duck and hide."

Lowey and Maloney responded that Nicholson was just trying to take the edge off the charges of anti-Catholicism leveled against Republicans in the aftermath of George W. Bush's disastrous visit to Bob Jones University this February and the controversy over the House Republican leadership's rejection last year of a Catholic priest's candidacy to become the first of his faith to become House chaplain.