Bishop of Madison Robert C. Morlino and Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput have responded to Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Biden’s characterization that the point when life begins is a religious belief, criticizing him for “flawed moral reasoning,” confusing the Catholic faithful and confusing the differences between faith and natural law.
In a Sunday interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. Biden had said that he is “prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception” but would not impose that belief on anyone through law. He claimed that to do so would be “inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”
Bishop Morlino made impromptu remarks in his Sunday homily, saying he had thrown away his prepared homily “for other considerations.”
Explaining that his point was not “to speak against Democrats,” but to address people who “claim to be Catholic,” he discussed Sen. Joseph Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s remarks about abortion.
“They are roughly my age… so that means that Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Biden were educated just about the same time I was,” he noted.
Stating he could not speak to the exact details of Pelosi’s Catholic education, Bishop Morlino said “I have to believe that she was taught that abortion was always wrong.”
After the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Morlino said, “certain theologians and some priests and some bishops” started to allow the kind of teaching Rep. Pelosi received, and “allowed her to be confused.”
“She doesn’t know church history, doesn’t know the theology of the Church Fathers about abortion at this moment,” he said.
If she knew it at one time, Bishop Morlino asserted, “she doesn’t know it now.”
Turning his remarks to Sen. Biden, Bishop Morlino said he and the senator shared as their hometown Scranton, Pennsylvania.
“I am positive of what Sen. Biden was taught in Scranton. And it’s the same thing that I was taught,” he declared.
While Rep. Pelosi may be confused, he said, he claimed Sen. Biden doesn’t understand the difference between “religious faith and natural law.”
“Any human being -- regardless of his faith, his religious practice or having no faith -- any human being can reason to the fact that human life from conception unto natural death is sacred,” he argued. “Biology -- not faith, not philosophy, not any kind of theology -- Biology tells us, science [says], that at the moment of conception there exists a unique individual of the human species.”
“It's not a matter of what I might believe. What my faith might teach me,” he said.
“Sen. Biden has an obligation to know that. And he doesn’t know it.”
Charging that some theologians, priests, and bishops also allowed Biden to become confused, Bishop Morlino then criticized politicians for confusing the Catholic faithful.
“They're supposed to believe in separation of church and state. They're violating the separation of church and state by confusing people about what I have an obligation to teach,” he charged, though he did not hold them culpable.
“They themselves were confused after the Council and I don't blame them for that. Bishops allowed it, theologians did it, some priests did it, and in Canada even some bishops did it.”
Again insisting he wasn’t speaking about Democrats or even pro-life issues, he said his focus was upon the “awareness of faith, the catechesis that every Catholic should have.” He asked his listeners to make sure they themselves really understand what the Catholic faith teaches, through the Pope and the bishops.
“Prominent Catholics should not be violating the separation of church and state” by “teaching the wrong thing.” Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Biden, he said, are “doing precisely that.”
“If Republican candidates were doing precisely that, I would speak out with exactly the same determination,” he countered.
Nearing the end of his homily, Bishop Morlino said Catholics must tell people who need to be corrected “with love,” because otherwise “we will be lost too.”
Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput and Denver’s auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley voiced their own criticisms of Sen. Biden in a Monday statement, saying that Catholics who serve on the national stage open themselves to “legitimate scrutiny” by local Catholics and local bishops concerning Catholic belief.
“In 2008, although NBC probably didn’t intend it, Meet the Press has become a national window on the flawed moral reasoning of some Catholic public servants,” their letter said.
Referencing Biden’s statement that when life begins is a “personal and private issue,” the bishops replied: “in reality, modern biology knows exactly when human life begins: at the moment of conception. Religion has nothing to do with it.”
While granting that there is a “dangerous” argument over when “personhood” begins, they continued: “no one can any longer claim that the beginning of life is a matter of religious opinion.”
Against Biden’s remarks that pluralism prevented him from advocating abortion restrictions, the bishops said: “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.”
While saying views of other people should be acknowledged and compromises made “whenever possible,” the bishops insisted this should not come “at the expense of a developing child’s right to life.”
“Abortion is a foundational issue,” they wrote, emphasizing “it is always, grievously wrong.”
“If, as Sen. Biden said, ‘I’m prepared as a matter of faith [emphasis added] to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,’ then he is not merely wrong about the science of new life; he also fails to defend the innocent life he already knows is there,” the bishops said.
While praising Biden’s opposition to public funding for abortions and his opposition to partial-birth abortion, they explained that his support for the 1973 Supreme Court pro-abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade “can’t be excused by any serious Catholic.”
“Resistance to abortion is a matter of human rights, not religious opinion,” they added, arguing that law by nature involves imposing “some people’s convictions on everyone else.”
“American Catholics have allowed themselves to be bullied into accepting the destruction of more than a million developing unborn children a year,” they wrote.
“We need to put an end to Roe and the industry of permissive abortion it enables,” the bishops concluded. “Otherwise 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.”