The Reactionary Utopian
                       August 16, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     The late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, former 
archbishop of Chicago, endeared himself to liberals, 
especially liberal Catholic politicians, by adopting the 
metaphor of life as a "seamless garment." It isn't enough 
to oppose abortion, he insisted; to be consistent, you 
have to defend life on every front, as for instance by 
relieving poverty and illness.

     This came as welcome news to the liberals, since it 
turned "life" into a checklist, in which abortion was 
only one of many items, and not necessarily the most 
urgent. You could be "pro-life," according to the 
Bernardin standard, merely by supporting the welfare 

     Well, of course life is, in some sense, a seamless 
garment. We should oppose abortion on the same principle 
that we should oppose the bombing of cities. But 
according to Bernardin's way of thinking, you mustn't 
oppose bombing Hiroshima unless you also favor setting up 
an anti-poverty program there.

     Conservative Catholics smelled a rat. They sensed 
that this "seamless garment" was really just a way of 
minimizing the special problem of abortion, at a time 
when more than a million abortions were being performed 
in America every year.

     Liberal Catholics, on the other hand, loved the 
idea. But somehow the imperative of consistency worked 
only one way. We never heard any of them say, "Well, it's 
not enough for me to support the welfare state. If I'm 
really going to be pro-life, I must also fight to end 
legal abortion." Politicians like New York's Mario Cuomo 
felt they had been vindicated in their empty "personal" 
opposition to abortion.

     You know that familiar line: "I am personally 
opposed to abortion, but ..." But you weren't going to do 
anything about it. If you opposed it "personally," you 
were in favor of it practically. And everyone knew it.

     Abortion remains legal today thanks in large part to 
all those nominal Catholic politicians who oppose it -- 
"personally." That telltale adverb must lift the hearts 
of abortionists everywhere.

     Cuomo is still at it. He recently told NBC's Tim 
Russert that "we" -- we Catholics -- are "hypocrites" 
because we say we oppose contraception even though most 
of "us" use contraceptives like other people. Of course, 
it goes without saying, people who call themselves 
Catholics while constantly subverting Catholic morality 
aren't guilty of hypocrisy. To hear Cuomo tell it, he's 
one of the few honest Catholics in politics. So why do so 
many other Catholic pols talk like him?

     But has anyone ever refrained from getting or 
procuring an abortion because people like Cuomo 
"personally" disapprove of it? Extremely doubtful. Their 
message is clear: "I can't give my blessing to any 
abortion, but please don't let me discourage you from 
getting one. I wouldn't want to impose my beliefs on 

     I sometimes wonder how such Catholics would behave 
if their alleged "beliefs" were sincere. It's probably a 
purely hypothetical question, but if they really thought, 
felt, and acted as if abortion were evil, without wishing 
to ban it by law, surely there are ways to give this view 
real force.

     Public opinion can be powerful even when it isn't 
backed up by force of law. If you advertise allegiance to 
the Ku Klux Klan, you'll soon find yourself ostracized by 
people who don't question your legal right to join the 

     In the same way, the country would change 
dramatically if every Catholic who professes "personal" 
opposition to feticide would peacefully picket abortion 
clinics. But can anyone even imagine a Cuomo, let alone a 
Ted Kennedy, doing even that much?

     Even so, the country is changing. Abortion rates 
over the past decade have reportedly plunged 
dramatically. The Democratic Party is now uncomfortable 
about its unreserved public identification with the cause 
of "choice." Even Hillary Clinton has voiced reservations 
about the practice -- and has probably made more impact 
thereby than all the liberal Catholics in America put 

     So the "seamless garment" has turned out to be 
nothing but a loophole for hypocritical Catholic 
politicians. If anything, it has actually made it easier 
for them than for non-Catholics to give their effective 
support to legal abortion -- that is, it has allowed them 
to be inconsistent and unprincipled about the very issues 
that Cardinal Bernardin said demand consistency and 


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