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Sen. Joe Biden on NBC’s “Meet the Press” today

WASHINGTON – Tom Brokaw today asked of Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden a question that two weeks ago turned much of the Roman Catholic establishment against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – “When does life begin?”

Biden, who plans to attend Mass tomorrow for the installation ceremony of his new bishop, Fran Malooly, said, “Look, I know when it begins for me.”

The exchange on “Meet the Press” is sure to set off a controversy equal to the one that ensued for Pelosi, whose answer to Brokaw was denounced by more than two dozen Roman Catholic bishops.

In the exchange, Brokaw seemed to be aware of the potential for fireworks for Biden, the Democratic senator from Delaware and running mate of Barack Obama.

BROKAW: Two weeks ago I interviewed Senator Nancy Pelosi – she’s the speaker of the House, obviously – when she was in Denver. When Barack Obama appeared before Rick Warren, he was asked a simple question: When does life begin? And he said at that time that it was above his pay grade. That was the essence of his question. When I asked the speaker what advice she would give him about when life began, she said the church has struggled with this issue for a long time, especially in the last 50 years or so. Her archbishop and others across the country had a very strong refutation to her views on all this; I guess the strongest probably came from Edward Cardinal Egan, who’s the archbishop of New York. He said, “Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.” Those are very strong words. If Senator Obama comes to you and says, “When does life begin? Help me out here, Joe,” as a Roman Catholic, what would you say to him?

BIDEN: I’d say, “Look, I know when it begins for me.” It’s a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I’m prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths – Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others – who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They’re intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life – I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. And I know you get the push back, “Well, what about fascism?” Everybody, you know, you going to say fascism’s all right? Fascism isn’t a matter of faith. No decent religious person thinks fascism is a good idea.

BROKAW: But if you, you believe that life begins at conception, and you’ve also voted for abortion rights …

BIDEN: No, what I voted against curtailing the right, criminalizing abortion. I voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously based view that it’s a moment of conception. There is a debate in our church, as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge, that’s existed. Back in “Summa Theologia,” when Thomas Aquinas wrote “Summa Theologia,” he said there was no – it didn’t occur until quickening, 40 days after conception. How am I going out and tell you, if you or anyone else that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith? And that’s the reason I haven’t. But then again, I also don’t support a lot of other things. I don’t support public, public funding. I don’t, because that flips the burden. That’s then telling me I have to accept a different view. This is a matter between a person’s God, however they believe in God, their doctor and themselves in what is always a – and what we’re going to be spending our time doing is making sure that we reduce considerably the amount of abortions that take place by providing the care, the assistance and the encouragement for people to be able to carry to term and to raise their children.

Video of the exchange can be seen here.

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