Wednesday 3 March 2010

Bishops' election guide inadequate and relies on 'seamless garment' error

Here is SPUC's quick initial response to "Choosing the Common Good", the guide to the general election issued today by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. The guide:
  • is inadequate from pro-life perspective
  • fails to give voters clear guidance how to make the best choice when voting
  • relies on the classic “seamless garment” error (see below)
  • has some good insights into the plight of families
  • is good that it challenges politicians to act ethically.
Pro-life issues are first mentioned on page 15 of the bishops' guide. It says:
"defence of the immeasurable value of human life is part of a ‘seamless robe‘".
The 'seamless robe' or 'seamless garment' approach to pro-life issues has been debunked by, among others, Archbishop Raymond Burke, the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (the "supreme court" of the Catholic Church), who said in September:
“Whatever the good intention of using the image of a seamless garment to talk about the moral issues regarding human life, it has become identified with the proportionalist way of thinking in which, for example, acts of war, the use of the death penalty, procured abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and euthanasia are viewed as matters of equal moral weight. In other words, the image covers over the distinction between intrinsically evil acts and acts which are not evil in themselves but can become evil, if unjustly taken. The moral questions pertaining to the safeguarding and fostering of human life are all related to one another but they are not of the same weight. To use the image of the garment, they are not all of the same cloth. The use of the metaphor of the seamless garment, while it may have been intended to promote the culture of life, has, in fact, been used to justify the acceptance of acts essentially contrary to a culture of life for the sake of attaining some seeming good. Whatever good intention those who have developed the "seamless garment" argument may have had, it falsely places intrinsically evil acts, that is, acts which are always and everywhere morally wrong, on the same plane with acts which, according to prudent judgment, may not sufficiently safeguard human life.”
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