Cardinal Bernardin, a true friend and confidant while I was in Cincinnati in the 1970s and early 1980s, was the first to publicly call for a “consistent ethic of life.” He made it clear that until the church starts being honest and defending all life from beginning to end, it cannot truthfully call itself “pro-life.” Otherwise, the very moral principle falls apart. All policies that needlessly destroy life—abortion, war, capital punishment, euthanasia, poverty itself, and the selfish destruction of the earth and its creatures—are anti-life and against the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” As you can see, we have a lot of moral maturing to do before we can match the clear non-violent teaching and example of Jesus himself (see Matthew 5:38-48). How can we expect the world to be non-violent when the church itself has not taught it or practiced it in most of its history (except for some Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish)?
We not only need to be consistent between individual morality and social morality, but we need to be consistent between all of the various life issues. It is a “seamless garment,” as Cardinal Bernardin brilliantly called it. Such a theology has teeth and real authority behind it and does not just pander to the cultural values of either the Left or the Right. Like the Gospel itself, it challenges both sides and pleases nobody. He told me personally, a couple weeks after he gave his first lecture on this theme at Fordham University, that he thought that phrase “seamless garment” (from John 19:23) would be the only thing he would ever be remembered for—and it came to his mind in a moment at the press conference afterwards.
Adapted from Spiral of Violence:
The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CD, MP3)