Cardinal Bernardin was not, as some have alleged, soft on abortion.
This week the cardinal’s long-time assistant, Mary Hallan FioRito, made that point in a letter published in the Wall Street Journal.
I have often heard from ardent pro-lifers that Cardinal Bernardin’s “Seamless Garment” policy did great damage to the cause of the unborn. The “Seamless Garment,” they say, placed abortion on an even plain with poverty and unemployment and immigration—other societal issues which are important but which, according to one friend, do not result in a dead human in a trash bucket.
A recent article by Nicholas Hahn in the Wall Street Journal attempted to make that same point. He quoted Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, who said in an interview last October,
“The point that [Bernardin's] consistent ethic makes is exactly the same point that Pope Francis is making—let’s look at the whole picture and not just focus almost exclusively on three or so issues.”
“Cardinal Bernardin,” Hahn wrote,
“…who led the archdiocese from 1982 until his death in 1996, espoused a liberal line that has helped give pro-abortion Catholic supporters of the Obama administration theological cover.”
Mary Hallan FioRito strongly disagrees, and backs up her contention with quotes drawn from the Cardinal’s own writings. Responding to Hahn’s column, FioRito wrote:
As the person who served as the pro-life spokesperson for Joseph Cardinal Bernardin from 1993 until his death, I write to correct Nicholas G. Hahn III’s assertion that Bernardin “maintained that matters as varied as the death penalty, the minimum wage and how to wage war should be considered on the same moral plane as abortion” (“The Pope’s Chicago Cardinal,” Houses of Worship, Feb. 7).
Mr. Hahn is right to be troubled that, especially in the political arena, the “consistent ethic of life” has sometimes been employed to justify support for legal abortion. Yet in a 1988 interview, when he was directly asked about some Catholics who were “less visible about right-to-life issues,” Bernardin noted: “I know that some people on the left, if I might use that label, have used the consistent ethic to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important anymore, that you should be against abortion in a general way, but that there are more important issues, so don’t hold anybody’s feet to the fire just on abortion. That’s a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it.” (National Catholic Register, June 12, 1988). Moreover, the Cardinal said, “I’ve made it very clear that at any given time, one issue may have to be given much higher priority than others. I’ve never said they were all equal or required equal attention.”
As Cardinal Bernardin pointed out, “whatever diminishes life or destroys it is evil.” It’s true that some people have manipulated his words to suit their own agendas, but as the cardinal himself stated, “the misuse does not invalidate the argument.”
Mary Hallan FioRito
Archdiocese of Chicago