President Biden “is not demonstrating Catholic teaching” on life when the chief executive denies that life begins at conception, Archbishop Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the District told a National Press Club audience Wednesday.
Mr. Biden, the second Roman Catholic to be elected president, told reporters at a Sept. 3 White House event, “I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade, number one … I respect them, those who believe life begins at the moment of conception and all, I respect that. Don’t agree, but I respect that.”
Cardinal Gregory, responding to a reporter on Wednesday, said, “The Catholic Church teaches and has taught that life human life begins at conception. So the president is not demonstrating Catholic teaching.”
Mr. Biden’s statement Friday represents a 180-degree turn from his earlier comments on the issue in 2008 and 2012.
In 2012 Mr. Biden declared during a debate with then-Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, that, “Life begins at conception, that’s the Church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.” Four years earlier, Mr. Biden said he accepted the Roman Catholic teaching “as a matter of faith.”
Mr. Biden has said he would not “impose” that belief on others, however.
Cardinal Gregory did not suggest there would be any ecclesiastical consequences for Mr. Biden over this marked departure from Church teaching, nor was he asked that question directly.
In introducing the archbishop, Lisa Nicole Matthews of The Associated Press noted, “Cardinal Gregory has said publicly that he has no plans to prevent the president from accepting the Eucharist.”
Responding to another abortion-related question, Cardinal Gregory said “Our Church has not changed its position on the morality of abortion. And I don’t see how we could, because we believe that every human life is sacred.”
The archbishop noted that his mentor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, archbishop of Chicago, expressed a “consistent life ethic” in which “the conception of a child is the first life concern. But those life issues have to extend to all of the other moments of human existence as well, is a consistent ethic.”
Before answering questions from Ms. Matthews as well as those submitted by the audience, Cardinal Gregory spoke on a range of topics for about 25 minutes. He supported Pope Francis’ environmental activism and said the archdiocese has implemented its own “Laudato si’ Action Plan,” referring to the pontiff’s 2015 encyclical.
“I am asking the people of the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholics and non-Catholics alike to share in Pope Francis’s concern for creation,” the cardinal said, adding, “When it comes to environmental justice, we each have a critical role to care for creation to ensure the earth is protected for future generations.”
He praised reporters for their work to “amplify community voices speaking out against injustice and inequality,” but also cautioned, “we cannot overlook or fail to recognize the destruction and blatant vulgarity that is often also present in social media, and other areas of life, where great harm is done by fraudulent, unverified and biased information that passes as news.”
Cardinal Gregory said Catholics and other religions face a challenge in keeping young members in the ranks. “We have a problem,” he said. “And it’s not just a Catholic problem. It is a religious problem.”
The archbishop added, “Whatever we need to do, as Catholics, I think would only be enhanced by talking to our fellow religions who are facing the same issue.”
Asked about his defrocked predecessor as archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, arraigned Friday in Massachusetts on sexual abuse charges, Cardinal Gregory said, “When I’ve seen images of Theodore McCarrick, whether recently as he pled not guilty or early on when this whole sorrowful event occurred, my first thought was about the people that he had hurt.”
Acknowledging that the church had often emphasized protecting the institution, Cardinal Gregory declared, “The first entry point is, how do we care for those that have been hurt? That should be the first issue that we take off. And we’re still trying to do that. It’s difficult when you see the depth of the problem.”
During a final “rocket round” of questions, Ms. Matthews referenced current episodes of “pestilence, wars, [and] earthquakes,” and asked Cardinal Gregory “Are we in the last days?”
The archbishop demurred: “I don’t think so. What we’re doing, I think is experiencing the opportunity, the necessity of taking charge of our environment more effectively. Whether you are a proponent of climate change or energy programs that step away from fossil fuels, [we] have to acknowledge that if we don’t get a handle on this, things are going to get worse.”
Another area where Cardinal Gregory hedged concerned varsity sports in the Washington Archdiocese. Noting his two principal aides had ties to traditional rivals DeMatha Catholic High School and Gonzaga Catholic High School — whose football teams will compete on Oct. 8 — the archbishop refused to predict a winner, saying, “When Gonzaga and DeMatha play each other, I don’t come into work that day.”
Cardinal Gregory also tempered his comments when Ms. Matthews asked the Chicago-born archbishop whether he remained a Chicago Bears fan or now rooted for the Washington Football Team.
“Always bloom where you’re planted,” the cleric replied with a smile.