Joe Biden’s recent statements about the beginning of human life, and therefore on abortion, have caused quite a stir in the U.S. episcopate. And especially from Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington.
Last Friday, September 3, President Joe Biden said he did not “agree” that life begins at conception.
“I have been and remain a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade [landmark 1973 US Supreme Court ruling on access to abortion],” he stated at the White House, responding to a reporter's question about abortion.
“I respect them - those who believe that life begins at conception - I respect that. I don't agree, but I respect them,” he added.
President Biden's comments depart from his earlier statements about the beginning of life. In an interview in 2008, as a running mate, and then in a debate in 2012, Biden said he believed life begins with conception.
Firstly, it is worth recalling the recent positions taken by the high prelate.
In recent months Cardinal Gregory has been at the center of discussions regarding the admission to communion of abortion-friendly Catholic politicians. Last year he told a reporter that he would not refuse communion in such cases.
In January, the president of the American bishops' conference, Msgr. José Horacio Gómez, issued a lengthy statement on the day of Mr. Biden's swearing in, warning in part that some of his proposed policies would “advance moral evils.” Cardinal Gregory considered that this declaration was “inappropriate.”
During the Spring Meeting of American Bishops last June, Archbishop Gregory cautioned against writing a teaching document on the Eucharist that would include a passage on the ability to receive communion, especially as regards Catholic public figures.
The Archbishop of Washington clarified the Church's teaching on when life begins on Wednesday: “The Catholic Church teaches, and has taught, that human life begins at conception,” he said at a Wednesday luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington.
“So the president does not respect Catholic teaching,” he concluded.
When asked if the Church has recently “softened” its teaching on abortion, Cardinal Gregory replied that the teaching of the Church has not changed.
“Our Church has not changed its position on the immorality of abortion, and I do not see how we could, because we believe that all human life is sacred. Every human life is sacred,” he said.
Other bishops have also responded to Joe Biden's statement. This could thus mark a turning point in the bishops’ general assessment towards their president on the question of admission to communion.