From the editor’s desk
Life issues are indivisible
22 November 2008
Respect for life is a seamless garment, and the Church has to maintain it at all costs. It cannot be limited to one issue. For instance, it has become clear that several Catholic children's societies in England and Wales have responded to new regulations which outlaw discrimination against homosexuals by loosening their formal ties to the Catholic Church. This means they will in principle agree to place children for adoption with gay couples, thus preserving the fees they receive from local authorities for all the other cases. What this response indicates is a desire to continue to work with hard-to-place children, where these agencies have acquired a reputation for expertise. The key point, which transcends denomination and indeed sexuality, is that the needs of vulnerable children should come first. It is a pity that the lack of a common position among the bishops of England and Wales has deprived them of the opportunity to press home that lesson, to show that the Church's care for life really is from conception to the grave and not confined to its period in the womb.
The danger of failing to adhere to this fundamental championing of life is key to understanding the recent Baby P tragedy. The needs of a 17-month-old infant appear to have been subordinated to certain doctrines which predominate in social work, such as the insistence that children must be kept with their mothers, including the most dysfunctional, even though the 1989 Children Act clearly states that the welfare of the child must be paramount - a fundamental pro-life position.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI has emphasised the need for an all-embracing defence of life - a point associated with the late Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago, who first used the term "seamless garment" to describe this approach when he told a conference of health-care workers that children already born, especially those who suffer from poverty, disease and conflict, must have a place at the heart of the Church's concerns.
Infant mortality is not the only issue here. Children deprived of love, education and adequate nourishment cannot thrive, cannot live life to the full. These too are pro-life issues.
The Church cannot abandon its efforts to oppose abortion, just as it cannot let governments dictate its position on homosexuality. But such teachings will be ill understood, and will not find resonance in the Catholic community when it comes to elections, unless they are placed in an overall framework of positive values. This is the real significance of the seamless garment argument. A Church leadership which upholds and defends life at all stages will gain more attention and respect from its own members and from outside its ranks than one that seems fixated on a single issue. Indeed, that fixation arguably makes abortion more tolerated. This is why the reaction of some Catholic bishops in America to the election of Barack Obama is so disappointing. State intervention to ensure the poor have access to adequate health care is no less pro-life than state intervention to reduce abortions, which, incidentally, Mr Obama has also promised, although not by invoking the criminal law. There is room here for at least two and a half hearty Catholic cheers, if not the full three.