Carl Olson had a valuable insight into the controversy over the heterodox statements of Senator Joseph Biden. This is from his blog:
Biden: "My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine..."
Yet another catechetical moment arrives. This from today's Christian Science Monitor:
Against long odds, Senator Biden aims to be No. 4. He sees faith and values, as well as his own deep experience in public policy, as a key to that race.
"The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power," he said in an interview with the Monitor. "It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse."
The issues that have most engaged Biden in public life draw on those teachings, from halting violence against women to genocide. At a personal level, his faith provides him peace, he says. "I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It's my time alone," he says.
But the interface of faith and policy has long been problematic for Catholic presidential hopefuls. Governor Smith faced withering criticism over whether Catholic politicians are obliged by their church to take policy orders from Rome. John F. Kennedy famously disavowed "outside religious pressures or dictates," swept the Catholic vote, and won the presidency. By the time another J.F.K. from Massachusetts ran for president in 2004, the ground had shifted. Sen. John F. Kerry lost the Catholic vote because many of his faith questioned whether he was Catholic enough, given his strong support for abortion rights.
But Biden believes he can bridge much of that divide. "My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine," says Biden, a six-term Democratic senator from Delaware. "There are elements within the church who say that if you are at odds with any of the teachings of the church, you are at odds with the church. I think the church is bigger than that."
If abortion isn't an abuse of power, I'm not sure what else qualifies. Who are more powerless than unborn children in the womb who, in the poignant words of Cardinal Egan, "smile and wave into the world outside the womb"? And does it really need to be pointed out that the Church is not bigger than the One who founded her? And that the Church was not founded as some sort of political "big tent," but is the household of God, and as such adheres in love and obedience to the teachings of her head, Jesus Christ, and to those He granted authority to teach, shepherd, govern, and guide?
As we well know, anybody trying to find where the Church says that abortion is morally acceptable, or can be allowed in certain situations, or is just another issue open to debate, is going to fail miserably. Which is probably why Biden and Co. don't bother to quote from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which leaves no doubt about the Church's stance on the issue of abortion:
155. The teachings of Pope John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council, and Pope Paul VI  have given abundant indication of the concept of human rights as articulated by the Magisterium. Pope John Paul II has drawn up a list of them in the Encyclical Centesimus Annus: “the right to life, an integral part of which is the right of the child to develop in the mother's womb from the moment of conception; the right to live in a united family and in a moral environment conducive to the growth of the child's personality; the right to develop one's intelligence and freedom in seeking and knowing the truth; the right to share in the work which makes wise use of the earth's material resources, and to derive from that work the means to support oneself and one's dependents; and the right freely to establish a family, to have and to rear children through the responsible exercise of one's sexuality. In a certain sense, the source and synthesis of these rights is religious freedom, understood as the right to live in the truth of one's faith and in conformity with one's transcendent dignity as a person”.
The first right presented in this list is the right to life, from conception to its natural end, which is the condition for the exercise of all other rights and, in particular, implies the illicitness of every form of procured abortion and of euthanasia.
The CSM article provides some helpful hints as to why Biden thinks of himself as a good Catholic who has no problem denying core Catholic social teachings:
"My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion. It's not so much the Bible, the beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, or the prayers I learned. It's the culture," he writes.
"I was raised at a time when the Catholic Church was fertile with new ideas and open discussion about some of the basic social teaching of the Catholic Church," Biden says. "Questioning was not criticized; it was encouraged."
"I don't think I have the right to impose my view – on something I accept as a matter of faith – on the rest of society," he writes in his autobiography.
Without taking a position on how Catholics should vote, Biden makes a case for staying connected to the church and its culture. "If I were an ordained priest, I'd be taking some issue with some of the more narrow interpretations of the Gospel being taken now," Biden says. "But my church is more than 2,000 years old. There's always been a tug of war among prelates and informed lay members."
As if all Catholic priests believe and preach exactly what the Church teaches while "informed lay members" are restless free-thinkers pushing at the rigid boundaries of traditional doctrine. Hardly. This is both simplistic and misleading. The line of tension lies elsewhere: between those who accept and understand that certain matters of faith and morals are settled and those who think that it is one's all-powerful conscience that makes the final decision about such matters, even while paying lip service to loving the Church and so forth. The Catechism is quite clear that the latter approach is not the one taken by Catholics seeking to be disciples of Christ and loyal sons and daughters of His Church:
Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct. ...
A good and pure conscience is enlightened by true faith, for charity proceeds at the same time "from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith." (CCC 1792, 1794)
Perhaps Biden, Pelosi, and others do suffer from invincible ignorance. Or perhaps they are simply denying or ignoring what they know the Church does clearly teach. Regardless, any child receiving decent catechesis and anyone capable of reading the English language should recognize that Senator Biden's beliefs are not "totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine." One suspects, however, that the approach taken by Biden, Pelosi, and Co. will continue, which means the issue of abortion, Catholic politicians, and Church authority will continue to be a major story throughout the 2008 election.
• What Is "Legal"? On Abortion, Democracy, and Catholic Politicians | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• What Is Catholic Social Teaching? | Mark Brumley
• The Case Against Abortion | An Interview with Dr. Francis Beckwith, author of Defending Life
• Introduction to Three Approaches to Abortion | Peter Kreeft
• The Illusion of Freedom Separated from Moral Virtue | Raymond L. Dennehy
• Excommunication! | An interview with canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters
• Some Atrocities are Worse than Others | Mary Beth Bonacci
• Personally Opposed--To What? | Dr. James Hitchcock