Cardinal Cupich advances legacy of Cardinal Bernardin in Fordham address

By Chicago Catholic staff
Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Cardinal Cupich delivers his address on Sept. 26, 2023, at Fordham University in New York City. Next to him is David Gibson, director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture. (Leo Sorel/Fordham University)

Cardinal Cupich delivered an address Sept. 26, titled “The Bond of Perfection: From a Consistent Ethic of Life to an Integral Ethic of Solidarity,” at Fordham University in New York City.

The talk was sponsored by Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture and the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, and published in L’Osservatore Romano.

Forty years ago, Cardinal Bernardin delivered his historic address on the consistent ethic of life at the same university and the principles he outlined contribute to a new “integral ethic of solidarity,” Cardinal Cupich said.

“As a community of believers, we find ourselves beset by division, buffeted by a set of new questions about the church’s relationship with the wider society, and even with itself. In many ways, we need this teaching now more than ever,” he said. “By retrieving and extending the consistent ethic of life toward an integral ethic of Solidarity, the church might offer a gift to the People of God, indeed to all people who seek the common good.”

Cardinal Bernardin argued that “the spectrum of life cuts across the issues of genetics, abortion, capital punishment, war and the care of the terminally ill.”

Quoting Cardinal Bernardin, Cardinal Cupich said, “Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker.”

Cardinal Cupich continued, “At the same time, Cardinal Bernardin underscored the distinctiveness of each of these issues. Any effort to blend them without understanding their relative moral importance, the cardinal emphasized, would depart from Catholic teaching. In other words, the cardinal was not claiming that all life issues are equivalent. Instead, he forcefully argued for their distinctiveness, each requiring its own system of analysis, while emphasizing the reality of the interrelatedness of all threats to human life.”

The address given by Cardinal Bernardin was not universally supported, even in the church, Cardinal Cupich said.

“Some critics worried that the consistent ethic would water down Catholic teaching against abortion and provide cover for Catholics who want to vote for pro-choice candidates. Others had no interest in folding opposition to abortion into their advocacy on other social justice issues,” he said. “We must remember that the cardinal delivered his Fordham lecture just 10 years after Roe v. Wade had scrambled the political map of the United States. It was a period when grassroots activists took the lead in opposing abortion, in many ways, spurring the U.S. bishops to form a comprehensive response to Roe.”

In applying Cardinal Bernardin’s vision to today’s world, Cardinal Cupich mentioned five developments to consider. They are the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs; climate change; the emergence of new technologies; the pontificate of Pope Francis; and the intensification of polarization in the Western world.

“The consistent ethic of life could serve as a logical scaffolding for our analysis of life issues. Putting them into effect in a committed way — as Cardinal Bernardin had hoped — leads to an integral ethic of solidarity. That ethic grounds our respect for life both interpersonally and within the human family,” he said. “Solidarity points to the interconnectedness of all human beings, to the unity that they should strive for, and the responsibility for the common good that we all share. Solidarity is a moral virtue. It is a disposition of gratitude to God for the gifts he bestows upon us, and of service to those who suffer. It is never motivated by grievance or self-seeking.”

“Solidarity is the virtue that calls us to unveil and transform the structures of sin that lay at the root of so much human suffering,” the cardinal said. “It calls us to challenge the social structures that annihilate the moral identity of the unborn. It calls us to see the social sin in the falsehoods and economic interests that prevent a robust response to climate change. It guards us from despair in the face of grotesque income inequalities, early deaths from poor health care, the savageries of war, and the racism that tear us apart. Solidarity calls us to morally evaluate and regulate new technologies that threaten the dignity of the human person. Solidarity confirms that we live interconnectedly and therefore helps us see that structures of sin are something we can change.”

Cardinal Cupich laid out the five elements of an integral ethic of solidarity: “It must be formed through both common human reason and Scripture”; it “must be animated by the virtue of compassion, or empathy”; it “must have a deep global perspective”; it “must be synodal”; and it “must be rooted in prayer.”

“For if the church takes seriously the call of Pope Francis to incarnate a synodal church,” the cardinal said, “then we must inculcate an integral ethic of solidarity across all sectors of our common life together.”


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