Statement in response to Senator Biden

  Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities  Bishop William Lori, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Doctrine

   September 9, 2008

Recently we had a duty to clarify the Catholic Church’s constant teaching against abortion, to correct misrepresentations of that teaching by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on “Meet the Press” (see   On September 7, again on “Meet the Press,” 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 “at the moment of conception,” and that Catholics and others who recognize this should not be required by others to pay for abortions with their taxes. 

However, the Senator’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.  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  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 Church’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 value 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.


United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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  • junior

    Thank you, Archbishop Rigali. It’s encouraging to have an authority figure set things straight. I wish the media would talk openly about this squishy, intellectualizing that questions the morality of morals. Such consistent response on the part of Church leaders will hopefully force the question eventually out into open discussion. Hopefully we’ll find the vocabulary to speak in a more real, intelligent way about choices.

  • Grace Harman

    Yes, thank you indeed. A pro-life response was also needed at the time of Roe v. Wade, and there should have been an affirmation of the truth of Humanae Vitae back then as well.
    It has been 35 years, and we have lost nearly 50 million lives – and still there are Catholics who think it is O.K. to kill the babies who are not truly or
    specifically “wanted” or welcomed. We will all need to answer to God for that.

  • serreno

    Great Cardinal Rigali! Now where does the Church go from here. Nothing ever changes. Senator Biden and all the other pro-choice catholic politicians get the same old tired and unsuccessful treatment…response, etc….. by the Church hierarchy and leadership. They continue to thumb their nose up at you and do whatever they please….such as attending Holy Mass whenever and receiving the Blessed Sacrament whenever. Have any of you…..ANY…..ever tried anything different other than letter responses to these people who are bringing disgrace and great dishonor to Our Lord’s Church. How about a direct …one on one meeting with all of these Catholic pro choice politicians and tell them ALL that is expected of them about this issue…. and tell them ALL that until they get this right….to PLEASE refrain…..hard as it may well be……to receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Can someone please explain to me what is so difficult about this. Find out whether or not their political careers are more important than their Catholic faith. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out that many of them will in fact change their ways rather than surrender their real and true love of the faith. It is tough to sit in the back of the Church and know that you cannot receive the Blessed Sacrament. It can be life changing. Don’t underestimate the transforming power of the Eucharist!

    For those who chastise you….ridicule you…..laugh at you…..well….just shake the dust off your feet…..go back to your Cathedral……go before the Blessed Sacrament and I suggest you read Acts….chapter 5…..verses 40 – 42. We ALL should. That should make you feel better. I know this, whatever you are doing has not worked over the last 30 years. Let’s see…..over 40 million children…..slaughtered….and that number continues to grow every day. Meanwhile ALL of the Catholic pro choice politicians continue to get a pass….and the Catholic leadership….hierarchy continue to do the same thing over and over again which basicallly translates as nothing. Don’t you just know how sick Our Lord must be over this.

  • bobm0001

    Catholics would have a lot more credibility in the discussion of the sanctity of life if it applied the same moral principles (From your statement:”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.”) to politicians and Catholics supporting capital punishment. Unfortunately, you don’t and it makes your complaints seem one-sided and hypocritical.

  • mkochan

    No it isn’t because the application of capital punishment IS NOT an intrinsic evil. It is not evil in and of itself. Abortion is.

    Abortion is one of the handful of things that are non-negotiable. Things we are never allowed to cooperate with. Is a Catholic warden allowed by the church to cooperate with the application of a capital punishment? — yes, he is. He does not become guilty of a mortal sin by doing so, but cooperation in an act of abortion is a mortal sin.

    I am answering your question with the assumption that you are sincere and really have not considered the relative gravity of the dozens of deaths each year from the death penalty — at least the majority of which are carried out on murderers — vs the 10’s of thousands of innocent babies buthered in abortion.

    So what do you say now that you have considered it and seen the contrast in what the Church teaches on both? Please let us know, because I am sure that some readers thoght you were just another liberal hack so determined to vote for a pro-abort no matter what, that you were just offering a lame excuse, but like I said, I want to think that you are sincere.

  • bobm0001

    Of course I am sincere, but I extend my belief in the sanctity of life to all humanity. To me, the executioner who puts a criminal to death is just as guilty as a doctor who performs an abortion.

    Wouldn’t we be just as appalled if “only” a few dozen fetuses were aborted each year instead of thousands? To say that the lives of those on murder’s row are somehow worth less than others fly in the face of our teachings. Who am I to judge whether or not a person is truly contrite?

    Pope John Paul II often spoke out against capital punishment, but we seem to accept it in the US because, well, the majority of Americans believe it is acceptable. Does that make abortion acceptable because 60% of Americans want Roe v. Wade left alone?

  • gadjmljj

    You are comparing innocent life to those found guilty. No doubt some may not truly be guilty (since our system of justice is not perfect). But captital punishment itself is not an intrinsic evil as mkochan has said.
    The catechism teaches in paragraph 2267, that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty…”
    John Paul II said it should be “rare” if not “practically” non existent.” but he did not say “never”. Nor that it should be treated as intrinscally evil.

    The Church STILL recognizes the states right to the death penalty as a God given right to protect society in extreme cases. In fact the Church even teaches in paragraph 2266 that ” When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation.” Sometimes only with the reality of facing death can some of these guilty persons find true sorrow and repentence in their hearts.
    If you follow the teachings of the Church than follow it completely. What the Church holds bound, we should hold bound, and what the Church looses, we should loose. If you want to fight against the death penalty (so that it is not abused) that’s fine but to hold the death penalty on the same level as abortion is a misunderstanding of justice and is not following the Church’s teachings

  • bobm0001

    Does it really matter whether evil is intrinsic or extrinsic? It’s still evil.

    Although the universal catechism affirms the right of the state to punish criminals with appropriate penalties “not excluding in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty,” Pope John Paul II declared the Church’s near total opposition to the death penalty.

    In his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life) issued March 25, 1995, John Paul II wrote that execution is only appropriate “in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Until this encyclical, the death penalty was viewed as sometimes permissible as a means of protecting society.

    My purpose for raising the death penalty issue is not because I am an advocate for prisoners on murderer’s row. I’m just trying to point out that in a pluralistic society, we may have to accept that the majority of our community disagrees with us and wants to go in a different direction.

    Merely electing officials who are against abortion doesn’t work. In the last seven years, the most optimistic estimate is that the number of abortions has remained the same. (Many experts actually believe the number increased.) Yet, we’ve passed laws prohibiting late-term abortions, the use of federal funds for abortions, minors receiving abortions, and others.

    Perhaps what we need to do is start attacking the problems that make women feel that they have no choice.