Members of the Knights of Columbus Catholic organization have taken out ads to appear tomorrow in USA Today, the Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and Delaware News Journal asking Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden to correct his statements about abortion.
Reminding him that under Catholic teaching, "abortion is a grave sin to be avoided at any time during a pregnancy," the organization attributes to Biden a "unique responsibility" to be correct when making public statements about the faith.
"Sen. Obama stressed your Catholic identity repeatedly when he introduced you as his running mate, and so your statements carry considerable weight, whether they are correct or not. You now have a unique responsibility when you make public statements about Catholic teaching," the letter says.
The issue of abortion has become a flashpoint in the 2008 presidential election for the Democratic nominees, Sens. Obama and Biden, at least in part because Obama is an ardent abortion proponent
who has gone beyond the desires of even the National Abortion Rights Action League in advocating for the controversial procedure.
In fact, as a state lawmaker in Illinois, he declined to support a requirement that an abortionist provide necessary medical services to a baby who survives an abortion, because it would be a burden on the abortionist.
Catholic bishops also criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., when she told NBC's "Meet the Press" about the beginning of life.
The letter, signed by Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, cites Biden's comments on "Meet the Press" as well. He "appealed to the 13th Century writings of St. Thomas Aquinas to cast doubt on the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church on abortion."
That statement has several problems, Anderson wrote.
"First, Aquinas obviously had only a medieval understanding of biology, and thus could only speculate about how an unborn child develops in the womb," he said. "I doubt that there is any other area of public policy where you would appeal to a 13th Century knowledge of biology as the basis for modern law.
"Second, Aquinas' theological view is in any case entirely consistent with the long history of Catholic Church teaching in this area, holding that abortion is a grave sin to be avoided at any time during pregnancy," the letter said.
Such teaching has been consistent in the Catholic Church since as far back as the 2nd Century, the letter noted.
The problem is that Biden's statements can have an impact because of his position, the letter said.
"Statements that suggest that our church has anything less than a consistent teaching on abortion are not merely incorrect; they may lead Catholic women facing crisis pregnancies to misunderstand the moral gravity of an abortion decision
," the letter warned, citing Biden's support for Roe v. Wade.
"I recognize that you struggle with your conscience on the issue, and have said that you accept the church's teaching that life begins at conception – as a matter of faith. But modern medical science leaves no doubt about the fact that each person's life begins at conception. It is not a matter of personal religious belief, but of science," Anderson wrote.
The issue over life and abortion is one that Catholics feel strongly about, according to polls. A Christian Science Monitor report said Sen. John McCain had opened a 16 percent lead among Catholics recently. Many Catholics had left their traditional Democratic Party home and become independents, but the GOP team of McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin is changing the dynamic.
"We have strong evidence that the Palin pick was the big part of it," Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew, told the Monitor. "Gov. Palin's large family and her decision to bear her fifth child despite a diagnosis of Down syndrome mean she embodies anti-abortion beliefs dear to many observant Catholics. But McCain's pick also reassured these voters on 'a whole constellation of values issues that are important to conservative Christians.'"
Anderson's letter also cited Abraham Lincoln's argument against slavery, which he stated this way: "He who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave."
"Lincoln's reasoning regarding slavery applies with equal force to children who are minutes, hours, days away from birth," the letter said.
"You have a choice: you can listen to your conscience and work to secure the rights of the unborn to share in the fruits of our hard-won liberty, or you can choose to turn your back on them," Anderson said.