“Intellectually dishonest” theologians and politicians have abused Cardinal Bernardin’s famous “seamless garment” image of Catholic moral teaching to “justify turning a blind eye” to injustices such as abortion, contraception and public funding for embryonic stem cell research, according to the head of the Vatican’s number two official.
Speaking at the Vatican to the annual meeting of the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position previously held by Pope Benedict, said that, viewed properly, the seamless garment image is valid.
But where some adherents of the theory have gone wrong is by emphasizing more popular “social justice” issues such as economic or environmental issues, while dismissing life issues such as abortion and euthanasia as being of lesser importance, or even putting them outside the scope of social justice altogether.
“There is a beautiful coherence to the Church’s moral teaching, but that coherence can only be demonstrated, and its truth apprehended, when the moral teaching of the Church is taught in its entirety and lived out integrally,” said the archbishop.
According to Archbishop Müller, this abuse of the seamless garment theory appears to stem from a desire on the part of some to look for “common ground” with the surrounding culture. But while this approach may at times be appropriate, it risks overlooking the differences between the values of the culture and some of the “profoundly counter-cultural” teachings of the Church.
Teachings of Humanae Vitae must be restored to the ‘seamless garment’
In particular, the head of the CDF highlighted Pope Paul VI’s famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae, in which that pope reiterated the Church’s long-held teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception. The encyclical also drew a connection between contraception and other evils such as abortion and divorce.
In the days and months before the release of Humane Vitae, many had expected the Roman Catholic Church to follow the lead of other Christian denominations and approve contraception. The document remains widely unpopular in many “liberal” Catholic circles.
But according to Müller, once the teaching of Humanae Vitae is ignored, and sex is removed from the context of a life-long marriage open to life, the seamless garment “begins to unravel.” The result, he said, is nothing short of disastrous.
In the first place, the widespread adoption of a “profoundly distorted” view of sexuality, in which sex is denied any “intrinsic value” and “reduced to a merely pleasurable pursuit or a morally irrelevant activity,” is “at the very core of many of the bioethical problems which confront us today.”
The “prophetic” teaching of Humanae Vitae “is so important that without it we cannot engage our faithful—to say nothing of the larger society—in a coherent discussion of the problems and moral evil presented by techniques of artificial fertilization, preimplantation diagnosis, cryogenic freezing of embryos and ‘embryo reduction’, human cloning and the therapeutic use of stem cells,” said Archbishop Muller.
In the second place, he said, wherever the teachings of Humanae Vitae have been downplayed or ignored, “we have witnessed a collapse of family life, an increase in extra-marital infidelity and a diminishment of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.” At the same time, this approach has failed to lead to any corresponding increase in social acceptance of the Church, or “to a renewal in her own life.”
The solution, said the archbishop, is to return the Church’s teachings on sexuality to pride of place within the “seamless garment.”
Given the widespread unpopularity of the teachings of Humanae Vitae in the broader culture, and even among many Catholics, this may seem a daunting task. But according to Archbishop Müller, restoring the proper balance is not as difficult as it may seem, since many Catholics have not actually rejected the Church’s teachings, but rather a “caricature” of them.
The truth is that many have never heard the fullness of the Church’s teaching, the profound “yes” to the sanctity of sexual love lived-out in marriage and the family; the “yes” to responsible parenthood; the “yes” to the dignity of the woman against manipulation by a process that views her body as a problem to be overcome or circumvented.The first step, he said, is to begin talking about the Church’s teachings everywhere possible – in diocesan newspapers and offices, in homilies, and in marriage preparation programs.
“[T]he only response of the Church to modernity has to be one which is completely faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium, above all on matters of sexual morality because this is precisely where doctrine touches life,” said the archbishop.
“Yes, we fight for peace and justice in the world, and at the same time we need to set forth persuasively the Church’s vision of life, love and sexuality, including the intrinsic immorality of abortion and contraception.”
Why is the Church so concerned with sex? Because sex has ‘everything to do with love’
The archbishop acknowledged that the Church is often accused of having an excessive focus on sex.
But, said the archbishop, this is natural, particularly in a culture that has deviated so far afield from what constitutes a healthy sexuality, since the Church is the only institution with the means to provide a long-term remedy.
“The Church is so concerned with sex because sex has everything to do with love, and God is love!’” said Archbishop Müller. “There is plenty of loneliness, brokenness, and unhappiness in the world. Yet often the Church is the only voice speaking to the cause of that existential loneliness and unhappiness.” He added:
The degradation of the sexual act, reducing it to a function of pleasure, power, or control, demeans the human person. The great lie of the sexual revolution is that sex always leads to happiness and personal liberation. The sexual union of a man and a woman does lead to integral fulfillment in its authentic context, which is when it is open to new life within the life long bond of marriage. However, out-with this context it invariably leads people into the desert of meaninglessness.The archbishop said that within the “stark simplicity” of the Church’s teachings on sexuality there is “tremendous power for liberation and happiness.” The only thing necessary is to “communicate to people the intrinsic meaning of sex within the Christian vision of love.”
“Only through an integrated and enthusiastic presentation of our teaching can we begin to reclaim the language and concept of human rights as it relates to family life and especially to marriage as constituted by one man and one woman,” he said.
You may read the complete talk here.