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.