Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington speaks at the National Press Club, Sept. 8, 2021. / National Press Club/YouTube
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Washington D.C., Sep 8, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
The Archbishop of Washington on Wednesday clarified the Church's teaching on when life begins, after Catholic President Joe Biden last week said life does not begin at conception.
"The Catholic Church teaches, and has taught, that life -- human life -- begins at conception," said Cardinal Wilton Gregory at a Wednesday luncheon of the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C.
"So, the president is not demonstrating Catholic teaching," he added.
Last Friday, Sept. 3, President Joe Biden said he did not "agree" that life begins at conception.
"I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade," he said at the White House, answering a reporter's question on abortion. "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," he said.
Biden's comments were a departure from previous statements of his on when life begins. In a 2008 interview as a vice presidential candidate, and again at a 2012 vice presidential debate, Biden said he believed life begins at conception.
Gregory addressed reporters and members of the public at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon on Sept. 8.
After delivering remarks on journalism, Gregory took questions on various issues including abortion, COVID-19 vaccines, race and the Catholic Church, the clergy sex abuse crisis, the death penalty, and workers' rights.
When asked if the Church has recently "softened" its teaching on abortion, Cardinal Gregory said the Church's teaching has not changed.
"Our Church has not changed its position on the immorality of abortion, and I don't see how we could, because we believe that every human life is sacred. Every human life is sacred," he said.
Gregory was then asked about the death penalty. The execution of Texas death row inmate John Henry Ramirez is scheduled for Wednesday evening, Sept. 8.
Ramirez has appealed to the Supreme Court to have his Baptist pastor pray aloud and lay hands on him in the execution chamber. Texas officials, while allowing his pastor inside the chamber, have denied Ramirez's request for vocal prayer and physical contact.
"Should he be allowed to meet his creator, having the support of a pastor? I say yes," Gregory stated.
While noting he did not know all the details of the case, the cardinal added that "if this man wants to pray with his minister, and his minister pray with him, it might very well be a sign that there is some reconciliation, conversion, going on within him."
He went on to comment on the broader issue of the death penalty, saying it "has also been proven flawed."
"There's too many cases where people have been sentenced and, unfortunately, I think, put to death. And then with the development of scientific research, it's been proven -- or least raised to a serious doubt -- that maybe the trial itself was flawed," Gregory said.
He then explained the "consistent life ethic" of his mentor, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Gregory served as auxiliary bishop of Chicago from 1983-1994.
"Life issues are linked," he said. "They're not at the same level. There are life issues that are predominant."
"The conception of a child is the first life concern," he said, adding that "those life issues have to extend to all the other moments of human existence as well," such as to prisoners, immigrants, the elderly, and people with handicaps.
"Is he [Bernardin] saying that a prisoner that has been found guilty of multiple criminal behavior -- is he to be equated with an infant in the womb who is just trying to live or to be born, literally? Oh no, he's not saying that," Gregory noted. "He's saying they are linked, not because they are the same, but they are linked because they are all human.
As archbishop of Washington, Gregory has been at the center of discussion in recent months over whether pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be admitted to Communion. He told a reporter last year that he would not deny Communion in such cases.
In January, the president of the U.S. bishops' conference issued a lengthy statement on the day of Biden's inauguration as president, noting some of his positive policies but also warning that some of his proposed policies would "advance moral evils." Gregory thought the statement "ill-timed," according to NBC's Al Roker, who reported in February that Gregory had emphasized "dialogue" with the new administration.
During the U.S. bishops' spring meeting in June, Gregory cautioned against drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist that would include language on worthiness to receive Communion, especially among Catholic public figures. Some bishops critical of the motion warned that it would be interpreted as a partisan denunciation of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, especially President Biden.
Gregory pointed to the "unusual" circumstances of bishops meeting remotely and not in-person, due to the pandemic. He warned that drafting the document at the time could "well further damage" unity.