Consistent Ethic of Life, Thirty Years Later

Rereading Joseph Bernardin

"The church is in a position to make a significant defense of life in a comprehensive and consistent manner." These were words spoken thirty years ago this week by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin at Fordham University, where he lectured on the U.S. bishops' pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace and formulated the framework for what would come to be known as the consistent ethic of life. We've asked four contributors to reflect on the lecture in light of current debates in the church and in politics, and to offer their thoughts on the legacy of Bernardin today.

Commonweal Roundtable: The Bernardin Lecture

This special symposium has been funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. You can read Joseph Bernardin's 1983 Fordham lecture in its entirety here [.pdf].

Ambivalent After All These Years

I was privileged to hear Cardinal Joseph Bernardin speak in the mid-1980s, and I had two different reactions. First, I could not wholeheartedly embrace his idea of the consistent ethic of life...

Consistent, Comprehensive, Christ-inspired

The immediate context of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s memorable lecture at Fordham University, “A Consistent Ethic of Life: An American-Catholic-Dialogue,” was, of course, the United...

The Original Culture Warrior?

I was a fifth-grader at St. Ferdinand School in Chicago when Cardinal Bernardin framed the “consistent ethic of life.” I didn’t know the speech, but even at the time I sensed what...

An Ethic of ‘Life,’ Not ‘Purity’

First proposed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in a lecture at Fordham University thirty years ago, “the consistent ethic of life” challenged American Catholics involved in the pro-life...


Commenting Guidelines

My goodness.  If may be nothing more than luck but perhaps not.  The posts by both women show depth, breadth and compassion.  Those by the males come off very much like lawyer "speak".  Clever enough but not so clever as to hide the erudition and the "I really am a caring lawyer, you now!".  Come on guys, we can do better.

Bernardin was from my home town.  My mother was not raised Catholic but she married one.  Bernardin she adored.  I am convinved easy accessiblity is a reliable trait of a genuine priest.  He had that in spades. 

Like so many I do so hope Pope Francis will continue to move his folk's attention toward a genuine, persistent conviction a "seamless garmet" is a great more than a pleasant metaphor for a gifted writer, however well intended.



External Reading