“I have never understood the expression non-negotiable values. Values are values, and that is it. I can’t say that, of the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than the rest. Whereby I do not understand in what sense there may be negotiable values. I wrote in the exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ what I wanted to say on the theme of life.”
5 March 2014
Interview with Corriere della Sera
Yesterday we published a comprehensive essay by Pedro Gabriel with the (admittedly) somewhat provocative title, “The Seamless Garment is the Catholic position.” In it, he laid out the case for Catholics to approach issues involving human dignity by embracing a Consistent Ethic of Life. In his piece, he made clear that he was neither downplaying the grave evil of abortion, nor supporting those who have historically abused the notion of the Seamless Garment to justify ignoring abortion or denigrating pro-life advocacy.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the essay received some pushback on social media from the left and from the right. The pushback from the left somewhat confused me, however. When I tweeted a link to the piece, I wrote that, “Properly understood, the Seamless Garment, also known as a ‘consistent ethic of life,’ is the truly Catholic, truly pro-life position.” Some of the replies I received suggested that the term “pro-life” was toxic, and that the pro-life movement as a whole is evil. While insisting that they support the Church’s teaching on abortion, the term pro-life and the entire movement was wholly unacceptable to them.
As someone who grew up in pro-life circles, and who has worked for the Church for a decade, the notion that “Pro-Life” has outgrown its use (or is to be rejected outright) is baffling. I also reject the idea that people can be classified as “evil,” even when they do evil things. Additionally, the idea that the “Pro-Life Movement” is a monolith (or is even on the same page about most things) is laughable. In the more progressive parts of the Church, the term “pro-life” is embraced but given broader applicability to include a “whole life” approach and to include more issues related to human dignity. Having seen this for myself, and having attended the March for Life and other pro-life events with such Catholics, it’s hard for me to understand why the abandonment of a term with so much potential makes any sense.
From the right, however, the piece drew more serious criticism. It seems that to many, the term “Seamless Garment” means nothing more than an excuse people use to ignore abortion as a political issue. Despite the fact that Pedro’s piece argues strenuously against this, for some Catholics, the Seamless Garment is a subterfuge of the Democratic Party. I can imagine that for many, re-evaluating the term might be hard, given its “baggage.”
Still, my position is that Pedro, as someone who lives in Portugal and has never even set foot in North America, is well-suited to provide a non-partisan perspective on the Seamless Garment and how life issues have sadly been divvied up in our highly polarized political culture. His piece is about issues and principles, not about who we should vote for.
From my own perspective, as a US Citizen and a registered voter, Pedro’s piece does present serious challenges that are worth considering. On one hand, we have a party that is very clearly advocating an extreme view in favor of unrestricted abortion. Just the other day, Democrats for Life President Kristen Day asked presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg whether there was any place for pro-lifers in the Democratic Party, and whether he would accept any softening of the party’s official platform on abortion. His answer (to great applause) was extremely discouraging.
On the other hand, President Trump last week became the first US president in history to attend and address the March for Life in person. There is no question that the Republican Party’s views on abortion are much more consistent with the Catholic position than the Democratic Party’s, and that the GOP is much more welcoming to those who oppose legal abortion. Yet many of the other positions and policies supported by the GOP are directly contradictory to Catholic Social Doctrine.
But that’s not the point of Pedro’s piece. I fear that too many readers reflexively saw it as “this will help Trump” or “this will help the Democrats.” That’s not the point at all, and until Catholics break away from that kind of thinking, we’ll never heal the polarization in our Church and society.
Every US Catholic should take some time to study Catholic Social Teaching, and to reflect on how our 2-party political system in the US has done a lousy job of dividing Catholic principles on opposite sides of an ideological chasm. To that end, I would like to recommend three articles discussing this: one by Brian Fraga, one by Sam Sawyer, SJ, and one by Stephen P. White. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in these essays, but I think they discuss some important ideas, especially–as Fraga mentions–that “Catholics are politically homeless.”
Sometime in my 30s, I realized that following US politics on a daily basis was causing me a great deal of stress. Watching the daily polls and following the maneuverings and tactics of congress and presidents gave me a headache. In prayer, I felt called to step away from partisan politics and focus on issues and values instead, with my Catholic faith as my guide. Rather than employing the moral calculus required to justify why voting for a candidate who holds immoral views on an issue, I’d rather focus on supporting politicians when they’re right, and challenging them when they’re wrong.
Since taking that approach, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted and disappointed with our politicians and political system. Both parties demand conformity and the outlook that either party will improve its platform on certain key social issues is bleak. There’s hardly a US political figure that I can endorse without serious reservations.
Our editorial position at WPI is nonpartisan. We are not going to tell you how to cast your vote. Our goal is to faithfully present you with Catholic principles and leave it to you how to implement them. As Pope Francis wrote in Amoris Laetitia, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” .
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.