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Bishops Get it Wrong on Biden

September 10, 2008

Washington, DC—Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement about the response from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to vice presidential nominee Senator Joseph Biden:

“In their response to Senator Joseph Biden, the US bishops again miss the mark on political discourse in the United States.

“Senator 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. Senator Biden’s comments reflect that he is following his conscience as well as the Catholic teaching that requires respect for other people’s decisions. Senator Biden recognizes the proper place for personal religious conviction in the political arena. 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.

“Individual conscience in matters of moral decision making is at the core of the Catholic tradition—and the public policy views of Catholics in the United States reflect this tradition. Catholics, like people of other faiths, believe that abortion should be legal and support its availability. Like the majority of Catholics nationwide, Senator Biden also supports policies that help ensure affordable contraception, safe and legal abortions, comprehensive sexuality education and affordable healthcare for all people in this country.

“It is telling that on the eve of the final Congressional session of 2008, the secretariat of pro-life activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a series of print ads outlining the bishops’ opposition to embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. The ad “campaign” was launched as Congress returns for its final session and the two political parties gear up for a tight presidential campaign and many congressional races. This leaves no doubt as to the bishops’ priorities in this election year.

“Once again, the bishops choose to place themselves at the center of the political discussion on abortion. While the bishops continue in their attempt to make reproductive rights the primary national issue that Catholics should vote on, Catholic voters themselves place much greater priority on the basic bread-and-butter issues that most affect our country—the economy, war and healthcare. Catholic voters are not concerned with so-called values issues as much as they are with improving the economy (68% saying it should be one of the highest priorities); protecting the US from terrorism (54%); resolving the war in Iraq (50%); and making healthcare more affordable (48%).

“However, as a recent poll by Belden Russonello & Stewart found, Catholics are in a very different place than their bishops when it comes to embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. For example, a large majority (69%) of likely Catholic voters support embryonic stem-cell research (69%). In addition, six in ten support keeping abortion legal (58%) and seven in ten (69%) say they feel no obligation to vote against candidates who support abortion. An even larger majority (75%) disapproves of denying communion to Catholics who support legal abortion.

“Protection of religious freedom is mandatory and guaranteed in our pluralistic society. Thankfully, there are Catholics in public life, such as Senator 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. They want to protect the freedoms of all Americans, from every faith group and no faith group. They know that by letting conscience and voters guide them—and not bending to the dictates of the Catholic bishops—they will best serve all Americans.”

Full details about church teachings on abortion and the recent Belden Russonello & Stewart poll are available on our Web site at