Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bishops on Biden, National Edition

Shortly after 5pm Eastern, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement in response to Sunday's MTP comments on abortion by the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.

Yet again, the conference was represented by its chairmen for Pro-Life Activities and Doctrine, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport -- and, yet again, the statement was revised and re-released shortly after its first draft hit the wires.

Below is the fulltext of v.2.0, issued at 6.30 -- emphases original.
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”. 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. 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. Even 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 the moral “haves” and “have-nots,” 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.
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For the record, beside placing italics on the words "biological" and moral" at the start of grafs four and five, the revision dealt exclusively with the third graf, which had originally read as follows (changed terms in italics):
"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 Catholic teaching [replaced with "the truth of the matter"]. The Church teaches [replaced with "recognizes"] that the obligation to protect unborn human life rests on the answer to two questions, neither of which is private or specifically religious."
Clearly, the re-worked language was crafted to place a stronger emphasis on the natural law argument vis a vis conception.

* * *
On a related note, and in yet another "yet again," a separate statement -- this time, in the form of a letter to his priests -- was released this afternoon by the capital's chief pastor, Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl:
Dear Brother Priests,

In late August, I wrote to you following a discussion in the national media regarding what our Catholic faith says about when life begins and about abortion. Many of you took the opportunity to present and affirm the teaching of the Catholic Church on this important issue with your parishioners, and I thank you. These are teachable moments, and present an opportunity to highlight the consistency and clarity of our Catholic faith.

Unfortunately, again this week on Meet the Press, the Catholic teaching on human life was not clearly presented by a public official. In an interview, Senator Joseph Biden said he is “prepared to accept the teachings of my church” on when life begins, but would not “impose that judgment on everyone else.”

When asked about his stated belief that life begins at conception and his public record on abortion, he said, “I voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously-based view that it’s at the moment of conception. There is a debate in our Church…that’s existed…Thomas Aquinas said…it didn’t occur until quickening, 40 days after conception. How am I going out and tell you, if you or anyone else that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith.”

The role of elected officials to address the public policy issues before them must be respected, but the interpretation of the Catholic faith is the responsibility of the bishops. To avoid confusion among people of goodwill about the Church’s teaching on human life, it is important to state once again the Catholic Church’s constant teaching on human life, as well as clarify the difference between science, the theories of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the faith.

When life begins is not a matter of faith, but a matter of science. The scientific research available to us today confirms that the joining of the human egg and sperm begins a new human life. There is overwhelming empirical evidence that once conceived, that life will continue through its many natural stages, from embryo to fetus to infant to child and on until death. Religious belief does not change this scientific fact.

However, faith and the natural moral law guide us in how we treat this human life. The Catholic Church has been unwavering in its teaching, as we are told in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception…Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (paragraphs 2270-2271)

As you are aware, Saint Thomas Aquinas, who lived 800 years ago, shared this belief. Even while speculating on when the soul enters the physical body in light of biological theories of his time that have long since been disproved, Aquinas rejected abortion at every stage, calling it a sin “against nature” to reject God’s gift of life.

Our Catholic faith proclaims what is already written in our human hearts and recognized in our conscience – to kill innocent human life is wrong. The commandment “you shall not kill” is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “a privileged expression of the natural law” (2070). Modern science has demonstrated beyond any doubt that this innocent human life begins at conception. Defense of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but an act of justice.

In gratitude for your own teaching ministry and with every good wish, I am

Faithfully in Christ,
Donald W. Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington