Pope Francis’ Seamless Garment. HE’S RIGHT–But Does It Hurt the Pro-Life Cause?

Pope Francis’ Seamless Garment. HE’S RIGHT–But Does It Hurt the Pro-Life Cause? June 2, 2015

Euthanasia, abortion, the migrant boat tragedies, malnutrition, terrorism, war, violence and on-the-job accidents.

All of these are “attacks on the sanctity of human life” which a civilized society must strive to resolve, according to Pope Francis. Speaking to the Science and Life Association on their 10th anniversary, the Holy Father said:

“The scourge of abortion is an attack on life. Leaving our brothers on the boats in the Sicilian channel is an attack on life. Death at work is an attack on life because it does not respect the minimal security conditions.”

He went on to cite malnutrition, terrorism, war, violence and euthanasia as attacks on life which civilized societies must strive to overcome. 

And he’s right. To be truly pro-life is to care about ALL the ways in which human life is unprotected, vulnerable, devalued.


Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was right, too, in 1976 when he advanced his “Seamless Garment” theology, and then in 1984, when he delivered his famous speech A Consistent Ethic of Life: Continuing the Dialogue” in St. Louis. 

But some claim that instead of garnering support for all the ways that Catholics and others of good faith must support an ethics of life, the “Seamless Garment” provided a hiding place for pro-abortion groups who were quick to assert that:

“You’re not really pro-life unless you …”

• oppose capital punishment;
• work to stop nuclear war;
• work to stop hunger;
• work to increase human dignity;
• work to increase access to contraception;
• work to safeguard “gay” (i.e., pervert) rights;
• help save the whales;
• adopt several Ethiopian children;
• are a strict vegetarian and wear no leather;
• and do a thousand other things,
 besides opposing abortion!

In short, the “Seamless Garment” cut into the post-Roe v. Wade enthusiasm which had built for ending abortion, instead lining up the murder of innocent unborn children as just one among many bad things that people can do. So you shouldn’t protest at a pro-life rally unless you’re also in the front row at a capital punishment rally. You shouldn’t volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center unless you first serve up soup to the hungry at a soup kitchen…. The demands are relentless.

Cardinal Bernardin, a holy priest but one blinded to the problems caused by his “consistent approach” to the issues, during his tenure attended several banquets to benefit Planned Parenthood contributors, and then criticized Cardinal John O’Connor’s pro-life efforts as being “inconsistent” because he didn’t at the same time address other social ills. Cardinal Bernardin also fired a good priest from the Chicago Diocesan Pro-Life Office for offering Mass in reparation for the widespread use of artificial contraception by American ‘Catholics,’ saying that this Mass “… was too narrow and negatively focused.”

Pope John Paul II, however, didn’t agree. He recognized that abortion, taking the life of the most innocent of God’s creation, is particularly heinous.  JPII expressed concern in a response on February 12, 1986 that said,

“An extreme sensitivity akin to a holy reaction is felt when attempts on life are made in the form of famine, war, and terrorism; yet, one cannot find this feeling of sensitivity when faced with abortion, which takes the lives of innumerable innocent beings.”

EWTN, in its online library, offers a comprehensive look at the deleterious effects of the Seamless Garment theory on attitudes toward abortion. It explains, in part,

The people in this movement agree on one thing: That human life must be protected from conception. If other admittedly important issues such as the nuclear threat, animal rights, and capital punishment become a part of the debate, it will be very hard to find any two people in the new, expanded “Seamless pro-life movement” who will agree on everything. Thus, the movement would inevitably fracture into a thousand factions and die.

Besides, what is wrong with being ‘single-issue’ in the first place? Martin Luther King was single-issue. Even Margaret Sanger was single-issue. Many revered movements have been entirely single-issue: Civil rights, abolitionists, and the unionizing movement are just three examples.

After the Supreme Court’s July 1989 Webster decision, the National Organization for Women and other pro-abortion groups demanded that their members sign pledges that they would never vote for an “anti-choice” politician. This is yet another case of the pervasive Neoliberal double standard; pro-lifers must be multiple issue, but Neoliberals may be anything they like.

Finally, ‘broadening our scope’ will be the death knell of the pro-life movement, because so many committed activists will be spending so much time in soup kitchens and picketing nuclear weapons plants that they won’t have any time, energy, or money left to stop abortion.

 Papa Francesco, you are right. Hunger, poverty, crime, unemployment–all of those are serious concerns which Catholics and others in society must address. Bringing a respect for human dignity is an essential, albeit difficult, responsibility for the Church.

But to include these societal ills in the same list as abortion? It offers pro-aborts the window they seek, to refocus society’s attention on other things while the killing goes on in clinics across this great country.

At the birth of these great United States of America, Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, which says this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Life comes first. Without Life, lack of food or being stuck on a boat, or being deprived of a sound education or an intact family–none of those things matter at all.


Human Fetus - 10 weeks (Therapeutic Abortion)  By drsuparna http://www.flickr.com/photos/74896762@N00/ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Human Fetus – 10 weeks (Therapeutic Abortion)
By drsuparna http://www.flickr.com/photos/74896762@N00/ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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