The Seamless Garment Theory: a convenient way to cover a multitude of sins

Now that we know that Cardinal Bernardin, who coined the seamless garment idea, was also deeply implicated in the abuse scandals, can we agree that the concept is a bad light to live by?


Relativism is bad, no matter who what where or why.

I think “Seamless Garment” is a bad idea, but not because Bernadine did bad things.


The seamless garment metaphor is a good one in the sense that the Church’s doctrine is a consistent, seamless whole. You can’t deliberately deny one element without denying the whole. It all is interrelated and conducive to the common good, including the highest good.

The problem is in the concrete circumstances of seeking the greatest common good in this fallen world, political authorities have to make decisions on how to allot limited resources, what must be tolerated and what not, etc. to achieve the highest possible good in those circumstances. Voters in a republic looking at limited choices of less-than-completely-orthodox-or-saintly leaders are even more hamstrung. This requires an assessment of priorities, which includes degree and quantity of harm, of good, the “hierarchy of values”, etc. For whatever reason, some who like to speak of the “seamless garment” tend not to do a good job of this.

As an aside, was Bernadin deeply implicated in the abuse scandals? Unless some new info has come out that I missed, he seemed to be one of the first to actually do anything about it. He had an accusation leveled against him, but the individual recanted (blaming the accusation on hypnosis). There were certainly legitimate criticisms that can be made for his leadership, but I never understood this to be one.


Could you explain how you get from the premises (coined A, implicated in B) to the conclusion (bad A)? I’m not seeing it.


I have no doubt that the metaphor of the seamless garment has been poorly applied. Rather than discard it, I would try to find its proper application.

@Genesis315 applied it well to Church doctrine. I was thinking that it can be a metaphor for us as individuals. We should strive to be seamless (unbroken, whole) in our faith, morality, and everyday life.

Jesus said of Nathaniel, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” This is high praise, on the order of “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

As Genesis315 wrote, the problem is in the concrete circumstances, and we could probably do a better job as individuals to be seamless Christians.

My parish priest blasted that pretty good in a homily one time. He said though the garment is seamless some parts of a garment cover things more important. For example if the sleeves were ripped off a shirt it would still cover the chest. But if center of a garment is removed the sleeves are pointless.


Can we use that metaphor?

I think Cardinal Bernardin preferred the term “Consistent Ethic of Life,” and I think the concept still has merit. For example, I have never cared for the way that one single issue, abortion, has for many of us come to define our political choices. And I don’t care for besmirching Cardinal Bernardin’s reputation or legacy now either.


Please provide support for your allegation about Cardinal Bernardin. Otherwise it is inappropriate.


No. That is not how logic works.

I tried to find if there was anything to this, and the only thing I found was horrifically anti-Catholic.

It would have come out by now if there had been anything of substance.

The seamless garment theory began shortly after RvW as a way to allow Catholics to support pro-abortion politicians, and it contnues pretty much in the same way.


Even if Bernardin was deeply implicated in the abuse scandals, which I don’t think we have any credible evidence for, what does this have to do with the seamless garment?

We have to take the idea on its own merits, not based on the person who said them. The “seamless garment” or the consistent life ethic (which is the term I prefer) is certainly valid, in my mind. If we are going to be pro-life on certain life issues while ignoring other issues, then there is an inconsistency in our position. If we want to get political with it, this criticism can be applied to both sides of the political spectrum.

Where I think it goes too far is when people use the seamless garment argument to try and equate all life issues, because there are certainly some issues which are more grave and take precedence over others (abortion being the most obvious one).

I’m not Bernardin’s biggest supporter, but I can still acknowledge things he said that are valid or useful.

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That is a better term. The seamless garment has too much of an egalitarian of issues vibe. A consistent ethic is a focus on the heart of people and how they approach the value of all people. All are created with innate dignity

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I don’t agree with that… i think the consistent ethic of life is the exact light to live by. Pro Life for the Whole Life


Not the same thing as seamless garment

From the wiki article you shared:

Seamless Garment

The seamless garment philosophy holds that issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, social injustice, and economic injustice all demand a consistent application of moral principles that value the sacredness of human life. “The protection of life”, said Egan, “is a seamless garment. You can’t protect some life and not others.”

Consistent Life Ethic

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin helped publicize the consistent life ethic idea, initially in a lecture at Fordham University, Dec 6, 1983. At first Bernardin spoke out against nuclear war and abortion. However, he quickly expanded the scope of his view to include all aspects of human life. In that Fordham University lecture, Bernardin said: "The spectrum of life cuts across the issues of genetics, abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare and the care of the terminally ill. Bernardin said that although each of the issues was distinct, nevertheless the issues were linked since the valuing and defending of human life were, he believed, at the center of both issues.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference to me.

Fair enough, the two concepts have grown up side by side and become muddied.

But we see a lot of “I seamless garment love the poor so I support abortion”, which has made a big mess of things.

I actually oppose abortion, euthanasia and death penalty and actually am involved in care of the poor and

I vote to protect the littlest and voiceless

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