Ethics & Public Policy Center

Is that "Seamless"? Or "Unseemly"?

Published in Catholic Vote on October 18, 2011



In a recent interview, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia-typically reviled by progressives and “social justice Catholics” for being an “archconservative”-said this: “If we don't love the poor, and do all we can to improve their lot, we're going to go to Hell.” Stern stuff, that, and good for all of us to hear. The obligation to exercise a preferential option for the poor is non-negotiable.

As St. James reminds us: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?”

Yesterday, in his address on the occasion of World Food Day, Pope Benedict XVI had this to say:

Freedom from the yoke of hunger is the first concrete manifestation of that right to life which, although solemnly proclaimed, often remains far from being effectively implemented.

To which Michael Sean Winters, over at the National Catholic Reporter, responded with what he seems to imagine a real zinger:

I guess no one told the Pontiff that such sentiments risk reviving talk of the “seamless garment” approach to life issues once favored by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Me thinks I hear some gnashing of teeth from the right wing bleachers.

Curious. Who exactly does Mr. Winters think is going to chip a tooth over the pope's affirmation that the right life implies the right not to starve? Does anyone deny that? If so, who?

Mr. Winters brought up the question of consistency and who agrees with which of the pope's statements, so let's indulge his little game. Here's what the pope (then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) wrote to the US bishops in 2004:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia….There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

Can Mr. Winters reconcile this statement about a priority with respect to moral issues with the pope's statement above on hunger? I hope so.

I know Catholics who believe all kinds of crazy things: right-winged and left. I even know Catholics whose beliefs are most accurately described as “protestant.” But I have never met a Catholic who would actually dispute Pope Benedict's point about hunger.

On the other hand, I wonder if Mr. Winters can name any Catholics who routinely and publicly dissent from the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life by actually supporting the evil of, say, abortion. If he can't think of any, I have some suggestions. And most of them aren't exactly “right-wing.”

So for all the “seamless garment” folks out there, my question is this: why do all Catholics agree that the right to life includes a right not to starve, but only some Catholics believe the right to life includes a right not to be dismembered in the womb? Whatever one thinks the late Cardinal Bernardin meant by “a consistent ethic of life,” that's not it.

Today, it is scandalously commonplace for prominent Catholics to deny the Church's clear and constant teaching on abortion and abortion “rights.” Most of these, though not all, find a home in the Democratic Party. This is a sad reality for the Church, the Democratic Party, and the country as a whole, to say nothing of the victims of abortion. So if he's concerned with consistency, something tells me it's not the “right wing bleachers” Mr. Winters needs to be worried about. Maybe if he stops jousting with straw men for a moment, he'll see that.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. The views expressed here are his own.

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