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

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • David W

    Seems to me that Pope Francis is not hurting the pro-life cause. He’s saying we have to be consistent. As to the pro-aborts, I would say this: Yes, there *IS* more to being pro-life than being opposed to abortion…but you can’t be pro-life without that.

    The problem is, opponents are using sophistry, not that the Pope is making things harder.

  • irena mangone

    Save the baby. Yes always but then you have to also feed clothe and educate. So we need to be for all of that baby’s needs if the mother is seeing Abortion for the three other things which are lacking in her life. We have to be consistent. Its all very well and feel Good to rant outside Abortion Clinics. If you are There only to save the baby but dont give a toss once its born. And no i do not approve or even want abortions to be happening. But you do realise. That they will go Backyard if the official ones are close down so we need to support the whole person i,e mother and Child

    • Maggie Goff

      More and more pregnancy care centers are opening. The one that I support here in Cochise County, AZ does support the mother, child, and in many cases the fathers. Ecumenical support from all of the churches down here, with fundraising and volunteers.

      • kathyschiffer

        And I serve on the board of Mother And Unborn Baby Care in Michigan, and can tell you firsthand about the care that is given to mothers and babies (and yes, fathers). The whole “feed, clothe and educate” thing is a straw man argument; those things are being done. There are always people ready to open their arms to welcome a new life.

  • Korou

    If you want to reduce the number of abortions then there is a very simple way to do so: increase sex education and give free access to contraception. Rates of abortion will then plummet.

    A win-win situation for everyone.

    • kathyschiffer

      Gotta run, Korou–but I could find you fifty articles which prove the error of your statement. Here is one.

      • Korou

        Giving a non-evidenced opinion piece by a highly biased party is not a great start.
        Actual scientific research sounds more reliable.
        “Teenage girls and women who were provided contraception at no cost and
        educated about reversible contraception and the benefits of LARC methods
        had rates of pregnancy, birth, and abortion that were much lower than
        the national rates for sexually experienced teens.”
        This shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s common sense. Better sex education and access to contraception means fewer pregnancies, therefore fewer abortions.

        • Gillemar

          From the pro-life perspective that’s a Pyrrhic victory though. Obviating abortion with contraception just trades in one attack on life with another.

          • Korou

            “Attack on life”? We’re talking about murder here! Cold-blooded killing! Don’t you think it’s worth slipping on a condom in order to stop genocide greater than Hitler ever dreamed of?

          • Gillemar

            I am so happy we see eye-to-eye on the most important point, that abortion is murder! You are so right in the Hitler comparison. I’m wondering though if the comparison can be extended. When the Nazis prevented their “inferiors” from reproducing, yes I think that was not as bad as if the babies were conceived and then murdered, but it wasn’t a desirable option either. Another concern is that contraception and abortion can be the same thing, when the method is abortifacient drugs.

          • Korou

            I’m sorry to have misled you. I will immediately make a correction so that I don’t continue this deception.
            I do not believe that abortion is murder; I am firmly pro-choice. However in this thread I am arguing that if you DO believe that abortion is murder then you should support comprehensive sex education and use of contraception, as these have been proven to reduce abortion rates drastically.

            Again, apologies for the misunderstanding I’ve caused.

    • Jacqueleen

      Correction: The best way to end abortion is to reverse Roe vs. Wade and make abortion illegal…Yes, there will be a few back alley abortions, but not to the extent that it is today while legal. That is when the education will come in to prevent as many back alley abortions as possible. Contraception is taboo….The Rhythm method is the only method approved by the Catholic Church to be used to waltz around pregnancy.

      BTW, the education should include that men should zip up their pants and control their libido as well as women and know that sex is reserved for marriage as an expression of love between husband and wife and not meant for one’s own pleasure…Sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin!
      Our blessed Mother has said that more people will go to hell due to the sins of the flesh than any other sin. Men be aware!

      • Neko

        You wrote:

        Our blessed Mother has said that more people will go to hell due to the sins of the flesh than any other sin…

        I’d take anything Lucia reported with a warehouse of salt.

        The Rhythm method is the only method approved by the Catholic Church to be used to waltz around pregnancy.

        Anyone who has read the process involved with NFP (the “rhythm method” is a bit of an outdated description) would hardly characterize it as a “waltz.” It’s no wonder few people adopt this approach so enthusiastically proposed by (purportedly) celibate men.

        You wrote:

        The best way to end abortion is to reverse Roe vs. Wade and make abortion illegal.

        That’s not happening, no matter how many times the GOP dangles this carrot before you at election-time.

        • Jacqueleen

          Excuse me! I thought this was a Catholic site…It seems as though it is an Atheist’s site. You make it clear that atheists do not have any faith or hope for that matter. How sad.

          • Neko

            Excuse me! I’m Catholic.

          • Jacqueleen

            No. You are not….You are too negative and incorrect. You do not know the Catholic Faith.

          • Neko

            Who do you think you are! Plus you’re wrong on every count.

            Catholics aren’t mandated to accept the “revelations” at Fatima.

            It’s true NFP is practiced only by a tiny minority.

            It’s also highly unlikely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

            Neither of these observations has anything to do with being an atheist or “negative.” They have to do with assessing reality and politics.

            Neither is it true that atheists are any more “hopeless” than anyone else.

            Furthermore, I’m Catholic. Are you a convert? Maybe you’re unaware that a progressive wing exists in the Catholic Church and has for a very long time.

          • Jacqueleen

            I’m very well aware of the Progressive wing, the Free Masons and Liberation Theology….You sound like a member of all three. In fact, are there more commenters on this site besides Neko and Korou? If you are Catholic you would be praying for the imperfections within the church and the preservation of our faith.

          • Neko

            The Free Masons! LOL! Are you one of these Fatima conspiracy theorists? Saints preserve us.

          • Korou

            Oh, there’s plenty more, don’t worry. I dare say the others will turn up soon.

            For your information, I’m an atheist. I come here because I enjoy sharpening my debating skills. After all, this is Patheos, “hosting the conversation”. It is to the credit of the moderator that she allows dissenting viewpoints on her blog.
            I also enjoy sharing news with others. For example: if you think that the majority of Catholics agree with you I hope you now see how you were mistaken.

            And to answer you from earlier – no, surveys don’t make a question right. But this survey does clearly show that Catholics, on the whole, are unconvinced by pronouncements of the Church because they follow their good sense and sense of goodness.

          • Jacqueleen

            Catholics, on the whole, are unconvinced by pronouncements of the Church
            because they follow their good sense and sense of goodness.

            Why don’t you ask them why they vote in a poll the way they do instead of assuming…YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT ASSUMING.

            Lukewarm Catholics or aka, cafeteria Catholics who pick and choose what they want to believe in are under the misconception that God is a merciful God and will forgive them all of their sins and all will go to Heaven and live happily ever after…..SOUND LIKE A FAIRY TALE? The answer is “Yes” because it is just that..a lie straight from the devil.

            God is a merciful God if we ASK HIM FOR MERCY WITH A CONTRITE HEART. God reads hearts. And, if we don’t ask Him or refuse to accept His mercy in any way, we will receive His JUSTICE….MORE PEOPLE GO TO HELL DUE TO THE SINS OF THE FLESH THAN ANY OTHER SIN.

            I have had enough of your poison and that of Neko as well. I have a few souls to save in my neighborhood.

          • Neko

            Hey you don’t save souls. Above your paygrade.

          • Korou

            I do indeed. They say “it makes an ass out of u and me.”
            Kind of like assuming that nobody who disagrees with the Catholic Church’s teachings, inside it or out, has an ounce of decency or has ever given a moment’s serious consideration to it.

          • Jacqueleen

            Who do I think you are?…glad you asked…I’m a child of God, the Heavenly King.

            You say that Catholics are supposed to treat homosexuals with respect but you arrogantly disprove of that same respect and reverence given to the Mother of God. The same message was given to other visionaries as well. You know, visionaries who have elevated their thoughts above the world into the supernatural realm…Something that you would know nothing about.

            Like you, many lukewarm Catholics are listening to their father the devil…BELIAL. If it feels right, then it must be right is their motto…Right from Satan’s mouth.


          • Neko

            You know nothing about me or my experience. And I’ll take an atheist with decency and intellectual integrity over the likes of you any day.

          • Korou

            I wouldn’t call Neko arrogant too quickly, your heavenly highness. He thinks he’s a child of God too, and so should you. For that matter, you ought to think that I am as well.

          • Neko

            Indeed! One quibble, though: I’m a she. No worries–online I’m invariably mistaken for a man. Makes me wonder: maybe I should change my name to Bruce? 🙂

          • Korou

            Oh – sorry about that.

          • Korou

            I have some news I would like to share with you:
            Go to this article:
            And look at the survey.
            Notice how a majority of western Catholics in Europe and the Americas disagree with the Church on almost every issue. Even the question about abortion.

          • Neko

            Nice to know the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the most violent countries on earth, and Uganda, one of the poorest (and homophobic), is down with the Vatican on contraceptives, women priests and gays.


          • Korou

            I have seen commenters on this blog whose views would be most welcome in Uganda.

            That’s the horrible thing about anti-gay rhetoric. You get all these people making speeches about how sinful the gay lifestyle is, how it’s a cancer at the heart of American society and about how gays are sexual predators. And when you say “why do you hate gays?” they’re all like, “We don’t hate gays! How dare you say that! We may hate the sin, but we love the sinner.”
            And then you see that other countries, like Uganda, have been listening to the rhetoric and are starting to say: “If homosexuals are so evil then we’d better pass laws to jail and execute these perverts!”

          • Neko

            Mind you, I disagree with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. But the catechism does say homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Some of these Super-Catholics seem to interpret this as an invitation to ratchet up the pious belligerence. That’ll bring ’em to Jesus.

          • Korou

            Perhaps it’s because there are a number of ways of deciding what constitutes “unjust” discrimination.

          • Neko

            Exactly. It’s an insidious formulation.

          • Jacqueleen

            Do surveys make a question right? The comments on this site are more Progressive than any other Catholic site on the Internet. You all should sit back and read what you are writing and then say that you know your faith.

          • Korou

            Mind you, it’s true – atheists don’t have faith. It’s one of our more positive characteristics.

      • Korou

        “Yes, there will be a few back alley abortions, but not to the extent that it is today while legal.”
        Quite untrue. Also quite illogical.

  • Mary Ann Andersen

    The very last sentence in this article puts it all in perspective for me: “LIFE COMES FIRST. Without Life, whether it is 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.” I understand pro-life from that perspective. Everything else is a direct result of our respect (or lack of) for human life from natural conception to natural death.

  • Gillemar

    FYI, capital punishment is not a pro-life issue — you are perfectly entitled to advocate *for* it if you’re so inclined. The Church has never said capital punishment is evil. In fact this isn’t the Church’s realm at all; the secular justice system is entrusted by God to the jurisdiction of the State. As long as they proportion the punishment to the crime and do not abusing their powers (eg. torturing people), it’s the State’s call what punishments to hand out.