Senator Biden's Statements on Abortion and Pluralism
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Denver
James D. Conley, Auxiliary Bishop of Denver
On 8 September the Archdiocese of Denver released the following untitled
statement on the erroneous comments on abortion made by Senator Joseph Biden, a
Catholic, on the news program Meet the Press (September 7).
To Catholics of the Archdiocese of Denver:
When Catholics serve on the national stage, their actions and words impact the
faith of Catholics around the country. As a result, they open themselves to
legitimate scrutiny by local Catholics and local bishops on matters of 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
On August 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, describing herself as an
ardent, practicing Catholic, misrepresented the overwhelming body of Catholic
teaching against abortion to the show’s nationwide audience, while defending her
“pro-choice” abortion views. On September 7, Sen. Joseph Biden compounded the
problem to the same Meet the Press audience.
Sen. Biden is a man of distinguished public service. That doesn’t excuse poor
logic or bad facts. Asked when life begins, Sen. Biden said that, “it’s a
personal and private issue.” But in reality, modern biology knows exactly when
human life begins: at the moment of conception. Religion has nothing to do with
it. People might argue when human “personhood” begins – though that leads public
policy in very dangerous directions – but no one can any longer claim that the
beginning of life is a matter of religious opinion.
Sen. Biden also confused the nature 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.
In his interview, the senator ob served that other people with strong religious
views disagree with the Catholic approach to abortion. It’s certainly true that
we need to acknowledge the views of other people and compromise whenever
possible – but not at the expense of a developing child’s right to life.
Abortion is a foundational issue; it is not an issue like housing policy or the
price of foreign oil. It always involves the intentional killing of an innocent
life, and it is always, grievously wrong. If, as Sen. Biden said, “I’m prepared
as a matter of faith 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.
As the senator said in his interview, he has opposed public funding for
abortions. To his great credit, he also backed a successful ban on partial-birth
abortions. But his strong support for the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v.
Wade and the false “right” to abortion it enshrines, can’t be excused by any
serious Catholic. Support for Roe and the “right to choose” an abortion simply
masks what abortion is, and what abortion does. Roe is bad law. As long as it
stands, it prevents returning the abortion issue to the states where it belongs,
so that the American people can decide its future through fair debate and
In his Meet the Press interview, Sen. Biden used a morally exhausted argument
that American Catholics have been hearing for 40 years: i.e., that Catholics
can’t “impose” their religiously based views on the rest of the country. But
resistance to abortion is a matter of human rights, not religious opinion. And
the senator knows very well as a lawmaker that all law involves the imposition
of some people’s convictions on everyone else. That is the nature of the law.
American Catholics have allowed themselves to be bullied into accepting the
destruction of more than a million developing unborn children a year. Other
people have imposed their “pro-choice” beliefs on American society without any
remorse for decades.
If we claim to be Catholic, then American Catholics, including public officials
who describe themselves as Catholic, need to act accordingly. We need to put an
end to Roe and the industry of permissive abortion it enables. 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.
+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Archbishop of Denver
+James D. Conley Auxiliary Bishop of Denver