The candidate who defies his own conscience

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.

  • Dan Harris

    Neither President Obama or Mitt Romney are running for Pope they are running to be leaders of a country with many cultures,ethnic heritage and religions. Here is a important quote “I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, Muslims, and Jews. I refuse to impose that on others”. Right now Christians are being put to death in countries that have many religions because the leaders of the country think their religion gives them the right to impose their religion on other faiths.Is this what you want for America?

    • John

      I think you missed the point. Biden claims that life begins at conception. He then claimed that he thought it was legitimate to allow abortion, which is the killing of that admittedly human person. In the teachings of the Catholic Church, the unborn child is a human being, just like an adult. Biden surely believes that killing an adult should be illegal, but he doesn’t think that killing that child should be illegal. That is a duplicitous position. A person is a person, regardless of their location relative to their mother’s body. Killing a person is wrong.

      If you truly believe that an unborn child is a person, you should be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that it has rights. So either Biden doesn’t believe it is really a person, or he is violating his own conscience by remaining silent while 50 million children have been slaughtered. Shame on you Joe Biden!

      • Mike

        Republicans certainly aren’t fighting tooth and nail to end abortion. They’ve never done a thing about it in the forty years it’s been legal. We Christians should oppose abortion. But, to say Republicans are the answer to it being outlawed would be laughable if it weren’t such a disgusting abomination how they only SAY they’re against it and that’s good enough for their party’s supposed pro-life voters.

    • D S


      It is not simply a matter of religion either. The author has made her point from the Catholic theological vantage. Look at it from a non-religious logic standpoint if you don’t except the religious view. Either it is a human in the womb or it is not. If it is, no choice makes it so. It is by nature. Our choice does not determine it’s identity. If it is not, then you can carelessly discard it as we have as a nation of 53,000,000 children and counting 3300 everyday. It’s not just a “religious issue”. It is a humanity and morality issue. Look at ultrasounds, feel the baby in the womb and deny that there is not life there. If you thought it was not okay to kill people who aren’t viable on their own outside the womb, infants, people who need medication to live or other support, but said you don’t want to enforce your views on people who don’t believe the same way, are you off the hook? If you believe it is right, do you not fight for it? If not, you either don’t believe it or your a coward.

    • DK

      Since when does someone have to be running for Pope to say that murder is wrong? Thousands upon thousands of babies are killed every day in our country. Their mothers are pressured into having abortions for a variety of reasons and walk away secretly wounded. No one acknowledges their pain. Abortion is not a religious issue. Abortion concerns every single American person, especially those in a position to make a difference. The thing about Biden is that not only as a man, but as a Catholic, he KNOWS the evil of abortion, and yet he hides behind this idea of “pushing his ideas on others”so that he doesn’t lose someone’s vote. The fact that abortion is the murdering of innocent children is not a personal idea, it is an atrocity yesterday, today, and tomorrow for every person who claims to be a human being. Sir, you speak of Christians being murdered in other countries, and you believe that is wrong, not because of whatever religion you belong to, but because IT IS WRONG. In our American today CHILDREN are being put to death because spineless men stand around and worry that fighting for them (and their mothers) classify the horror of their deaths as a “religious belief”. Is that what YOU want for America?

    • JM

      Right now, babies are being put to death right here in our country… no one is imposing a baby on anyone. We’re talking about murder here – if people are upset about wars and killing going on in other countries, why not look at our own and see the millions of babies being killed? This has less to do with religion than it does with human rights. The rights of all humans. Not just adults.

  • ChicagoXile

    Biden’s record in the Senate shows him to have been much closer to Ryan than Obama on abortion. He really is defying his own conscience.

  • Dawn Eden

    Just a note to commenters, since I see this post is getting some attention: As I mention in the sidebar, I’m away from the computer for most of the day, so it may take a while for me to review and approve your comment. Rest assured that as long as it is civil and does not contain foul language, it will be approved. Thanks for your patience.

  • Marya

    Mixed feelings about tonight’s debate. I thought Biden was a blowhard, but I gather that’s why liberal-progressive types like him. He’s willing to be a jerk on their behalf. I could never vote for him.
    However, to hear Roman Catholic beliefs addressed on a national stage, as part of a presidential election, was stunning to me. I replayed that part of the debate three times.
    Both Biden and Ryan have made compromises, but Biden’s compromises are so much more troubling. He has compromised his faith for his political ambitions, and I believe he knows it. He pushed the administration line on every issue the Church is contesting, parsing his words on the question of funding for abortion (what’s the moral distiction between direct and indirect funding of abortion, especially for the faith-based organizations who contract directly with insurers?). We should pray for both candidates, but especially for Joe Biden. Lord, have mercy.

  • Alex Plant

    “As it is, in supporting abortion on demand, he appears to be openly in violation of his own conscience.”

    Isn’t he supporting the right of others to make decisions based on their own consciences? In a system that promotes freedom of religion, morals are purely a matter of conscience, as the State cannot mandate to its citizens which religious beliefs they should adhere to. And in such a State in cases where there is no complete consensus about what is “right” and what is “wrong,” the State will always defer to the option that allows for people to act based on their own consciences. In this case, that means permitting abortion – because the alternative would be preventing a sizable part of the population who believe it is an acceptable option from acting on their own consciences.

    Isn’t that the crux of religious freedom? If the law stood in the way of something that we believed was essential to promoting human welfare, wouldn’t that be equally unacceptable? In that case, we’d be on the other side of the fence.

    As Catholics, I think our responsibility should be less about tailoring a legal system so that it suits our beliefs than about working in faith to serve others so that abortion is not an option that people believe is necessary in any case. The legal fight is not the correct fight to pursue. Instead, we should work to dismantle the evils that lead to people considering abortions in the first place. Isn’t that the best way to thwart evil anyway – through unconditional love and sacrifice for others?

    • D S


      Morals are certainly not just a matter of conscience or collective conscience but are based on a higher standard. Unless you think Jerry Sandusky’s views of morality are just as worthy as yours and mine. Germany had a collective conscience called indifference. The Taliban has another collective conscience. Are they all equal Alex based on indiviual societies preferences? No. Either you believe in a higher Moral absolute or then you have to believe that one set of morals is no more important than any other since absolutes don’t exist. It becomes simply opinion.

    • D S

      And Alex, you suggest we don’t fight the legal fight, just let it continue while we try to convice individuals. Both avenues are necessarysince you forget that 3300 kids die EVERY DAY in the US one because we are cowards, and don’t stand up for what is right.To fight the good fight one on one and legally. “oh I don’t want to force my opinion on any one” You’re a Catholic? Do you think Jesus walked around saying, “Do this…but only if your religion tells you to because I would want to offend you Ms. Woman At the Well.” He told the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know.” It must be in your mind that this was also politically incorrect for Jesus to force his beliefs on someone else. The reality Alex is there are not multiplte and opposing truths. And either you believe it or you don’t. Jesus is not both God or not God for example. Abortion is not both right and wrong at the same time. And the difference between authentic Catholics and Christians is they stand up for those ideas but. If they are following Jesus, they do not walk around with rifles, grab ambassadors or do not wear bombs strapped to their chest to penalize those who don’t agree with them. Muslims are just following Muhammed’s example by what he did to his own people and even some of his own family who wouldn’t follow him. When “Christians” resort to violence, they are not following Christ.

    • TimH

      @Alex Plant – your missing an important point: the state has EVERY right AND the responsibility to adhear to the moral law and to protect ALL human life. If that is not the case then they have no right to impose laws at all. We KNOW as a scientific and clearly observable FACT that life begins at conception. If you try to track back where a child came from it was because of the relations of the mother and father. That act joined the same number of chromosomes from the male and female and created a new and unique DNA string that defines from that moment the sex, hair and eye color, race, entire genetic make up. We say “he has his smile” or “she has her eyes” and THAT was determined at the moment of conception. LIFE is an unalienable right. Once it is given it cannot be justly taken from an innocent person! Abortion is ALWAYS wrong as an end in itself! Abortion is only justifiable as a consequence of the struggle to save a life. No society has the right to kill the innocent. We have seen nations and societies that have done so and we see it every day. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the Taliban, etc. all kill innocents and the world rejects those actions. We as a nation have to understand that abortion is no less a crime than terrorism. America has every right and in fact the responsibility to outlaw it regardless of the incorrect beliefs of others, precisely because it is an act that destroys the rights of another innocent human being.

  • Ashley

    America is a diverse place with many viewpoints, and Biden’s approach recognizes this. It is an acknowledgement that the attempt to impose religious viewpoints through national policy is one of humanity’s most disastrously stupid ideas. Religious nationalism is the idea behind the foul and repressive Islamic dictatorships of today, and the equally foul and repressive Christian dictatorships of our past. It helped fuel and motivate centuries of brutal conflict in Europe, from the French wars of religion to the orgy of Christian-on-Christian slaughter we call World War I.

    Forcing conservative Catholic ideas onto the nation is exactly the ominous doctrine the Vatican Council (perhaps unknowingly) referred to. It shows no regard for any religion other than yours (and Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan’s) and would destroy the religious liberty of all Americans, including Catholics.

    • Lou

      The abolition of slavery was forcing the views of one religion on the nation.
      The civil right movement was led by a religious group as well.
      I don’t see you objecting to those positions.

    • D S


      So Christ who didn’t condone violence is comprable to Muhammed, who had members of his own family killed? You need to compare religions and their founders and their beliefs, not compare them by the fallings of so called followers. Violence in so called Christian nations in the past wouldn’t have been condoned by Christ in most cases. Removing Hitler would be an exception I would say.

      First, back up and understand various religions first before you group them together as if their beliefs are no different than others.

      Second, the conscience clause was held up by ALL adminstrations, Democrats and Republican, until Obama took the chair.

      Third I suggest you watch a video at no scam or malware. It’s about using logic in the abortion debate. You might find it interesting.

  • Beth

    Catholics aren’t asked to follow the Church’s teaching regarding abortion in the same way that they are asked to observe Holy Days. A Catholic’s objection to abortion is not an issue of cult. The Church objects to abortion in the same way that it says murder and theft are immoral. This recognition of the act’s immorality precedes the Church’s teaching. We recognize, in fact, what is evident and arguable from natural law.

  • Chris

    I think subject shouldn’t be discussed in tandem with a comment on one’s religion. I think it should be discussed in the framework that we are a moral society and abortion is murder. It is a decision to murder one human being to spare another from a major inconvenience of caring for another. So, let’s stop attaching it to religion an start discussing it in its proper context. If we want to be a society where we can decide that some people are more important than others, therefore, we can snuff out one of the two lives, we need to be prepared to do it with consistency. It will inevitable lead to more questions about snuffing out other lives that may be a burden. i.e. the infirmed, elderly, mentally handicapped. Is it fair to impose the care of these people on anyone either? If we are giving a potential parent the choice to not be a parent because they cannot afford the time, effort or cost, why aren’t we giving other people that same opportunity for someone that may be a financial or emotional burden on them?? Sound horrible? I am willing to bet that at least 30% of our population would be FOR the euthanasia of these people too. See where we are going morally? Abortion de-sensitizes a society to convenient death. Are we a society that values life? or not? That’s how we need to discuss it and stop attaching it to a ‘religion’ that just so happens to value life.

    • Colleen

      Chris, Thank you! I was getting ready to write what you just wrote. I get so tired of hearing people say – I do not want to impose my personal beliefs on others. Well, then, let us have no law at all! We will just all run around and do whatever we wish. After all, we do not want to impose our beliefs!

  • Nicholas Jakob

    Both of our political parties fail to live up to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Period.

    The difference between the two parties is this.

    Democrats tell us that they are not with the Catholic Church on abortion, but that they are with the Catholic Church post the birth of a child. Their policies reflect these statements. Their actions and the results of those actions also reflect these statements. They are consistent.

    Republicans tell us they are with the Catholic Church on abortion, and that they are the only party whose philosophy is consistent with the Christ Message. Their policies do not reflect these statements. On abortion, every Republican president has claimed to support the Church’s position – then proceeded to do . . . nothing . . . stugatz(!) . . . about abortion. As regards Catholic Social Teaching, the Republicans do the same thing as they do as regards abortion: They give lip service to helping The Poor (Mother Teresa’s capitalization:), then transfer massive wealth into the hands of their wealthiest donors.

    Frankly, I’m unhappy with both parties when it comes to my faith.

    But, knowing that Republican party will do . . . NOTHING . . . about abortion, and knowing that the Democratic Party will defend social security, medicare/medicaid, food stamps, student aid, etc, etc, I shall not blink when I reach the voting booth.

    This frustrates me, by the way. But I’ll not be fooled by the Republicans as I have in the past. They use abortion and anti-Gay rhetoric to draw in the faithful – then betray us once in office.

    Never again!

    • Jeanne

      But you will be fooled by the Democratic Party…
      The Catholic Church tells us there are some beliefs of the Church that are non-negotiable, the most important of those issues is the issue of LIFE. The Democratic Party of today is not the same as it was even 10 years ago. Gone are the days where you hear democratic politicians defending a woman’s right to “safe abortions in rare instances”. Now it is defending a woman’s right to free abortions in any and all circumstances, from the moment of conception through the 9th month of pregnancy! President Obama himself does not believe in defending the lives of babies born as a result of failed abortions! So no, he, at least, is not with the Catholic Church “post the birth of a child”.
      The Republican party will not demand that taxpayers fund abortions, they will not demand that the Catholic Church provide insurance to employees that will cover abortions and artificial contraception. They may have the opportunity to appoint some new pro-life judges in the Supreme Court, as well.
      In my own opinion, I do not believe it is the belief of the Catholic Church to hand over all responsibilities of caring for the poor and the sick to the government. I feel like we should each be personally responsible to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I think that is the way God intended. “For it is in giving that we receive”… I interpret that as each one of us doing our part, not handing it over to the government to do it for us. Of course, the government should be helping those in REAL need, but not INSTEAD of individuals helping individuals. All of the programs you mentioned are also abused by many people wanting something for nothing, so I feel changes need to made to the programs so that they are run more efficiently and so the people who REALLY need help are supported. I don’t see that happening within the Democratic party.
      I agree that both parties are lacking in representatives with the integrity honesty, and character that we desperately need right now, but I would be very careful about putting other social issues before the issue of LIFE.

    • Chris

      The democrats may in theory support the Catholic Church’s social teachings…or at least they used to, but now, I believe the republicans, overall, are more Christian. Here’s a great talk about Catholic Social Teaching:

    • Chris

      Also, if you have a house that needs foundation, plumbing and electrical work, but is on fire, you put out the fire first! That is what abortion is as an issue. It is more important than the others…because if you do not have ‘life’, all of your other ‘rights’ are null. The democratic party has been hijacked by socialists, in my opinion, and they are setting up the country as a government controlled state.

  • JLH

    I totally agree with your assessment on Biden’s comments. However, I take issue with some comments here that abortion is a religious issue. It is the deliberate and violent destruction of human life. So if we substitute that phrase for abortion, we have Biden and those who support abortion as a right or as a woman’s choice or as a woman’s health issue or whatever basically saying that: while he personally opposes the deliberate and violent destruction of innocent human life, he refuses to impose his belief on devout Christians, Muslims and Jews. He does not believe we have the right to tell a woman that she does not, in fact, possess the right to deliberately and violently destroy innocent human life. Sorry, I don’t see where this is a religious issue. We have legislation on murder and battery and violence of other kinds, but when it comes to the unborn child, suddenly it’s an issue of rights of the woman and women’s health?

    • Colleen

      JLH – Amen!

    • Chris


  • Alex Plant

    Also, make no mistake: both candidates have policies that betray their moral beliefs. Otherwise Ryan couldn’t make exceptions for rape or incest (or even the life of the mother).

  • Harold

    Robert George offers this: the Church does not say life begins at conception. “Science” says that, just as science (less well informed) used to say it began at “quickening”, that is, when the fetus perceptibly moved.

    Once science says that life begins at conception, then then the Church appeals not so much to revelation but to reason to argue that an act whose “object” is the taking of innocent human life is intrinsically wrong.

    What those who support elective abortion are implying is that there is a class of humans to which the elements of justice do not apply, namely: humans not yet born or born as the result of a botched abortion. Similarly, the Democrats of the 1850′s said there was a class of people to whom that element of justice called, variously, “freedom” or “liberty” did not apply. Just as the fetus is not consulted on freedom of choice today, so the slaves were not consulted on freedom of choice then.

    In some respects education was better (for some) in the1850′s and the question was not (so far as I know) debated as a matter of imposing religious principles but rather as a question first of justice and then of political prudence. Today we understand (or should) the burden on the mother of an unwanted child. Then it was not unreasonable to point out the hardship on the slave-owner of the government’s suddenly declaring his “property” to be illegally held.

    All that distinguishes the Catholic Church’s teaching in this is that it urgently proclaims that injustice in matters as great as life and liberty is a very grave matter indeed. The perception that states which tolerate and support grave injustice collapse into bloodshed is not one confined to those who accept the Christian revelation, much less the Catholic understanding of that revelation. Any dilettante who has read a history book can see it.

    • Eric D Red

      Science does NOT say that life begins at conception. Science has clearly shown that DNA is determined at conception, aside from epigenetic factors that alter how DNA is expressed. But does the presence of DNA define life? Then every cell I shed is alive.

      The problem is that there is no clear definition of life. Even less so any definition of human life. You’ve implied one with the existence of unique DNA, and there may be some justification for that, but I can show you dozens of other definitions, all of them with some degree of justification. You could consider some level of nervous system a requirement, and that doesn’t happen till several weeks in. You could require some level of brain activity to define it as “alive’ or “human” or “person”. Brain activity is a start, but it isn’t consciousness (and define that!). “Viability” has some justification. Birth has some justification, even according to the Bible. And even with any of these possible definitions, there isn’t a clear line. Brain activity, for example, doesn’t just snap on at a particular date.

      I’m not saying any of this justifies abortion at any particular time. But I couldn’t let that mistatement go by. Be careful where you define life, because the implications may not be what you think.

      • JoeC

        Actually, Science does define life beginning at conception. An embryo satisfies all six requirements of life. The skin cells you are shedding are actually dead not alive, but they once were alive as is every cell in your body. That a zygote is alive is obvious scientifically. Whether or not that zygote is unique from the mother might be debatable, but the fact that such great measures are taken within the mother’s body’s immune system from attacking the baby, it’s pretty obvious her immune system sees it as unique life at least. You’re arguments address when “personhood” begins which has not been clarified yet.

  • Silly

    If you are unsure of when life begins and whether the unborn child is a living human being, here is something to consider: Does the fetus grow and develop inside the womb? Yes, it does. Can something that is not living grow? No it can’t. If the fetus does not have life, how can it grow and develop? It can’t. If life does not begin at conception, how can the fetus grow and develop into something that can be said to be alive? It may not start out looking like a person or having brain activity or a nervous system, but can those things develop in something that does not have life? Can something that doesn not have life breathe or have a heart beat? If a woman miscarries, it is said that her baby died in utero. How can that baby have died if it never had life to begin with? And if it dies, it stops growing and developing. If you decide that life begins in the sixth month of pregnancy (or any other moment,) my question is how did that baby get from conception to six months if it was not alive? My point is: non living/dead things don’t grow. Living things do.

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  • Dan Waldron

    Vice President Biden with respect to his office,I will not call him names,that is not right.However,I consider his stance to be hypocritical in that he believes thata woman’s right to her body or anything she does with herself supersedes being subject to any law that questions her behavior.Actually in some states fornication is an infraction as well. But needless to get into semantics,the human body has limitations and perimeters,when men and women choose to engage in activity that goes beyond the personal space,they are responsible for the outcome.We all understand the “consenting adults” clause,but what we should understand even more,is the fact that “we are responsible for our actions”,or rather”ONE is responsible for his or her actions”.
    For the convenience of self-importance,and self preservation, people make decisions that affect not just themselves but others as well.
    I was talking to a woman in her 80s who volunteers at a hospital,we talk about general things but somehow we got on the subject of whether the baby in a woman’s womb is a separate entity? In essence the 80 year old woman said that a woman has a right to kill the baby within her because that baby is part of her body,women have the right to do what they want to their body.So I asked the question again,’a woman has the right to k i l l her baby a separate person?’ She replied,”no that is not a separate human being,it is her body and she has a right to destroy it if she has to.”
    Well draw your own conclusion, if we were to stay on that conversation,today,tow weeks later,we would still be talking about it.SADLY enough, many people including Biden believe that a baby in the womb is part of the mother’s body till he or she is born. YET Biden will tell you he believes in the Incarnation,or does he?