Seamless Garment Theory, …A  Revisit !

By Fr. Pablo Hughes, OMI

Recently our diocese of Brownsville unveiled its final conclusions of the first round on the Synod consultation. More than 8600 comments and suggestions surfaced from the 72 parishes, plus input from our sister communities across the border in Matamoros Mexico. Among the many concerns was the polarization on certain political issues and topics particularly involving the Pro Life vs anti abortion controversy…What does it mean to be pro-life,… solely against abortion or how do we become more inclusive to other life issues, e.g. of health , education , nuclear war, LGBT the death penalty, etc. ?  In light of SCOTUS’ recent reversal of Roe v Wade, up coming elections and constant media bombardment, more than ever there is need for a new look at these hot button social and moral concerns.

A possible suggestion is to ‘dust off’ or ‘revisit’ the controversial SEAMLESS GARMENT THEORY of the turbulent 1970’s-80’s era of our  Church history. Especially for the many ‘younger’ synod participants a brief historical review would be helpful. In earlier days the Pro Life movement was chiefly centered on being against capital punishment. With a shift in political winds in the late 70’s , Pro-life movement was to be, against abortion. Understandably debate and discussion became heated and intense, some calling for a larger, more inclusive umbrella in referring to a Pro Life stance and commitment. The then-Cardinal of Boston, Humberto Medeiros,( who was also former bishop of Brownsville) among others clarioned  the call for a CLE, Consistent Life Ethic with the words,

                “If we support the right of every fetus born , consistency demands that we equally protect every man’s right to a truly human existence.” –  Speech/ A Call for a CONSISTENT LIFE ETHIC and the LAW)

Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin

It was however, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago who, under the banner of SEAMLESS GARMENT THEORY gained fame by articulating the all inclusiveness of this pro life posture. Sensing that many pro lifers would consider this stance as diluting, dividing, and diminishing their true work, he responded to their anxieties by stating…

                 “ A Consistent Life Ethic does not say that everyone in the Church must do all the same things but it does say it is possible and necessary for the Church as a whole to cultivate a conscious and explicit CONNECTION among several issues… Consistency does not rule out contradictory moral postures about the unique value of human life. – (William Wade Lecture Series, March 11 1984 / St. Louis University)

One of the many comments that surfaced in this synthesis report, indicated that people were ‘surprised by even the idea of the Church asking their insights and experiences ‘ (Findings p.4) Hopefully, the opening of a pandora’s box of “hot potato” issues like Pro Life  will not discourage nor frighten these willing participants, but will allow us all with the grace of God, to continue to ‘walk together’ as Pope Francis desired in convoking this extraordinary SYNOD.!