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Seamless Garments & Brainless Bishops

by Tony M.

We all know that Catholicism opposes abortion. What surpasses understanding is how it is that Catholics – and I pointedly include very high ranking Catholics – can be so muddleheaded and ineffective at opposing abortion. As example, I offer Chicago’s Archbishop Cupich’s recent article in response to the Planned Parenthood videos, in which he unleashed this whopper:

While commerce in the remains of defenseless children is particularly repulsive, 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.

Fortunately, Catholics with a brain are willing to tell it like it is about this. Phil Lawler comments that Cupich has jumped the shark.

Here is another article on the same thing, taking Archbishop Cupich out to the woodshed on this, and noting how Archbishop Chaput of Philly takes a good swing at the moral incoherence of saying things like “we should be no less appalled”.

However, even though the article is strongly in defense of sanity, I have to say that the referenced Archbishop Chaput's essay on the matter is NOT as clear as it should be. In fact, Chaput damages his own effort a great deal by caving in to the very same "seamless garment" idiocy that Cupich raised.

The deliberate killing of innocent life is a uniquely wicked act. No amount of contextualizing or deflecting our attention to other issues can obscure that.

This is precisely why Cardinal John O'Connor, Bishop James McHugh and others pressed so hard for the passage of the U.S. bishops' 1998 pastoral letter, Living the Gospel of Life. As Cardinal Joseph Bernardin once wisely noted, Catholic social teaching is a seamless garment of respect for human life, from conception to natural death. It makes no sense to champion the cause of unborn children if we ignore their basic needs once they're born. Thus it's no surprise that - year in and year out - nearly all Catholic dioceses in the United States, including Philadelphia, devote far more time, personnel and material resources to providing social services to the poor and education to young people than to opposing abortion.

Sorry, but anyone who attempts to say that deliberate killing is "uniquely wicked" while in the very next breath calling on “wise” Bernardin's seamless garment is RAVING INCOHERENT. Hang it all, what does it take to get through to these clerics? NO, NO, NO, just because Bernardin was a cardinal, you do NOT have to support and defend his defenseless nonsense. NO, it is not a "seamless garment." There are distinctions to be made. There are matters grave versus matters minor. There are prudential matters versus intrinsically wrong matters. NO, you cannot equate intentionally targeting unborn for death and not taking sufficient care for the poor, and that’s what the “seamless garment” metaphor is designed to do. The Church's teaching has foundational principles - e.g. on the 3 fonts of moral acts - that are more central and more critical than tentative contingent conclusions like whether the death penalty does or does not make people safer. There is a HIERARCHY of truth, just as there is a hierarchy of goodness and of being, hence truths as we apprehend them are not an amorphous mass, they are not a seamless garment with no structure, no order, no relations of parts.

Truth, beauty, and goodness are the three transcendental convertible with being, and like being they come in degrees and they come in intensity. God is being beyond all compare, He is good beyond all compare to other goods, He is truth beyond all relation to other truth. But just as creatures are good in different ways according as their natures are designed as in approach to Godliness (for man, made in His image and likeness, is a different order of likeness than that of the animals), so are truths true in different ways in relation to how they approach to the ultimate truth: contingent truths are lesser truths than eternal truths.

The hierarchy of truth has consequences for practical matters, like those of politics and culture wars. It means that you have to be more outspoken about some evils than others. It means (for a politician) that you are more culpable for ignoring some evils than for ignoring other evils. It means (for a voter) that you have to recognize capacity to rule inheres in politicians who defy basic truths in a lesser way than in politicians who see the right order of basic truth even if they are wrong in lesser, more contingent matters, and that a refusal to accept some foundational truths makes a politician morally and intellectually ineligible for a governing role at all - which means voting for him is WRONG. It means, for a Catholic, recognizing that a so-called Catholic who knowingly disagrees with the Pope and Church on the wrongness of abortion is ACTUALLY a heretic and is committing a grave sin in that willed adherence to error, whereas a Catholic who disagrees with the Pope on whether the death penalty should be used in first world countries is not a heretic in ANY sense and may not be committing any sin at all.

Bernardin (whatever his intention) did incalculable damage with his teaching, and Chaput has no business pretending otherwise, even to save face or even merely to avoid speaking ill of the dead. By undermining the relational, hierarchical aspects of truth, Bernardin undermined Catholic doctrine in a thousand different respects, and played right into the hands of moral relativists of all stripes. It is time for Catholic bishops of the US to take their proper place in denouncing the metaphor of the seamless garment as well as all the flawed moral theories it has spawned in the US, like “morally opposed but”. It is time for prelates to admit that their own rhetorical approaches, and one of their own number, were largely at fault for generating the incoherence we see in Catholics about Catholic moral teaching. Archbishop Chaput, you cannot restore moral clarity while trumpeting intellectually incoherent metaphors for Catholic teaching. The “seamless garment” is wrong.

Comments (24)

Even a seamless garment has a top and a bottom; a front and a back.

Let's bring it down a level: talking about poverty relief in this context is like lecturing Anna Duggar on the marital debt. It just makes you look like an @$$hole who bears some sympathy for the wrong party no matter how much you deny it.

Even a seamless garment has a top and a bottom; a front and a back.

Well, I suppose some do, but not all of them. A scarf has none of those. A circular garment woven whole all the way around, and worn as a toga or a sash, need have none.

And of course the entire point of the seamless garment metaphor was to deny the existence of structure and priority.

That's certainly the way it was USED.

That's certainly the way it was USED.

What they haven't figured out is that it leads to the problem some protestants have of saying that "sin is sin is sin" as though lying to your wife about looking good in a pair of pants makes God burn as badly as though you shot her in the back of the head. Once you get there, you find it's easier to say "murder is as bad as lying" than "lying is as bad as murder." In our hearts, we know that not all sin is the same. Man being what he is, it's easier to say that abortion is no worse than not giving a homeless man charity than to say the reverse.

And I bet they wonder why many of their parishioners put more priority on social justice than issues like abortion.

"who are denied rights by a broken immigration system"

So my Bishop just compared selling the body parts of brutally murdered babies, slaughtered in their wombs, with the non-existent (citizen) rights of illegal immigrants? Is that really the thoughtful comparison he wants to make?

Tony is right -- the seamless garment has turned certain American Bishops into raving fools. God help us all.

And I bet they wonder why many of their parishioners put more priority on social justice than issues like abortion.

I doubt it. Whether or not that's supposed to be their official party line that's exactly what (many of) these bishops want.

The displacement of hard and unambiguous Christian teachings with secular-Leftist hoo-haw would have happened with or without the Seamless Garment meme. Even the moniker "pro-life" has been subverted and now we must endure ludicrous statements like, "If you were really pro-life, you would support a federal minimum-wage hike." "How can you can you call yourself pro-life and be opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants?" and so on. But now that PP has been caught slicing, dicing, and trafficking the parts, perhaps the time to go to the plain and direct "anti-abortion" has come and we can get people to stop ignoring the cattle cars rolling into the camp in favor of making sure the camp has a small carbon footprint and is paying the guards a living wage.

Scott, I think you are right that the seculars would have done just fine without the "seamless garment" meme. It did, however, provide an avenue for Catholic liberals to publicly feel good about themselves while embracing abortion, instead of slinking under the table.

We needed to be having this slicing and dicing and trafficking to come out in the open for a public debate. And, by golly, if part of that is locating the idiot bishops who are unable to forthrightly denounce the abortion side without irrelevant "faults on the other side too", well that's another good result. Even if we do have a Vatican that won't take advantage of it to cull these men from the list of future cardinals. At some point, eventually, there will come a pope who realizes that one of his principal organizational roles is to reform the ranks of cardinals and bishops, and will set up a model for no longer letting wolves play the role of shepherd. That's (in my view) the biggest flaw in JPII's legacy: in 26 years at the helm, he did not reform the method by which bishops are chosen, and he personally selected to be cardinals men as bad as Mahony and Kasper.

I had a strong feeling that Cupich would be a Pope Francis Light just by his thoughts about same-sex "marriage" ruling in late June. He really didn't say anything that straight-out had me going "Right on!" More like "That's it?"

GRA, I suppose that the writing was on the wall when he was bishop of Spokane:


And when he refused to allow the latin mass triduum to be said.


Members of the Latin Mass community, which has met in Rapid City for the past 12 years at Immaculate Conception Church on Fifth Street, say Bishop Blase Cupich has barred them from celebrating Good Friday and Easter vigil services at the church in an attempt to mainstream them into the English-language Mass.

Just as significantly, in my mind, is the fact that this man was only appointed bishop of Spokane 4 years, before he was promoted to Chicago. What kind of chief executive takes a clearly ho-hum middle executive and raises him to what (if it were a corporation) something like a regional vice-president after 4 years of ho-hum leadership?

I want to take this opportunity to rant for 2 minutes. The Church is not a business corporation! People are not "units" to be plugged into "slots" where you have an opening. Bishoprics are not rewards for mouthing the right platitudes at company meetings. !!!

First of, bishops normally should be chosen from their own diocese. If a diocese doesn't produce a single man holy and wise enough for the job, then that church there has major ills, but usually there is such a man. Heck, based on recent popes' behavior, the bar isn't really that high. (One of the most important roles of a bishop is to groom a half-dozen possibles to replace him. Any bishop worth half a buck should have his own list of such men and have passed it on to higher-ups. There is little excuse for a "good" bishop, a bishop being "promoted", to not be able to turn the diocese over to a protege via his recommendations.)

Secondly, it should be rare to move a bishop from one diocese to be the bishop of another diocese. A bishop is like the head of a family, if he is a true leader of his priests he is like a father to them. It is not the relationship of a manager to his employees. Moving him "up the ladder" to another diocese is just BAD MANAGEMENT of diocesan leadership. You don't do that. If you want only "seasoned" leaders of the bigger, more important dioceses like an archdiocese, well, every archdiocese ought to have at least 3 or 4 auxiliary bishops. One of those should be the obvious choice. Or, if that's just impossible, the best of all the auxiliaries and local ordinary bishops of one of the dioceses which reports to that archdiocese, not someone half-way across the country.

Third, you really should not be moving a bishop up after only 4 years. That should be virtually unheard of. He SIMPLY CANNOT have established an extraordinary capacity to rule in that time. It takes time to move into the role of head of a diocese, get to know all the parishes and all the pastors and all the parochial vicars. To learn to match X need with X' answer. To learn when to speak out and when to bide your time. To discern good quality priests and promote them, to identify bad priests and put a lid on them, to develop talent for the future, to take the temperature of the seminary(s) he is using, to figure out his own chancery and fix the problem areas. That all takes time, so if a pope is using a (poor) model of "moving up bishops who have proven they can do the job", they have to wait long enough to see results, which is a good deal more than 4 years.

Fourth, what kind of insane idea is it to treat an archdiocese as a reward for doing a good job? Any priest holy enough to be given the the job knows darn well that the burdens of the responsibilities far outweigh the benefits, and knows perfectly well that he cannot hope to succeed but for God's stepping in and overcoming his own limitations. To a truly good bishop, letting him stay where he is doing so much good will often be the best favor he could ask for. Which plays into point 2 above: since part of being an excellent bishop is being a father to his priests, and since leading those priests forward in holiness and wisdom takes TIME, it is INHERENTLY suitable to generally let good bishops stay in their positions for a good long time - usually until death or retirement.

Lastly, in this day and age of "transparency" and the "age of the laity", why is the choosing of a bishop so completely quiet and absent any input from the very (lay) people whom he will rule? On what basis does the Vatican think that they have a better line on who to choose than the people in the diocese? If choosing pastors and bishops had had the serious input of faithful laity (the 100% Sunday mass people), there never would have been the influx of wacky liberal unorthodox pastors in the 60's and 70's, and no raising of quirky idiots like Weakland to being archbishops after that. (Now, of course, the damaged, liberal laity can no longer discern the difference between orthodox and unorthodox, so their having input would no longer have that effect.) How about letting some light shine on the byzantine and murky process of selecting and vetting possible bishops? How about some REFORM of the process? How about inviting ordinary Catholics to point out unorthodox priests and using that information? How about cleaning the stables of the good-ole-boy networks for political shenanigans in what should never have a political cast to it?

Rant over. You may now return to your regularly scheduled program.

Lastly, in this day and age of "transparency" and the "age of the laity", why is the choosing of a bishop so completely quiet and absent any input from the very (lay) people whom he will rule?

For much the same reason that our political system allows only a moderate range of input from the public in ways that won't upset the system. They don't want a priestly version of Donald Trump who might overturn the table and chase them with a rhetorical whip (with the enthusiastic cheers of the laity). My main suspicion on why celibacy hasn't been overturned for the priesthood is that if there were an influx of married men, the Catholic Church's hierarchy would probably take a strong swing to the right.

They don't want a priestly version of Donald Trump who might overturn the table and chase them with a rhetorical whip (with the enthusiastic cheers of the laity).

But they don't mind a liberal version of a Donald Trump? One who will spout things left and right to the media carelessly, who admits that things are "in one ear and out the other"?

My main suspicion on why celibacy hasn't been overturned for the priesthood is that if there were an influx of married men, the Catholic Church's hierarchy would probably take a strong swing to the right.

That would be a lot more plausible 40 years ago, Mike. Today it's out of date. I think the men trying for the seminaries now are, by a good margin, more conservative politically and religiously. (The liberals largely just don't see the point.) There is (still) a hold-out rear guard trying to prevent good men from becoming priests (as they did in the 70's to 90's), but their ploys are known and intelligent applicants are avoiding the buzzwords and mistakes.

No, the real reason the celibate priesthood is still in place is that the liberalistas could not manage to kill it even at their strongest, because that's the way the Holy Spirit wants the Church.

Speaking as a Protestant who actually thinks that St. Paul _intends_ at least the majority of ordinands to be married, I _nonetheless_ support priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church because I believe that it is a sociological watershed. All the wrong people want it overturned, and if they get their way, they will not stop. Ditching Catholic priestly celibacy would be seen as (and would probably turn out to be) the "first step" towards women's ordination and even more openly gay ordination, finally with official approval. (I'm sorry that that last sounds snarky, but there are already more or less openly gay Catholic priests. It's just that _officially_ they aren't supposed to be in the priesthood.) So I think the Catholics should keep on being countercultural and having all their priests take vows of celibacy.

Even the Orthodox, who do have married priests, have never had married bishops.

I have no problem with there being married priests. When the Pope allows Anglicans to come over with their whole congregations it doesn't bother me a bit that a married guy becomes a Catholic priest. And there have always been the odd married convert here and there, as well as late vocations of men (after marrying) who become priests. But that there are married men who are priests says nothing at all against a body of the priesthood as a whole which is celibate. The 2000 year tradition of men giving up family and marriage "for the sake of the kingdom" does date back to Christ and the Apostles and St. Paul, it is an unbroken tradition in both Eastern and Western Christianity. These men witness to a future life in which there is no further marriage because all men and women have the ultimate intimacy of perfect union in God. I have no fear that the tradition will die out.

But Lydia is completely right: the REASON people are calling for a married priesthood is all wrong. They don't really want to reform the priesthood into a better, more noble thing. They want to deform it into a lesser, more common thing. They want to make it no longer distinguishable from merely being a Christian. Which is clear from the fact that they always (quite intentionally) talk about the "universal share in the priesthood of Christ" without ever once mentioning the distinct ministerial priesthood which Christ laid on certain persons and not on others of his disciples. And, yes, their hope is to get women priests and to get gay priests and to get gay marriage approved. It won't happen, but that's what they hope.

Just as an aside: there are apparently some scholarly authorities who say that although there had been, in ancient times, married clergy, the Church has always held that the clergy is supposed to be celibate. That is, that if married they forego conjugal acts, and that this is part of being called to the clerical state. And that it is for this reason that when a married man entered the clerical state, there was always required the consent of his wife - because by nature she has conjugal rights and he cannot be released from that obligation, that debt, without her consent. Hence, being married is not opposed to clergy celibacy.

Back to one of the points they made about social justice (immigration), one of the issues that various Christian churches are going to find is that they are increasingly very much on the other side of public on the issue. It seems par for the course for Christian leaders to make stupid, civilization-damaging statements out of "mercy" and "dignity" and then when challenged on why they love the foreigner more than their own culture and people they wrap themselves in the cloth, pick up a cross and pretend that they are taking a hard position rather than a false position.

One can look at the current crop and imagine many of them shrieking about the injustice of the reconquista.

There is (still) a hold-out rear guard trying to prevent good men from becoming priests (as they did in the 70's to 90's), but their ploys are known and intelligent applicants are avoiding the buzzwords and mistakes

I know we are straying here, but I'll add an anecdote. At the Latin-Mass I was attending in WNY, we got a freshly-minted young priest. He told us that he kept his interest in the QT going through seminary and when they found out about it after his ordination, some of they faculty expressed their consternation, but of course it was too late. The story gets better because their is a transitional deacon going through seminary right now who assists at the Latin Mass and is quite open about it and no one is giving him grief. So it isn't all sour lemons out there in AmChurchland. :)

Bleh. Please pardon the lousy grammar and missing words. Third sentence should read, "He told us that he kept his interest in the Latin Mass on the QT..."

Our current priestly clique has sunk so low it is inevitable there will be some purging at some point. Remember what the Lord did to two priests in the OT who failed in their duties.

Mark, I suspect that you are right, but it may not come for years and years, and it may not be dramatic or anything, more like retiring out the old fogeys who aren't orthodox and who can't be made to see themselves going along with a revitalized papacy. I have to say, though, that I cannot foresee how a reform might come about, since the pope is not in the least bit inclined to fix the problem and will go on appointing more like what we already have.

For information's sake:

The NIH identifies dozens of hospitals and universities purchasing fetal tissue with federal money including University of North Carolina, University of Idaho, University of Colorado, NYU, UC Irvine, UC San Francisco, UCLA, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Temple, USC, UMass, Texas Tech, Rochester, and others.



Mostly off topic, but I think you'll find this post interesting in what it says about how SJWs see the world.

Well, you're right about it being off topic.

One correct way to handle SJWs is to shout in their faces "check your privilege!" Do it fast, do it first, and then back it up either with a hearty laugh (when they ineffectually try to reclaim the mantle) or just walk away shaking your head at their stupidity.

Oh, and as a response to your earlier comment about married priests (and tying in Lydia's): The liberal agenda is to get women priests. The problem is that for 45 years we have had a bunch of old ladies in the upper ranks anyway, and it hasn't been an improvement. So they can stuff that idea.

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