One of the more interesting moments of last night’s Vice Presidential Debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan was the discourse on abortion. The moderator Martha Raddatz turned the spotlight onto this issue and both men’s Catholic faith has informed their decision. In both men’s answer you see a stark difference with their worldview. Below is the video followed by some transcription and commentary:
Congressman Ryan answered first:
I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life.
Now, you want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course, but it’s also because of reason and science. You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born for our seven-week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. Our little baby was in the shape of a bean, and to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child, Liza, “Bean.” Now, I believe that life begins at conception. That’s why — those are the reasons why I’m pro-life. (emphasis mine)
He then launched into a critique of the Obama administration:
What troubles me more is how this administration has handled all of these issues. Look at what they’re doing through “Obamacare” with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals. Our church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious — religious liberties.
And with respect to abortion, the Democratic Party used to say they want it to be safe, legal and rare. Now they support it without restriction and with taxpayer funding, taxpayer funding in “Obamacare,” taxpayer funding with foreign aid. The vice president himself went to China and said that he sympathized or wouldn’t second- guess their one-child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations. That, to me, is pretty extreme.
Vice President Biden responded:
My religion defines who I am. And I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help.
With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.
I — I do not believe that — that we have a right to tell other people that women, they — they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor, in my view. And the Supreme Court — I’m not going to interfere with that.
If his religion does not have a practical application into his public life and informs his decisions it is absolutely worthless. I’m not a Catholic, but I thought it was interesting to read this critique by fellow Catholic. Andrew Greenwell writes:
While Catholic social doctrine is much broader than that, it certainly does not exclude taking care of those who are unable to take care of themselves and therefore need the help of others. Indeed, Biden is always at the ready to impose his understanding of the social doctrine and have it guide his legislative agenda.
The Catholic social doctrine, while informed by the Gospel and the light of faith, is fundamentally an issue of the moral life. Therefore, “it is to all people–in the name of mankind, of human dignity which is one and unique, and of humanity’s care and promotion of society–to everyone in the name of the one God, Creator and ultimate end of man, that the Church’s social doctrine is addressed.” (Compendium, No. 84)
What Biden fails to mention is that this Catholic social doctrine has identified as the human child in the mother’s womb from the first moment of conception as one of those who can’t take care of himself, who needs the help of the law. Who is least able to take care of himself, who stands in need of most help than a child ensconced in the womb of his or her mother? The Church’s stance regarding abortion is a fundamental part of the Catholic social doctrine.
So Biden appears to be horribly selective on what part of the Catholic social doctrine he accepts.
Greenwell then took aim at Biden’s use of the term “de fide doctrine.”
To begin with, abortion is not part of what is de fide. De fide doctrines relate to those teachings of the Church which are based upon Revelation. Most fundamentally, de fide doctrines involve matters as to what to believe (e.g., that God is Trinity, that Jesus is fully God and fully man, that Mary may be called the “Mother of God, and so forth), and perhaps in a narrow set of areas it defines what we are to do (e.g., worship God through the Mass, frequent the Sacraments, and so forth).
Abortion, however, has nothing to do with revealed truth. Abortion has to do with the natural moral law. The Church’s teaching regarding abortion (like the rest of the Church’s Catholic social doctrine which, as understood by Biden, can justly be imposed on everyone) is not, by any stretch of the imagination, de fide.
Greenwell wasn’t alone. Karl Selzer, the web editor of Human Events who holds a bachelor’s degree from Catholic University’s School of Philosophy took aim at Vice President Biden’s application of the term “de fide” to abortion. Pat Archbold at the National Catholic Register said, “Joe Biden does not want to impose the tenets of Catholicism on anyone, especially himself.” Dawn Eden writing at Patheos said, “As it is, in supporting abortion on demand, he appears to be openly in violation of his own conscience.”
Vice President Biden continued:
With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy — any hospital — none has to either refer contraception. None has to pay for contraception. None has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.
Except that it isn’t a fact. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops released a statement basically saying, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” They said:
This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
HHS has proposed an additional “accommodation” for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as “non-exempt.” That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation “to pay for contraception” and “to be a vehicle to get contraception.” They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.
Now, with regard to the way in which the — we differ, my friend says that he — well, I guess he accepts Governor Romney’s position now, because in the past he has argued that there was — there’s rape and forcible rape. He’s argued that, in the case of rape or incest, it was still — it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend.
Congressman Ryan responded:
All I’m saying is if you believe that life begins at conception, that therefore doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. Now, I’ve got to take issue with the Catholic Church and religious liberty.
Ryan recognized that the policy didn’t match up with the principle. I’m glad he made that distinction. I disagree with the policy position of the Romney campaign in this matter, but it is good to know that Ryan understands that it does fall short.
Biden responded saying, “You have, on the issue of Catholic social doctrine, taken issue.” Ryan said, “if they agree with you, then why would they keep — why would they keep suing you? It’s a distinction without a difference.”
At which Biden laughs. Biden and Ryan share the same faith, but their worldviews and Biden’s compared to his church’s are light years apart.
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