.- In his syndicated column, Fr. Richard McBrien, professor of Theology at the University of Notre-Dame, issued a scathing attack on bishops holding a pro-life position, claiming that they negate the importance of other concerns such as capital punishment, just war, or social justice. McBrien criticism is delivered in a piece entitled “Consistent ethic of life approach withstands backlash,” where he defends the “seamless garment” approach to life-issues, which he presents as a theory which claims that all issues concerning the dignity of human life –abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, social justice (including issues like ‘minimum wage’) or human rights – carry equal moral weight, and thus should have equal influence on a Catholic voter’s decision.
McBrien writes that this approach is the one adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the statement “Faithful Citizenship,” published in October 2003, in the run-up to this year’s elections.
Following the position held by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, McBrien explains three reasons for supporting the “seamless garment” approach. He says the first is that it is rooted in the Church’s “opposition to both abortion and war,” the second is that it unifies “a church involved in diverse ministries,” and third, “is unusually appealing to many people at various points along the political spectrum.”
McBrien, following Cardinal Bernardin, says that this approach “is emphatically not a strategy for downplaying the issue of abortion in the church or in society,” despite the criticisms of whom he calls “single-issue, anti-abortion Catholics.”
He then takes aim at a “significant minority in the bishops’ conference”, “some of whose number played a highly visible role in the recent U.S. election,” who –acording to him- say that “abortion is the only life-issue that matters --- to the point where it is said to ‘trump’ all others.”
McBrien also points out that the emerging backlash against the “seamless garment” theory is evident in the fact that “many bishops apparently broke with precedent last month and withheld their votes from Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, one of ten candidates for Conference president.”
Bishop Skylstad, Fr. McBrien claims, had been vice president for the past three years and, by tradition, should have received 70-80 percent support on the first ballot. “Although he was elected on the first ballot, it was with only 52 percent of the votes cast.”
“A number of bishops apparently voted against him because he had explicitly promoted the consistent ethic of life approach during the recent political campaign,” McBrien adds.
Father Richard P. McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.
He has been writing his syndicated weekly column for some 33 years. Over that time, he appeared in as many as 40 diocesan newspapers. At last count, however, he is down to about 20 Catholic publications.
“The Tidings” of Los Angeles is one of them.
Papers that have dropped his column in the last years include that of his home Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.
Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn, shortly after he became bishop in 1991, told the editor of the diocesan newspaper, “The Tablet,” to drop McBrien's column.
Seven years ago, Bishop James Moynihan of Syracuse, N.Y., pulled McBrien from the diocesan newspaper, “The Catholic Sun,” and substituted one written by George Weigel.
In 1996 letters to Father Richard McBrien, Archbishop John R. Quinn, then chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine and Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, acting chairman upon Archbishop Quinn's retirement, expressed disappointment that the then new edition of Father McBrien's book “Catholicism” did not sufficiently correct several deficiencies that the committee had identified in its examination of the first two editions of the book undertaken in the early '80s.
This examination culminated in a 1985 statement specifying a number of deficiencies that the committee hoped would be corrected in any future editions.