In the News 2008

Bishops Chastise Biden’s Pro-Choice Comments


Two Denver Catholic bishops responded Sept. 8 to Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden’s comments on conception made the day before on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” When asked when life begins, Sen. Biden, who identifies himself as Catholic, said, “it’s a personal and private issue.”

This came as news however to Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput and Auxiliary Bishop countered with a joint letter, saying “in reality, modern biology knows exactly when human life beings: at the moment of conception.”

Sen. Biden’s comments were made just two weeks after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, also a self-identified Catholic, defended her pro-choice views on the same show. She said “Doctors of the Church” could not define when life begins and “over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.”

On the heels of Speaker Pelosi’s comments, the bishops stated, “…[Mrs. Pelosi] misrepresented the overwhelming body of Catholic teaching against abortion to the show’s nationwide audience, while defending her ‘pro-choice’ abortion views.”

They said Sen. Biden “compounded the problem to the same ‘Meet the Press’ audience.”

“People might argue when human ‘personhood’ begins, though that leads public policy in very dangerous directions,” the bishops said, “but no one can any longer claim that the beginning of life is a matter of religious opinion.”

The bishops said abortion is “a matter of human rights, not religious opinion” because it “involves the intentional killing of an innocent life and … is always, grievously wrong.”

While the bishops spoke against abortion, Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, supported Sen. Biden’s stance.

“Catholics, like people of other faiths, believe that abortion should be legal and support its availability,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Catholic voters are not concerned with so-called values issues as much as they are with improving the economy.”

While the bishops recognize many important issues, “abortion is a foundational issue” of Catholic doctrine, they said. “It is not an issue like housing policy or the price of foreign oil.”

In addition to denouncing Sen. Biden for his “private” view on conception, the bishops also criticized his “confusion” of pluralism.

“Real pluralism thrives on healthy, non-violent disagreement; it requires an environment where people of conviction will struggle respectfully but vigorously to advance their beliefs,” the bishops said.

They noted Sen. Biden correctly recognized “other people with strong religious views disagree with the Catholic approach to abortion.” Agreeing that other views should be acknowledged, the bishops said comprise is important “whenever possible, but not at the expense of a developing child’s right to life.”

This is not the first time Sen. Biden has taken heat for muddling pluralism. Pro-life groups have castigated his ambiguous stance on partial birth abortion for years. He supported the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003, but later criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the ban saying the legislation was “code for, ‘Here we come to undo Roe v. Wade.'”

On the issue of pluralism, Mr. O’Brien said, “Sen. Biden stated that it is ‘inappropriate in a pluralistic society’ to impose his religious views on ‘everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout’ than he is.”

“As a Catholic, he has a responsibility to inform his conscience and decisions with church teaching; as a policy maker, he has a responsibility to his constituents and to the people of many religious faiths and no faith that make up the foundation of America,” he added.

As a lawmaker, the bishops said Sen. Biden knows that the “nature of law” “involves the imposition of some people’s convictions on everyone else.” But “American Catholics have allowed themselves to be bullied into accepting the destruction of more than a million developing unborn children a year,” they said. “Other people have imposed their ‘pro-choice’ beliefs on American society without remorse for decades.”

“If we claim to be Catholic, then American Catholics, including public officials who describe themselves as Catholic, need to act accordingly,” the bishops said. “We need to put an end to Roe and the industry of permissive abortion it enables.

Mr. O’Brien agrees that religion plays a role in public life, but he does not think abortion should be opposed.

“Thankfully, there are Catholics in public life, such as Sen. Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who want to inform their actions by their faith, their conscience and the voices of their constituents,” he said.

The bishops think if Catholics do not work to end abortion, “all of us from senators and members of Congress, to Catholic laypeople in the pews fail not only as believers and disciples, but also as citizens.”

Erin Maguire can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the 11 September 2008 edition of The Bulletin.

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