RADICAL ROMAN CATHOLICS AFFIRM A SEAMLESS GARMENT POSITION

by Pax Christi USA


The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination, with 900 million members worldwide. It is also perhaps the religion whose official stand against abortion is best known. "Best known," however, does not always translate into "well understood." Catholic opposition to abortion is often dismissed as an "imposition of sectarian morality" stemming from blind obedience to a misogynist church hierarchy. In fact, many Catholics oppose abortion from entirely different motives. Following such examples as Jesus Christ, Mary, St. Francis of Assisi, and the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Roman Catholics have historically believed that the best way to honor God is to honor the Divine image that is present in all creatures, especially the most vulnerable. In the words of Christ: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me." (1)

The Catholic belief in mercy and justice toward all members of Christ's Body, i.e., the whole of the Divine Creation, has in recent decades taken the form of the "seamless garment" ethic. The phrase "seamless garment," coined by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, alludes to this event during Christ's crucifixion, his act of solidarity with the sufferings of Creation:

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his garment and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be." (2)

The seamless garment ethic, also known as a "consistent ethic of life," makes the same point as this Gospel story: the fabric of God's Creation is desecrated when we tear it, gamble over pieces of it, or in any sense lay claims of ownership upon any part of it. This ethic involves an opposition to abortion, sexism, warfare, the death penalty, economic deprivation, and active killing of the sick and disabled, but does not stop there. Just as much it calls us to create positive alternatives to these violent practices. It is succinctly expressed in the following policy statement from Pax Christi USA, a chapter of the international Catholic pacifist organization. -- Editor

In response to the increased debate following the July 3, 1989, Supreme Court ruling on abortion, Pax Christi USA reaffirms its 1981 Seamless Garment position in support of all life. The consistent ethic of life opposes not only abortion, but also the death penalty, war, the nuclear arms race and anything that threatens life. In addition, Pax Christi reaffirms its goal to work for the full and equal participation of women in the church and society.

Pax Christi's opposition to abortion is based on a total commitment to the principle of unwavering reverence for human life. We reject, as we have rejected in the past, the claim of any individual, any group or organization, any nation to the "right" to destroy human life, whether singly or as entire populations.

Having made this clear, we agree that our concern must not only ensure saving the lives of the not-yet-born but also include recognizing that every child must be assured the opportunity to meet their basic human need and to develop and fulfill their physical, intellectual and spiritual capacities. The fact that 40% of the homeless in the US are families with children cannot be overlooked in our present debate.

We also recognize that, as the debate rages on the abortion issue, the situation of women in our society continues to worsen. One-third of female-headed families live in poverty. Two out of three of all minimum wage earners in the US are women: widows get only a portion of the Social Security payments accorded to their deceased husbands. In the abortion debate, the societal conditions which limit women's options are often ignored. Women are too often criminalized or condemned by those committed to the unborn or exploited and victimized by those committed to abortion rights. The physical and psychological trauma of abortion on women is minimized and trivialized.

We must recognize that women who are considering abortion often struggle with a complex and painful dilemma. We must ensure that women do not choose abortion because of a lack of economic assistance, child care, health care or emotional support. No matter what decision is reached, they should be received with loving concern and compassion by the followers of Christ.

Our work for nonviolent change should protect the life and the dignity of both the unborn and women. To achieve these objectives, we urge that all parties to the debate conduct themselves in a spirit of compassionate respect for their opponents and not allow the discussion to degenerate into arguments or actions which could lead to, or involve, the threat of physical or psychological violence. Pax Christi USA commits itself to engaging in the debate by promoting dialogue and the search for common ground among those on all sides of the issue.


(C) Copyright 1989 Pax Christi USA. All rights, including all electronic rights, reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Return to the Table of Contents
Previous Work
Next Work