The Unconscionable Conscience of Joe Biden

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There is probably no clause more misinterpreted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church than the conscience clause.  CCC #1790 states:

A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

“There,” some will say, “The Catechism says I am always to obey my conscience, and my conscience tells me that [insert heresy here] is okay.”  Of course, there is significant danger in tearing #1790 out of context from the other 19 paragraphs that surround it.  These are pretty important paragraphs, as it turns out.  They say things like:

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths (#1776).


Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings (#1783).

and then the is this:

This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin. In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits (#1791).

and finally

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 (#1794).

So here’s the deal in short.  We are in fact called to obey our conscience, but we are also called to make sure that our conscience is formed according to the mind of the Church.  There is a spectrum between the formation of conscience and an act itself on which one can fall.  The best place to be, of course is to form one’s conscience properly and then act in accordance with that conscience.  One could also fail to form the conscience, and then act in accordance with the malformation.  This is tragic, and certainly sinful if the choice to not inform the conscience was deliberate, but it is not the worst place in which one can be.  The worst scenario is one who forms their conscience according to the mind of the Church and then deliberately acts against it.  This is a grave sin indeed, and its perpetrator puts his soul in serious danger.

This is where Vice President Joe Biden falls on the conscience spectrum, at least according to his response in the recent debate as to how his Catholic faith informs his politics.  Here are the Vice President’s words:

My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life.  And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The 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 a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception in 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 – the congressman. I – I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that – women 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.

Of course, we don’t know exactly what is in Joe Biden’s head – that is between him and God – but we do have his words in front of us, and we give the Vice President the benefit of the doubt that he expected this question, so he was not caught off guard.  His response, therefore, is both premeditated and an accurate representation of his position.

If we can cut through the prose, the key points are two: (1) Mr. Biden accepts the teaching of the Church that life begins at conception, and (2) he refuses to implement this in his public policy.  In other words, the Vice President has formed his conscience according to the Church and is actively going against it.  We return at this point to CCC #1790:  “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.”

The response will undoubtedly be that there is a difference between the principle and the forcing of the principle on others.  For instance, while I believe that it is a mortal sin for a Catholic to miss Mass on Sunday, I would not support a law in which Catholics are yanked out of their beds on Sunday morning by the local police in order to force them to attend their local parish, (as entertaining as that may be).  The implementation of the principle is something distinct from the principle itself.

The problem is that this does work on issues of life.  For these issues there the implementation is the same as the principle itself.  In order to see this, imagine if Joe Biden had continued to use the phrase “murder” in his response.  After all, he has admitted his acceptance of the de fide teaching of the Church on when life begins.  His response would look something like this:

I accept my Church’s teaching that life begins at conception, and therefore that abortion is the murder of an innocent human life.  However, I refuse to impose that view on others.  The decision to murder an innocent human life is a decision between a woman and her doctor.

It simply doesn’t work.  In fact note that the above argument could easily replace the word “abortion” with infanticide and remain relatively unaffected.  In other words, if Joe’s argument is valid for life in the womb, then why can’t it be applied in the proverbial fourth trimester:

I accept my Church’s teaching that life begins at conception, and therefore that taking a three-month-old’s life is the murder of an innocent human life.  However, I refuse to impose that view on others.  The decision to murder an innocent human life is a decision between a family and their doctor.

Joe is trying to play the old, “You can’t legislate morality” card.  The problem is, we always legislate morality.  This is why theft, murder, and fraud are illegal.  Where Joe runs into real trouble, though, is when he leads off with his acceptance of the Catholic position.  At least the politician who claims that life’s beginning is an unsettled question is only guilty of bad science.  Mr. Biden is guilty of far more than that.

The Vice President’s final problem is that he does not actually present the Church’s teaching accurately.  He states only that the Church believes life begins at conception.  He misses the other important parts.

1.  Life begins at conception.

2.  Therefore, abortion is a grave moral evil.

3.  Laws must protect life at all stages.

4.  Laws that conflict with the divine law must be opposed.

That is the Catholic position, and the Vice President, in his comments at the debate, is guilty no only of the sin of violating his own conscience, but also of the grave sin of scandal by misrepresenting the Catholic position.
Finally, I can’t resist pointing out the irony of Biden: while he is so adamant about not forcing his abortion stance on the public, he seems to have no problem taking his position on free contraceptives and forcing on Catholic employers.  Odd, right?

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  1. Interesting. Uncle Joe is confused. Let your yes BE YES, and your no be no. Beware of the double speak. He is a liar.
    Please help him by having his local Bishop withhold communion until the poor uncle stops misleading the public into thinking that he is in COMMUNION with our Holy Church.

  2. Unfortunately, all pro-choice catholics are completely confused & in the dark about this. There seems to be no reasoning with them. The bible tells us that sin begets sin & that the clouded mind cannot become clear without the grace of God, which won’t help if the person wants to persist in their pridefulness. I just had a conversation with someone who said it’s not fair to force someone to stay pregnant when the pregnancy is inconvenient. I said that sometimes my husband & my children are inconvenient, so may I murder them? Those people never answer back when you use logic. Fasting & prayer are the only remedy to some demons.

  3. In the name of charity, the good bishops should take faithful Catholic, Biden aside and tell him that his soul is in big trouble with the Lord. Politics aside, al lot of catholics in the pews will go to hell too if not in charity corrected from the pulpit.

  4. “Finally, I can’t resist pointing out the irony of Biden: while he is so adamant about not forcing his abortion stance on the public, he seems to have no problem taking his position on free contraceptives and forcing on Catholic employers. Odd, right?”

    Logical thinking and Joe Biden aren’t even nodding acquaintances!

  5. Missy

    You are right and Aristotle, the philosopher of common sense agrees with you

    “All wicked men are ignorant of what they ought to do, and what they ought to avoid; and it is this very ignorance which makes them wicked and vicious. Accordingly, a man cannot be said to act involuntarily merely because he is ignorant of what it is proper for him to do in order to fulfil his duty. This ignorance in the choice of good and evil does not make the action involuntary; it only makes it vicious. The same thing may be affirmed of the man who is ignorant generally of the rules of his duty; such ignorance is worthy of blame, not of excuse” [Nic. Ethics III:1-2]

    Aristotle spoke of “practical reason,” rather than “conscience” and that word has been so abused that I am not sure that we should not be better off talking “practical reason.”

  6. You can’t Force people to Follow Catholic Laws…That’s as Bad as Forcing People to Follow Shiara Law.
    Religion is a Personable Decision…Not a Public One.
    Joe was Right.
    You can be Pro-Life…but Allow Others to to make their Own decisions.

  7. historyforgotten:

    I thought I addressed that in the post, but let me try to be clearer. If we are talking about something that is “merely” Catholic law (like Sunday Mass attendance), you are correct. Religious freedom dictates not forcing this on others. However, issues of basic human rights, most fundamentally the right to life, are significantly different in this regard.

    I would ask you to reflect on this and to consider applying the same argument to a child that is three months old. Suppose that a certain group of people decides that life does not begin until a child turns one year old. Would you still defend your position that the government should not intrude on this belief and allow the killing of children up to the age on 1 year?

    If that strikes you as extreme, I would ask you to consider that it is probably only because the vast majority of people believe that a three month old is a “life,” whereas there is more disagreement over the question in utero. What, then, are we left with? The vote of the majority gets to decide the question of life’s beginning? Surely we can’t accept that, for if the majority were to change opinions with regard to a three-month-old, we would still find the act morally reprehensible.

    You see, it is not a question of Catholic law at all. It is a question of the natural law that is applied to all.

  8. History Forgotten,
    Forcing Athiestic laws on Catholics is the same as forcing Sharia or Catholic laws on everyone else, so what is your point? If you force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or hand out contraception, you’re doing what you’re opposed to… and you’re not letting others make their own decisions.

  9. The problem with your reasoning is that abortion is no more a “Catholic” law than the laws against murder, theft, or even the law of gravity. It applies to everyone, everwhere, at all times, whether they recognize it or not.

  10. historyforgottem,
    So let me get this straight, If I want to abuse my children it is up to me?
    Don’t think so.
    Similarly, the wrongness of slavery is not excused because some people rationalize that slaves are not really fully human.

  11. historyforgotten,

    That’s the problem. People want to make the “life” issue into a religious issue. It’s no more a religious issue as stealing, murdering, embezzling, abusing, or any other act that society finds inappropriate.

    One can look at the abortion (even contraception) issue from a purely scientific and logical perspective, without inserting religion into it, and see that it’s wrong.

  12. Put another way, abortion is not wrong because the Church says it is a sin; the Church says it is a sin because it is morally wrong.

  13. Historyforgotton

    The Catholic Church has non-negotiables.

    Abortion is one of them.

    Faith formation is for all practicing Catholics however the cafeteria line is sadly popular.
    Because Joey has a responsibility as a public servant to correctly conduct himself in all matters of state, he should BE honest to the faith he proclaims. He is not in union with the Church. Unfortunately other catholics see this behavior and give creedence to his beliefs, not the churches.

    God is patience itself. Why try His patience?
    Forty years in just fourteen Weeks. Forty years of innocent blood spilt on our watch. Forty years the blood has been screaming to heaven.
    Can you hear it Joe?
    Can you hear it Joe?

    History Forgotten? Not a chance!
    The fear filled King killed innocents also.
    Couldn’t SHARE either huh. 50 million reasons you say.
    Looks to me that history has repeated itself, and soooo many new kings and queens.

  14. Catholic Bishop Michael Schridan of Colorado Springs tells LifeNews that Joe Biden should not receive holy communion.

    This divide is important if confusion exists between being pro-abort and a Catholic in good standing.
    Once Joe recants his position he will truly be in communion.

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