Today, as the Church began its Year of Faith. a historic moment occurred when two Catholic vice presidential candidates faced each other in a nationally televised debate. How chilling, then, to see one candidate effectively claim, in that same debate, that he was violating his own conscience on the issue of abortion. But that is Vice President Joe Biden said tonight:
My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. It is particularly informed my social doctrine — Catholic social doctrine talks about taking taking care of those who can’t for themselves, people who need help. With regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as what we call a de fide doctrine—life begins at conception. That’s the Church’s judgment. I accept that in my personal life, but I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, Muslims, and Jews. I refuse to impose that on others up like my friend here, the Congressman. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women, that they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.
If Vice President Joe Biden simply said, “The Church says life begins at conception, but I do not accept that teaching, and am therefore in favor of abortion on demand,” his soul would be in less danger than it is now. As it is, in supporting abortion on demand, he appears to be openly in violation of his own conscience. And that is the sort of thing that puts one in danger of hellfire, according to the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium 16—one of the Council’s most neglected teachings, as Ralph Martin notes) and the Catechism (CCC 1790). This is serious stuff. The souls of dissenters who do not claim to have ever accepted the teachings from which they dissent are in less peril than that of Joe Biden. Let us pray for him as our fellow member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Given that Biden’s comments came on the day that the Catholic Church began its Year of Faith in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, the words of the Council Fathers in Lumen Gentium36 sound more prophetic than ever (emphasis mine):
Because of the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion. In our own time, however, it is most urgent that this distinction and also this harmony should shine forth more clearly than ever in the lives of the faithful, so that the mission of the Church may correspond more fully to the special conditions of the world today. For it must be admitted that the temporal sphere is governed by its own principles, since it is rightly concerned with the interests of this world. But that ominous doctrine which attempts to build a society with no regard whatever for religion, and which attacks and destroys the religious liberty of its citizens, is rightly to be rejected.