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Interfaith Resistance Against Nazis & Serbians Must Inform Justice Campaigns Today

I spent last weekend at the Pax Christi USA conference, reflecting on peacemaking and nonviolence for a few days – and there will be plenty to post in coming days. For now, I wanted to share two amazing stories – connected acts of nonviolent resistance given their religious tinge.

The first piece is from Waging Nonviolence, which if you don’t already read is a necessary resource for imagining a new world through peaceful means. The article shares methods of resistance by Europeans under Nazi occupation. A few highlights of the interfaith actions:

“Direct intervention and non-cooperation in Bulgaria helped to save their country’s 48,000 Jews…leaders of the Orthodox Church refused to comply with the deportation orders, staging sit-ins in the king’s chambers and even threatening to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being transported. This pressure eventually encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to stand up to the Nazis and rescind the deportation orders, saving most of the country’s Jewish population…

“Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Protestant village in southern France, were motivated by their religious convictions to help thousands of refugees escape Nazi persecution by hiding them in private homes as well as Catholic convents and monasteries.”

Aside from the absolute effectiveness of nonviolent resistance against (even) the Nazis, who are often quoted as the reason we would need war as the only solution to mass atrocities such as theirs, there are lessons for interfaith relations today. In essence, in war time, the division existing between Christians and Jews or between denominations of Christianity melted away. Orthodox Christians literally offered their lives to resist Jewish oppression, and Catholic institutions afforded a welcome that broke the strictness of monastic life.

Decades later, the Jewish community in Serbia reacted similarly when an existential threat was posed to their neighbors. The piece is about when it is ethical or proper to withhold a news story for the good of those involved, but within that argument is this story:

“The other story kept was how the synagogue in Sarajevo certified many non-Jews as Jews in order to let them pass through the lines – above ground — out of the city.  As the rabbi told me and others with a smile when we in the news finally did that story, it was the only time he can recall when Jews were not blamed for a war and that they were given passage without harm…As the animosity among the Serbs, Croats, and the Bosnian intensified, Jews were left in a unique position. Independent from each of the warring factions — they were even offered an opportunity to leave Sarajevo at the beginning of the siege of the city — the Jewish community had access to food, medical supplies and other goods during the war that were unavailable to the rest of the population

“A look at the numbers of Jews in Sarajevo before the war – compared to the number of ‘Jews’ who left the city – is a staggering difference. The ruse was clever and effectively.”

Common humanity united Europeans in resistance during both these trying periods. Though anti-Jewish sentiments are prevalent in Christian history including World War II that is not the sole narrative for people of faith. Faced with the ability to leave a war zone, the Bosnian Jewish community remained in solidarity and in active resistance. These communities did not weaken their faith by aiding others, even welcoming them in as honorary Jews or Catholics, and they did not act in spite of faith. Beautiful resistance that was powerful and life-giving was because of strengthened faith among communities!

At times, interfaith work currently seems impossible on matters of justice – like immigration or gun safety laws – because of theological and institutional difference. What if we imagined our common goals of justice, equality, and peace were so very necessary, though not comparable to combating genocide, we could put aside religious differences (though cognizant of them and in dialogue separately!)  for the good of common struggles? These two articles prove it is possible, and even desirable given their positive outcomes.

–Bob

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Jettisoning ‘Worthiness’ From Our Faith

Pope Francis’ comments about ‘even the atheists’ being redeemed fueled stories in the media that displayed a confusion among Catholic respondents. Even the Vatican issued a clarification that seemed to correct the pope. It raised for me a more fundamental question about why non-theists or non-Catholics being redeemed upsets the more religious among us.

I often tell friends who love to disprove atheism as a hobby it is not disbelief that threatens our Church, it is apathetic belief. For this reason, I shy away from encountering atheism in my thought. Their conscience decision to engage spirituality in such a way is largely more experiential than intellectual, and you cannot argue experience. The pope’s comments are not a challenge to atheism though, but progress in dialogue with those who differ in belief – and, perhaps more telling, a conversation starter for necessary dialogue with Catholics ourselves.

If an atheist is redeemed why should this bother the believer?

If the theist’s beliefs are objectively true, then nothing they posit in this life will affect their redemption because it is of divine origin. If the atheists beliefs are objectively true, and there is no God, then this whole discussion of Christian redemption is futile.

Except for worthiness, which is the sole reason why Catholics have been objecting to the pope’s words (and they have in droves). Faith becomes a calculus of inputs and outputs, thus being Catholic and doing all the right things is the input to attain the output of redemption. Why would anyone who does not put in the time and work gain the reward? It would seem to lessen the redemption of those of us who labored; in other words those who are “worthy.”

In this mindset then, Pope Francis admitting the reality that ‘even atheists’ are included in Christ’s redemption can be jarring – or liberating if worthiness is something you hope the Church will soon jettison.

Inclusion in salvation, present to God’s overwhelming love should be a goal we desire for every person. The Catholic mind is communally-oriented and our conception of salvation cannot escape this nor can we cast communion with every human being aside. Atheists’ redemption is included in this universal nature of redemption, and we need to overcome inflated piety or over concern with worthiness for a shift in thinking to occur.

The Church, which is all of us as the People of God, needs to shift our thinking and ask, Why are we not overjoyed when all are redeemed? Why do we fail to express unconditioned joy at the thought any person would gain salvation? Is that not the entire point of evangelizing and bringing others into a relationship with Christ – so, even if this occurs post-mortem, is it not still the final end we would celebrate?

God’s all powerful ability to welcome any and all into the Kingdom of God cannot be limited by our human conceptions of worthiness, so rather than worry we must release false aspects of our faith. We must release the idea that our worship, service, or devotion contributes to more worth in God’s eyes. We must release the idea that those who worship in other traditions or participate in no tradition, or even adamantly defame God, are some how unable to participate among God’s love in an eternal sense. Beyond just acknowledging our work does not ‘earn’ salvation, we need to practice this in our lives – doing good, but not pretending it increases our worth before God.

Our worth is already maxed out.

God loves us, every single person in their uniqueness, without failure. To speak of equal love for all does not diminish God’s love for each one, but in typical both/and fashion we live this tension. Worthiness needs expulsion from our consciousness, and a leveling in our minds of all humanity before God. Pope Francis simply stated the long-held belief that Christ’s paschal mystery redeems all – it should not have rattled the world so much, and yet mired in our false beliefs it did. Let’s move on.

–Bob

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Pope Francis the Child

Pope Francis, the Child with the other kids

A strange moment occurred this evening – the Pope made me cry.

Actually, this was not the first time a pope made me cry. Engaging the broader Catholic world since middle school, I personally knew of popes only in the repressive contexts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Tears then were from frustration and hurt about the inability of these two men, and the bureaucratic system behind them, to truly love as Christ did.

Tonight, the tears were peculiar though and the reasons behind them very different. As a blogger on Catholic LGBT issues for Bondings 2.0, I’ve closely followed Francis’ papacy as it begins. Cautious optimism accompanied an intellectualized understanding what this man may mean for Catholicism, but always kept at arm’s length from my interior life. Since March I wondered when the ‘other shoe’ would come crashing down from the Vatican, shattering the high hopes many gambled on Francis.

I often hear older friends speak of John XXIII as inspiring them in their 20s with his pastoral tone, joy and love, and openness to the world. I knew this phenomenon happened, but I could not relate in my life. I could not, thought attempting diligently, comprehend how a pope could be a source of inspiration (other than working to combat their misguided power) or contribute to my life positively. Tonight, that reality changed when I read of his actions with Italian students at Jesuit schools.

Tonight, the hope and optimism since Francis’ election came exuding out of me having pierced my interior life against all efforts to separate them. His consistency with being Catholic and challenging our world, while expressing love and pastoral care unbridled by regulation seems genuine. It seems real and lasting, and for the first time I glimpse at John XXIII’s impact on those in their 20s during Vatican II. I read these words, spoken to the students:

“When a student doubting his faith asked for words of encouragement, he likened the faith a long walk. ‘To walk is an art,’ he said, ‘To walk is the art of looking at the horizon, thinking about where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue. And many times, the walk is difficult, it is not easy… There is darkness… even days of failure… one falls…

“‘But always think this: do not be afraid of failure. Do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking, what is important is not avoiding the fall but not remaining fallen…Get up quickly, continue on, and go…But it is also terrible to walk alone, terrible and boring. Walking in community with friends, with those who love us, this helps us and helps us get to the end.’”

Throwing protocol out, Francis answered ten unscripted questions from children after calling prepared remarks “a little boring.” One student today said, “You are like a child.” It made me call to mind Matthew 19 where Jesus says of the children, at first being driven away by the religious authorities, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them: for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Maybe that is the blessing of Francis. He reached out to God’s children, spoke to them with a tenderness and simplicity we hear Jesus preach in because its roots are true love. He speaks to the difficulties faith entails in an honest way, not pretending Catholic life is always joyful or rewarding and allowing for doubt, even falling. In a world torn apart by superficiality and disposability (another theme he’s been mentioning!), Pope Francis is preaching authentically with the people in our language and speaking to those most deep and unarticulated desires sometimes best expressed through the eyes of childhood.

For the first time in my 23 year old life, a pope inspires me and calls me to more as a Catholic with his witness. Where this journey ends is unknown, and certainly Pope Francis and I do not agree on everything – yet, my hope grows because Pope Francis the Child is a companion on our common journey and not a papal father from above.

–Bob

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CUA President John Garvey: Consent & Chastity “Clash Awkwardly”

John Garvey of The Catholic University of America

John Garvey, the president at The Catholic University of America, recently wrote a letter in Catholic San Francisco about students’ sexual conduct at his school (and my alma mater). Concerns about the “hook-up culture” and sexual health seem to be discussed a lot lately in higher education, and with validity I agree. Garvey’s take however is troubling given CUA’s poor record on sexual violence. He begins:

“At The Catholic University of America, where I serve as president, we have been working on some revisions to our code of student conduct. We’re finding that it’s challenging because we need to send students two different messages about sex that can at times clash awkwardly.”

What exactly are these two clashing messages that Catholic college students receive? The messages, as Garvey elucidates, are the importance of consent and the importance of chastity.

It seems that Catholic teachings on sexuality are at odds with seeking consent from one’s partner – in his words, they “clash awkwardly.” He refers heavily to the sexual violence portion in legalistic terms, although admitting it is “a sin against justice and charity” at one point. Most important it seems is that sexual assault is forbidden by local and federal laws, and there are all kinds of laws that colleges must comply with too.

The takeaway from John Garvey: Don’t sexually assault a person because it violates the law, and we need to keep the “risk managers” happy. He actually writes at one point:

“Risk managers (accountants and lawyers) want us to be very clear with our students about what counts as sexual abuse…If we’re not explicit about this, they say, we may be guilty under Title IX of creating a hostile environment, and risk losing federal funds.”

Cast aside any concern for students who may be victimized by failing to teach about healthy, mature, and consenting sexual relations (or Catholic identity for that matter), The Catholic University of America could lose precious federal funds and thus is forced to comply with the laws. So there’s that, in approximately three paragraphs.

President Garvey then continues discussing consensual sexual relations, which are presented as far worse, and is worthy of almost double the words sexual violence was. He continues:

“College student conduct codes will usually tell students that the difference between sex and sexual abuse is the element of consent. And they will use a formula something like this to define consent: ‘Consent is informed, freely given, mutually understandable words or actions that indicate a willingness to participate in sexual activity.’

“But that’s not the end of the story from a Catholic perspective. Consensual sex between students matters, too. It’s not a crime (fortunately), but it is a sin against chastity when it takes place outside of marriage.

“Chastity is an unfashionable virtue nowadays, but the idea is not hard to understand. Casual sex is harmful even if there is no coercion. It plays at love for sport. It makes promises that the players don’t intend to keep. It insults the dignity of the other person by treating him or her as a sex toy rather than a child of God. It divorces sex from the creation of new life and the unity of a family.”

Apparently, encounters of rape and sexual assault, and consensual relations between two students are analogous at some level – the article hints that both are quite harmful. It even leans to emphasis how sinful consensual sex is – it’s insults the dignity of the partner, treats them as a sex toy, divorces sex from it’s meanings. Sex outside of marriage is seemingly the worst sex there could be. Except it is not.

In a balancing act, the president then forcefully says sexual abuse must be dealt with justly at Catholic schools, even if “it’s a bit awkward to turn around then and say, ‘But wait – that sexual activity we told you to get consent for? You should not be doing it at all.'” These principles of consent and chastity now “clash awkwardly” again, even as President Garvey writes that the goals are “quite harmonious.” So who is to blame for positioning them in conflict?

“The awkwardness in explaining this arises because our culture doesn’t want to hear the message it needs. It wants to prevent violence while preserving promiscuity. It is forbidden to consider that for some subset of the population, the latter can lead to the former.

“Casual sex is a disordered activity. If you engage in it, it creates terrible habits in you and degrades your partner.”

Nowhere in the article is sexual assault called a degrading activity or a disrespecting of human dignity, and nowhere in the article is the opposition to violence rooted in Catholic thought aside from the general “sin against justice and charity.” The theology against using our sexuality as a violent tool and a power game is so clear and so deep, it would not be hard to draw from. Garvey would rather stick to faulting culture for putting Catholics in the awkward situation, not our own inadequacies in responding to pastoral realities.

Yet, President Garvey in this article is clear that sexual violence is a legal matter, and sex outside marriage is the theological one. I know he would clearly speak about against rape and assault as morally contemptible acts, but he refuses to stop equivocating between two disparate acts. Where is the disconnect?

The problem, I believe, is the Catholic silence around sex positivity, especially for young adults. Yesterday, I wrote about misguided views by Catholics on intimate partner violence and marriage, with some good links on these same problems including a piece by Meghan Clarke at Millennial.

As for education today, the hierarchy and school administrators spend far too much time with heads buried, constantly haranguing unmarried Catholics to chastity – meaning celibacy – without any other conversations. Deprived of discussions around sexual health, consent, positive body image, and good relationship dynamics, students on Catholic campuses are trapped in a twilight zone where there is no acceptable “yes,” and yet nearly everyone is sexually active. Students participating in the average activities of college students nationwide, drinking and hooking up, are less (or completely un-) equipped situations they may find themselves in – and this is when terrible things happen.

Garvey hedges in ever saying consensual sex, inside or outside of marriage, is totally separate from violence and power expressed sexually. The Catholic University of America, and I guarantee it is not alone, hedges from recognizing that consensual sex may not fit within the Catholic framework – but it should never be spoken of alongside rape.

Catholics in our Church remain silent around building up a culture that is sex positive – that endorses the goodness of these divine expressions, openly discusses consent and sexual health, deals with the realities of college students’ lives, and all the while rejects the “hook-up culture” by reappropriating chastity to the responsible use of one’s sexuality, not merely listing prohibitions.

I know that Catholics in the pews are imagining sexuality in new ways, in ways closer to Christ’s message and the love of God, and in ways that are making each of us safer, healthier, and more fulfilled. Let’s pray this Spirit carries onto our Catholic campus too!

-Bob

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Misguided Divorce Comments Speak to Underlying Scandal

Fr. Peter Ryan of the USCCB

Joshua McElwee has another good interview at National Catholic Reporter, this time with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops new doctrinal head, Jesuit Fr. Peter Ryan. The interview is introductory, and Fr. Ryan offers little besides lockstep adherence to the bishops. He’s an expert in bioethics, which is a growing field of moral quandary with medical advancements on the daily – and in this capacity maybe he will advance theology.

However, one response from the priest about divorce struck me as particularly misguided. I quote it here in full, with my comments afterwards:

“[Joshua McElwee] Since you specified the church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, I wonder how you would say this on a pastoral level in talking to someone who has been divorced who was obviously in an unhealthy relationship and wants to continue with their life. How do you consider that?

“[Fr. Peter Ryan] Well, there certainly does need to be a lot of pastoral outreach in that area and many other areas where people have real-life problems. I think the first thing to do is to be genuinely compassionate and understanding and to reach out to them with genuine pastoral care.

“At the same time, the teaching about marriage is right there in the Gospel. It’s pretty clearly not something the church happened to come up with years later. … And so I don’t think that somehow it makes sense to think that being pastorally sensitive could somehow mean compromising that teaching,

“… Sometimes people have to accept a really difficult reality that in fact they are married, and then we just have to support them as well as we can. And if they’re not willing to live by the church’s teaching, then we still love them and welcome them to church.

“That doesn’t mean that we violate what the church says about holy Communion, but it does mean we try and reach out to them and help and support them as much as we can.”

The Catholic hierarchy’s failure to adequately understand and address marriage is not newsworthy, and the continued attacks on the divorced, remarried, same-gender couples, etc. are to be expected. Except, McElwee does not ask about any old divorce and receive the party line. He asks about a woman who is separated from an unhealthy (and we can fairly read abusive) relationship and receives a poor response.

It seems, amid all the talk of pastoral concern and compassion,  Fr. Ryan expects the victim of an unhealthy marriage to remain in that marriage. In order to not “compromise that teaching” that marriage is indissoluble, those in ministry should counsel the abused spouse to stay married even if it is a “difficult reality.”

It’s a few paragraphs in an initial interview, and perhaps I could accept it as such and wait to see how this new doctrinal czar acts. The problem is Fr. Ryan is speaking about a larger trend in the Church, and living among the anti-woman and anti-pastoral culture of the bishops he may only get worse. Catholics should be scandalized by this problem: we do not take issues of intimate partner violence and sexual violence seriously in our theology nor in our pastoral practice.

John Garvey of my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, recently wrote in a San Francisco Catholic publication. His words, like Fr. Ryan’s reveal the scandal, in regards to student life on Catholic campuses where “two different messages about sex…can at times clash awkwardly.” Garvey explains that the two messages in conflict are consent and chastity – I will write more tomorrow about this troublesome piece.

I’m obviously not the first Catholic who reads remarks like Fr. Ryan’s or President Garvey’s and feels pained by the bishops’ backwardness, and Meghan Clarke of Millennial writes a piece well-worth everyone’s time. Writing about rape culture and the high rates of violence against women worldwide, she concludes by criticizing the Church’s complicity:

“As a Catholic feminist ethicist, I am currently struggling with the silence of my own community on the structural sin here.  There are a handful of theologians writing on the hookup culture, domestic violence, and sexual violence in war, but these conversations are small and largely relegated to the edges of our moral theology conversations.  Catholic public debate on violence against women is virtually nonexistent, even as we are about to launch a second fortnight for freedom – this time on same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court.  Why isn’t rape culture and violence against women a priority within Catholic moral theology?”

Let us pray that as Fr. Ryan takes over at the USCCB’s head position for moral theology, a growing awareness of women’s issues and the impact gender and sexual violence will help the scales to fall away from his eyes. His response to the divorce question is inadequate in our day, and everyone who is affected by marriage (so everyone…) deserves more Christ-like, loving guidance from our clergy.

–Bob

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Replacing Memorial Day with True Mourning

Marking Memorial Day, we are meant to honor those in the military who died in war – but I perennially ask myself on this day, “Why?”  Warmaking is a most sinful and barbaric endeavor. Honoring people simply for fighting in war, using language of sacrifice and service, merely perpetuates the myths of militarism. Each year, Catholics are swept up in the dangerous nationalism of this day and lend their voice to the cultic remembrance of soldiers who died in war. Enough. Catholics must stop participating in Memorial Day, and start peacemaking with our lives every single day through mourning.

Letting Go of Myths & Honor 

To honor someone usually implies they contributed positively to our world and expressed virtuous traits routinely in their life’s journey. I admit that in war individuals may act virtuously in moments that preserve life, but on the whole soldiering is a poor profession to honor. Participation in Memorial Day strengthens the myths that the military is a good force, a service, a suitable career, or worthy of our praise. Catholics cannot hold this view about the US military, the lethal arm of that greatest purveyor of violence in the world which is America, according to Rev. Martin Luther King.

Catholics cannot extol any longer the mythical virtues of soldiering or warmaking. We must jettison this false cult of honor accorded to those in the military. Parades, ceremonies, and moments of silence that speak in the language of service or that pretend these deaths preserve American freedoms merely lend credibility to the myth these deaths had purpose. Or at least purpose beyond the idiocy of anti-Communism, the bloodlust after 9/11, or the protection of US oil interests. World War II may be a justified war, but no other military action our nation took in the 20th century or now even approaches justified.

There is no honor in what our nation has done – sent young people to be killed, and even worse to kill and live on scarred. There is no honor in the routine slaughter of innocent civilians or the use of napalm or drone strikes. There is no honor in waves of homeless veterans who cannot get healthcare for their war wounds, turning to addiction and abuse. There is no honor in using hate speech, racism, and inhumanity to get 18 year olds to murder against their conscience. There is no honor in a military where women are more likely to be raped today than killed in combat. There is no honor in the utter destruction of nations. There is no honor in the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. There is no honor. There is none.

Mourning as Peacemaking 

So what do these war dead tell us? How do we commemorate tragedy? What is the call for Catholics? Their voices from the grave are simple, their message is pure and it is one with Christ’s call for every one of us: peace.

Catholics must rely on our tradition to understand how to move past the myths of Memorial Day – we must not honor, for there is nothing to honor, but we must mourn. Mourning the dead from war – the soldiers of all sides, the innocent children, the civilians cut down -this is a healthy task for Catholic peacemakers. These deaths from warmaking mourned daily drive me to enact peace in my personal interactions while challenging the US government’s violence.

This mourning isn’t wrapped up in layers of the American flag, but it strips bare the reality of warmaking: it is an abhorrent practice, one that can never be justified in the Christian tradition today, and it is the duty of every Catholic to oppose as they can the militarism of American’s empire. Mourning rids us of the hindering language of service, sacrifice, honor, bravery and enables us to speak truly: these war dead died needlessly to fuel the unjust causes of the political elite. Their deaths did not sustain American freedoms nor liberate foreign populations. Their deaths are pointless and void of any good. Their deaths are simply tragedies in the fullest manner.

For the loved ones of the war dead, and for those who support the wars, this reality is a painful endpoint – and yet, admitting pure tragedy as the only meaning to the these deaths is an essential step to peacemaking. To effectively overcome the criminal enterprising at the Pentagon and from war profiteers and to end political will for war, we must deal with the painful truth that American military actions are contradictory to peace and the values of the United States.

And so, as Catholics opt out of Memorial Day, we must fervently turn to mourning as a spiritual practice. We must include American soldiers and civilians in the nations we ravage by name in our prayers, encompassing the pain of their loved ones and the loss to our world of these lives if we can. We must personalize these current losses, set in a context of the millions slaughtered at the altar of the Pentagon in wars past. We must mourn in our tears and anguish that combat persists, and then we must find in this Christ’s peace that will strengthen us to take a step forward and louden our call for love.

-Bob

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Is It Time to Resurrect the ‘Seamless Garment’?

Horrifying accounts about the practices of Kermit Gosnell have generated an important discussion about journalism in America today. That’s a discussion I encourage, and the anti-abortion movement is surely pivoting to this event in the hopes a broader dialogue will begin. It is challenging to read through the graphic grand jury report where each line and word heaps injustices upon injustices. In my mind though, the crimes of Gosnell speak not only to the need for greater defense of unborn children in this moment, but the resurrection (amid the Easter season) of the Seamless Garment.

Restoring a sincere respect for life, dignity, and creation within the Catholic community, and then hopefully evangelizing this belief to the world, is our only way moving forward. The Seamless Garment provides Catholics a framework to re-imagine our pro-all life efforts anew.

For those unfamiliar, I offer a patchwork history of this Seamless Garment philosophy. Eileen Egan, a Catholic pacifist and someone worth reading up on, first used “seamless garment” in the 1970s as a challenge to those in the anti-abortion movement who favored the death penalty. Alluding to John 19, where soldiers crucifying Jesus cast lots for his garment that could not be torn into pieces, this phrase is used to emphasis the necessary defense of each and every life.

In the 1980s, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago unified this belief in his concept of a “Consistent Life Ethic,” for which the Seamless Garment remained a metaphor. The cardinal inextricably linked the defense of life and dignity in the many causes aimed towards one end, creating a culture of life while admitting the unique nature and needs of each injustice.

Kermit Gosnell’s clinic, the Women’s Medical Society, exemplifies the utter breakdown of our society’s cloth. In this devastating clinic, countless injustices amplify one another cyclically: abortion and healthcare, poverty and racism, government failures and media dishonesty, medical ethics and institutional accountability, economic justice and the idolatry of profit, and, perhaps in Gosnell’s trial, the death penalty.

The clinic profited from its “cash for an abortion without questions” scheme that preyed on poor women, largely of color, who ostensibly saw no alternatives. Gosnell committed abortions and infanticide as “medical procedures” in a clinic lacking standards of any sort, violating women and children as a matter of routine business and sending forth those who survived with health complications, venereal disease, and emotional wounds. Oppose abortion, support choice — we all must admit the Women’s Medical Society is a creature unto itself for facilities providing such services.

Sadly, Kermit Gosnell and his clinic cannot be considered the result of one man gone awry in one building. These crimes are personal assuredly, but also structurally sinful. Our nation fails to provide adequate healthcare and social services for women with children, who turn to abortion and pay-in-cash medical clinics. Racist structures and institutionalized poverty, enriched by government policies favoring the wealthy, further exaggerate the struggles of the women Gosnell “treated.” The ideology of individualism, abhorring government regulation on the right and championing “choice” on the left, leaves us with a system where Kermit Gosnell’s can easily exploit women because no one will even inspect his clinic. I safely assume migration policies affected negatively women in his clinic, and I could elucidate for pages on how our system not only allowed, but also enabled Kermit Gosnell to wantonly kill children and women for cash.

Today, it is impossible to overcome any injustice without a united cause against all threats. The Consistent Life Ethic, once a fruitful approach for Catholics and those of faith in building up the common good, suffers condemnation from all sides. Some anti-abortion activists reject it for not singularly focusing on the life of unborn children, as it simultaneously confronts right-wing support of the death penalty, gun rights ideology, militarism, etc. Progressives cannot accept the Seamless Garment because it rejects the excessive individualism that “choice” is premised upon, and at its core the Left in America is not seeking a Gospel-based communitarian vision of society that this ethic is rooted in.

The Consistent Life Ethic requires neither that we all work on every issue, but keeps us from callously neglecting any issue. In the tradition of Catholic theology, a consistent ethic forces each of us to navigate the “both/and” of standing up for every life while keeping a focus in our individual work on issue x, y, or z, and the “both/and” of policy nuances negotiated within civil society.

If the crimes of Kermit Gosnell propel us anywhere, I pray it is towards a resurrection of the Seamless Garment. Drone strikes that devalue life against those in Afghanistan affect the unborn in our inner cities. Vilifying the poor who receive government assistance denies each person their dignity, and soon mass shootings are an all too common occurrence. Idolatrizing a gun or anything aside from God leaves no place for love to rupture through in our world. These are not directly cause and effect scenarios, but rather the cumulative impact of devaluing another’s dignity resulting in horrors like the Women’s Medical Society.

As Pentecost nears, let the Catholic community wrap ourselves in the Seamless Garment of Christ and then, with hearts ablaze and tongues speaking the language of every injustice, build a society where Kermit Gosnell’s clinics cede to the Kingdom of God enacted in a historical-temporal reality. 

-Bob

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