Biden Meets Benedict: What’s Up?

Little noticed among even Catholics was a recent quiet visit to the Vatican by Vice President Joe Biden. Catholic News Agency learned about the June 3 visit, reporting that both sides had been tight-lipped on reasons and details. The visit wasn’t even listed on the pope’s daily public schedule.

“I have no comment,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told CNA. “It was a totally private meeting and there will be no communiqué.”

Biden had been in Rome for a ceremonial function relating to the anniversary of Italy’s unification.

The CNA article was left with little to nothing to add. The reporter smartly suggested that the meeting might have had something to do with Biden’s stance on abortion. The reporter noted Biden’s previous battles with his bishop in Wilmington, Delaware, the late Michael Saltarelli, and also noted the precedent of the private meeting that Nancy Pelosi, another “pro-choice Catholic,” had with the Holy Father in Rome two years ago.

A brief recent history of Biden’s Church troubles on the life issue is worth revisiting here:

In the fall of 2008, just before the presidential election in which a majority of professing Catholics voted the Obama-Biden ticket into the White House, Biden appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, where he was asked by Tom Brokaw: “If Senator Obama comes to you and says, ‘When does life begin? Help me out here, Joe,’ as a Roman Catholic, what would you to say to him?”

“I’d say, ‘Look,’” Biden answered forcefully, “’I know when it begins for me.’ It’s a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I am prepared to accept the teachings in my Church.”

What does that mean?

Biden translated, explaining to a nationwide audience that while he personally believes life that begins “at the moment of conception,” other people of other faiths have different definitions. Thus, “For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I, seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”

Biden’s judgment, of course, is that even though life begins at conception, a mother should have the legal right to terminate that life for whatever reason—and then some. He also favors the dissection of human embryos for research purposes. Needless to say, these are not the teachings of his Church.

Biden’s statement to Brokaw was a perfect Cuomo/Pelosi/Ted Kennedy-like moment.

The bishops, to their credit, didn’t hesitate to respond, especially as they sensed that the flock was on the verge of electing into the presidency the most radical abortion advocate ever to sit in the Oval Office. Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, issued a statement saying that Biden’s remarks do “not reflect Catholic teaching.” The bishops responded by noting that the Church does not teach that life begins at conception “as a matter of faith” but, rather, “as a matter of objective fact.”

Biden wasn’t shy about issuing judgments on life throughout the 2008 campaign. He publicly took a swipe at Sarah Palin, who chose to bring to term a Down syndrome baby. To Biden, this made Palin a hypocrite; after all, she opposes embryonic research—which, in the mind of the modern liberal, is a slam-dunk cure for everything from Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s to babies with Down syndrome. “If you care about it,” Biden asked Sarah Palin, “why don’t you support [embryonic] stem cell research?”

Bear in mind: This question was asked by the Catholic to the non-Catholic.

Biden also caught the bishops’ attention with his remark to Brokaw about how a public official like himself allegedly cannot “impose” his moral values on other Americans. This is one of the nonsensical claims that liberals reserve exclusively for issues like abortion. Biden’s bishop, Michael Saltarelli, was in no mood for that one, stating: “No one today would accept this statement from any public servant: ‘I am personally opposed to human slavery and racism but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.’ Likewise, none of us should accept this statement from any public servant: ‘I am personally opposed to abortion but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.’”

In short, Biden found himself in a firestorm. Saltarelli’s successor, W. Francis Malooly, publicly stated that he wished to sit down with the senator to help him “understand how crucial the sanctity of human life is to a just society.” Also requesting a meeting with Biden was Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, and the entirety of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

That was merely the fall of 2008, and it was mainly just talk from Biden. Since then, Biden has helped his partner and president push an unprecedented advance of abortion, along with his Democratic Party’s handmaidens in Congress.

And so, it would be no surprise that Joe Biden might have earned himself an invitation to the Vatican—just as Nancy Pelosi apparently did two years ago.

On that, the CNA piece noted:

Biden isn’t the first senior Democrat who supports legalized abortion and is Catholic to meet Pope Benedict XVI.

In 2009 then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also visited the Pope at the Vatican. Afterwards she claimed, “I had the opportunity to praise the Church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel.”

This version of events, though, was somewhat contradicted by a Vatican statement issued only hours later:

“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in co-operation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”

Indeed, “somewhat contradicted” is an under-statement. Pelosi’s account was like something that had flown in from the planet Neptune.

Of course, at least with Pelosi we had some sort of record of conversation with Pope Benedict. In Biden’s case, we have nothing, not even contradictory statements. Why not?

I don’t know. I have no access to the vice president.

Could someone in our media who does have access probe a bit, perhaps asking a question or two? Maybe take a break from scouring Sarah Palin’s emails? Some of us would like to know what this meeting between Biden and Benedict was all about. And if these life issues were raised, Joe Biden has some very serious soul-searching to do. He has no excuses and will be held accountable.

Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.



  • Lin

    I agree with Ann. It is more important for Biden to convert to the teachings of Catholicism privately and then act in accordance with the Church than it is for the media (including you) to hash out the conversation. We all know the Holy Father’s stance on when life begins, and we could assume that this stance was vocalized during their meeting. What Biden chose to walk away with after that conversation is important, but also private. We would do much better to pray for his conversion and for the conversion of all pro-choicers than to pry whatever gossip we can from those who have access to the vice president.

  • trespinos

    Totally private, yes. None of our business, yes. However, such does not necessarily imply that it had anything to do with the orthodoxy of the VP’s views and actions. I think it much more likely that the VP or the administration thought it would be to their advantage to let the Holy Father in on some intelligence relating to the Vatican, perhaps even the recently publicized threats to the Holy Father’s safety. Needless to say, if this were the case, the Holy Father had a good opportunity to inform the VP and administration that he places total trust in the Lord to shape his fate. Given the nature of that kind of communication, it would make sense that both parties would keep mum about it. Just speculation, certainly. But not implausible at all.

  • sjay

    “Some of us would like to know what this meeting between Biden and Benedict was all about. ”

    What part of Father Lombardi’s characterization of the meeting as “totally private” don’t you understand? Put another way, mind your own business. Do you ask your fellow parishioners why they went to confession if you see them leaving?

  • obrallaghan

    Sorry about the double post. I didn’t think my first one went through.

  • obrallaghan

    Perhaps what Pope Benedict and VP Biden discussed was personal and none of our business? I’m sure there is a good reason both the Pope and the VP do not wish to discuss the details of their meeting.



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