First Nancy Pelosi questioned whether the Catholic Church has always been clear about abortion. Not surprisingly, a posse of bishops swarmed around her words.
Now the bishops are going after Joe Biden’s “Meet the Press” comments about abortion, which are much more classically Democratic.
Asked when life begins, Biden said: “Look, I know when it begins for me. It’s a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I am prepared to accept the teachings in my church.”
Then he said that he cannot “impose” his views on others. This is the Catholic, pro-choice position defined by Mario Cuomo in his famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) speech at Notre Dame in 1984.
Among many other things, he said:
Now, certainly, we should not be forced to mold Catholic morality to conform to disagreement by non-Catholics, however sincere they are, however severe their disagreement. Our bishops should be teachers, not pollsters. They should not change what we Catholics believe in order to ease our consciences or please our friends or protect the Church from criticism. But if the breadth and intensity and sincerity of opposition to Church teaching shouldn’t be allowed to shape our Catholic morality, it can’t help but determine our ability — our realistic, political ability — to translate our Catholic morality into civil law, a law not for the believers who don’t need it but for the disbelievers who reject it.
And it’s here, in our attempt to find a political answer to abortion — an answer beyond our private observance of Catholic morality — that we encounter controversy within and without the Church over how and in what degree to press the case that our morality should be everybody else’s morality. I repeat, there is no Church teaching that mandates the best political course for making our belief everyone’s rule, for spreading this part of our Catholicism. There is neither an encyclical nor a catechism that spells out a political strategy for achieving legislative goals. And so the Catholic trying to make moral and prudent judgments in the political realm must discern which, if any, of the actions one could take would be best.
Of course, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference didn’t accept Cuomo’s position then.
And they don’t accept Biden’s now.
Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishopsâ€™ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman, U.S. Bishops Committee on Doctrine, say in a statement: “However, the Senatorâ€™s claim that the beginning of human life is a ‘personal and private’ matter of religious faith, one which cannot be ‘imposed’ on others, does not reflect the truth of the matter.”
Here’s the full statement:
WASHINGTONâ€”Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishopsâ€™ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman, U.S. Bishops Committee on Doctrine, issued the following statement:
Recently we had a duty to clarify the Catholic Churchâ€™s constant teaching against abortion, to correct misrepresentations of that teaching by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on â€œMeet the Pressâ€ (see www.usccb.org/prolife/whatsnew.shtml). On September 7, again on â€œMeet the Press,â€ Senator Joseph Biden made some statements about that teaching that also deserve a response.
Senator Biden did not claim that Catholic teaching allows or has ever allowed abortion. He said rightly that human life begins â€œat the moment of conception,â€ and that Catholics and others who recognize this should not be required by others to pay for abortions with their taxes.
However, the Senatorâ€™s claim that the beginning of human life is a â€œpersonal and privateâ€ matter of religious faith, one which cannot be â€œimposedâ€ on others, does not reflect the truth of the matter. The Church recognizes that the obligation to protect unborn human life rests on the answer to two questions, neither of which is private or specifically religious.
The first is a biological question: When does a new human life begin? When is there a new living organism of the human species, distinct from mother and father and ready to develop and mature if given a nurturing environment? While ancient thinkers had little verifiable knowledge to help them answer this question, today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception (see www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/fact298.shtml). The Catholic Church does not teach this as a matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact.
The second is a moral question, with legal and political consequences: Which living members of the human species should be seen as having fundamental human rights, such as a right not to be killed? The Catholic Churchâ€™s answer is: Everybody. No human being should be treated as lacking human rights, and we have no business dividing humanity into those who are valuable enough to warrant protection and those who are not. This is not solely a Catholic teaching, but a principle of natural law accessible to all people of good will. The framers of the Declaration of Independence pointed to the same basic truth by speaking of inalienable rights, bestowed on all members of the human race not by any human power, but by their Creator. Those who hold a narrower and more exclusionary view have the burden of explaining why we should divide humanity into those who have moral values and those who do not and why their particular choice of where to draw that line can be sustained in a pluralistic society. Such views pose a serious threat to the dignity and rights of other poor and vulnerable members of the human family who need and deserve our respect and protection.
While in past centuries biological knowledge was often inaccurate, modern science leaves no excuse for anyone to deny the humanity of the unborn child. Protection of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but a demand of justice.