Charlie's Blog: The Seamless Garment


The Seamless Garment

I know that some people on the left, if I may use that term, have used the consistent ethic to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important any more, that you should be against abortion in a general way but that there are more important issues, so don’t hold anyone’s feet to the fire just on abortion. That is a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it.

Joseph Cardinal Bernardin birthed a controversy in the 1980's with his call for the "seamless garment." This controversy remains with us today. The fact that it was controversial then and remains with us is indicative that Bernardin got it right. Certain pencil twirling pundits will disagree with me. But this is because they suffer from the problem Bernardin was trying to address.

In the United States, there are essentially two kinds of Catholics. There are those who put their religion before their politics, and there are those who put their politics before their religion. This second class includes both the Left and the Right. These folks in true cafeteria style claim those parts of the Magisterium and Catholic Social Teaching they like while downplaying or dispensing with those parts they don't like. Sad to say, this includes Bernardin's seamless garment teaching. The teaching is not in error. The error is the cynical way that it is either twisted or derided.

The abortion issue is a case in point. I believe life begins at conception, and abortion is murder. But life properly ends in natural death. When a baby dies in the womb with its mother because she was locked in a railway car with other immigrants to die from thirst and starvation by a coyote that took the money and ran, I think this is a pro-life issue just like trying to defund Planned Parenthood. So, what is the difference? From a religious viewpoint, there is no difference. From a political viewpoint, there is a wide gulf between the two.

As I survey the field of presidential candidates on both the Republican and Democrat side, there is not a single man or woman I could support for office. This includes the Catholic candidates. Those candidates in particular have not a single qualm about deviating from what the Catholic Church teaches on issues like abortion, the death penalty, income inequality, gay marriage, war, and on and on. This leaves the argument that I should vote for the less evil person which for those pencil waving pundits is the Republican. I suspect that a passionately pro-life Democrat candidate would make them break out in a cold sweat.

I put my religion before my politics. This is why I don't vote. I'm not falling for the lesser of two evils because this logically would make me vote for Hitler over Stalin because Hitler had the lower bodycount. If all faithful Catholics in America refused to vote for the lesser of the two evils, this would form a large demographic that would actually have some political clout. But the Catholic vote is divided and watered down. There are 69.4 million Catholics in the United States making up 22% of the population. It is the largest religious body in the USA. To put it in context, the NRA claims 4.5 million members. Yet, both Democrats and Republicans bend over backwards for the NRA.

Catholics have no political clout because they have no religious fidelity. The Republican candidate pays a little lip service on abortion, and he has the Republican Catholics on board. The Democrat candidate just utters the word "social justice" and the liberation theology pro-abortion Catholics are on board. And no progress is made on either issue. The salt is no longer salty.

To become salty again, Catholics need to embrace the entirety of the teaching of the Catholic Church. This is the seamless garment. This means being pro-life, anti-death penalty, pro-family, pro-environment, pro-competitive market, pro-immigrant, and on and on. The Catholic Church doesn't proclaim this, but it has what amounts to a complete political platform. That platform is at serious odds with the platforms of the Democrat and Republican parties in the US. My personal desire is that a third party would emerge like the Libertarian Party or the Green Party that actually took this complete Catholic platform as its marching orders. It would probably be about as successful as those other third parties. Such parties like the Italian People's Party have actually done this.

This third party I envision would not win elections, but it would act as a voice of conscience in society. The Libertarian Party has this effect on the GOP while the Green Party has this effect on the Democrats. The primary effect would be on those Catholics who put politics before religion. This would give them a chance to put their religion before their politics.

I would love to vote for the good instead of the lesser of two evils. This would be a real change for the better. Maybe this will happen one day. I will continue to register as a voter, and I will continue to stay home on election day wishing I had a real choice that I could support in good conscience.