Seamless Garment Theory Blurs Moral Lines

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  October 17, 2017   

John Paul II: "Voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral"

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The Consistent Ethic of Life, commonly called the seamless garment theory, equates intrinsic evils such as abortion with social justice issues of poverty, hunger, joblessness and the like, and has been blurring Catholic moral teaching for the past 50 years.

The seamless garment was a term coined by a Catholic ethicist in 1971 to equate the intrinsic evil of abortion with capital punishment. Catholic teaching bans abortion but allows capital punishment in certain situations. The Seamless Garment was later equated with the term "consistent ethic of life" by the late Cdl. Joseph Bernardin of Chicago in talks given at two universities in 1983 and 1984.

At the first talk, the cardinal added to the list eugenics, nuclear war and euthanasia. At the second talk, he opened the list up to poverty and other social justices issues.

By the mid-1990s, the U.S. bishops drafted Catholic voting guidelines that expanded the consistent ethic of life to "protect human life and promote human dignity." This emphasized poverty, violence and injustice. The bishops added in racism, employment, education, housing and healthcare. Their voter's guide in 2015 lumps together intrinsic evils like abortion, euthanasia and redefining marriage with poverty and racism.


The U.S. bishops now speak out more on social justice issues of immigration, climate change and capital punishment than on such intrinsic evils as abortion, euthanasia or same-sex marriage. In 2015, Cdl. Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, shocked many by equating the evil of the abortion industry's sale of babies' body parts to a broken immigration system and joblessness. As revolting as trafficking in the body parts of aborted children is, however, the cardinal said:

We should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care, who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism, who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want, who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.

Few Catholics would be as appalled at joblessness as they would at the butchering and sale of innocent babies. The Fifth Commandment in the original Hebrew, moreover, doesn't merely say "Thou shalt not kill" but rather "Thou shalt not murder." This connotes the taking of a human life, and an innocent human life at that.

In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II spoke of the intrinsic evils of abortion and the taking of innocent human life. While allowing the death penalty and just war theory in certain circumstances, the Holy Father stated, "I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral."

He went on to say, "In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it.'"

Watch how intrinsic evils such as murdering the unborn are conflated with social justice issues in The Download—Downplaying Abortion.


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