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On when human life begins, Cardinal Gregory flubs the question

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 09, 2021

President Joe Biden laid a trap, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory walked right into it.

“The Catholic Church teaches, and has taught, that life—human life—begins at conception,” Cardinal Gregory told the National Press Club yesterday.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Well, all right, the Catholic Church says that human life begins at conception. But only for the same reason that the Church says 2+2=4. These are facts: realities. And the Catholic Church bases her moral teaching on reality.

But it is not the Catholic Church that teaches human life begins at conception. It is science. The existence of human life in a fertilized human ovum is observable, verifiable, undeniable.

To say that the Church teaches when human life begins is to allow the possibility that someone outside the Catholic communion—someone who does not feel himself bound by the authority of the magisterium—could disagree. It is a suggestion that this is religious belief, a sectarian position that other reasonable people might not embrace.

And that, of course, is precisely what pro-abortion apologists want people to believe: that opposition to abortion is based solely on a religious belief. That non-Catholics might allow the killing of unborn humans, just as non-Hindus might slaughter cows, with a clear conscience. If you can persuade enough people that an unborn human life is somehow not a human life, then you may be able to sidestep the condemnation that the Catholic Church—and every other moral authority—attaches to the deliberate killing of innocent human beings.

Forty-eight years and 62 million deaths after Roe v. Wade, Catholic prelates should know enough to avoid obvious rhetorical pitfalls—to give pro-abortion politicians the help they need to keep a spurious argument in circulation.

When President Biden said that he doesn’t agree with people who “think” that human life begins at conception, he exposed the weak flank of his position. (He also exposed the malleability of his principles, since a decade ago he told the world that he did accept that fact.) Anyone moderately familiar with the terms of this debate should pounce.

Let’s focus the debate on that moment of conception. Ask the scientists, ask the doctors to explain what this thing is, growing in a woman’s womb. Is it alive? Absolutely. What kind of life is it, then? Trust the science, President Biden. Trust the science, Cardinal Gregory.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Retired01 - Sep. 14, 2021 2:21 PM ET USA

    If President Biden presents himself for communion to Cardinal Gregory and the cardinal gives the president communion, all the cardinal is doing is providing lip service to what the Church teaches. Of course, would we be surprised by the MO of so many in the hierarchy?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 12, 2021 1:38 AM ET USA

    Unfortunately, the actual argument is not when human life begins, which as Phil points out is science. The actual argument is: at what point in human existence does a legal person exist? We answer that a human person exists at the moment that God infuses a soul into a human body. However, this moment is not known. We call this unknowing a doubt. Since we have a doubt about the precise moment of infusion, as Catholics we must assume this moment could occur at conception, and behave accordingly.

  • Posted by: wendel2591 - Sep. 11, 2021 9:17 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Gregory was right. Abortion is wrong because it destroys a person willed into existence and sustained by Almighty God. To say conception is the first moment that that is true is a statement of theology, not embryology. And theology is the Church’s competence not that of secular scientists.

  • Posted by: Sciamej1913 - Sep. 10, 2021 4:49 PM ET USA

    I will not waver in my faith, but why was the Archbishop not clearer...the President is not espousing his Catholicity appropriately!

  • Posted by: Cory - Sep. 10, 2021 4:25 AM ET USA

    If human life does not begin at conception, there's a real possibility that that whatever that is in the woman's womb could end up being a horse or a centipede? So when someone becomes pregnant,they should tell people they don't know what the outcome is likely to be as there's a chance it might not be human after all.

  • Posted by: padre3536 - Sep. 09, 2021 7:53 PM ET USA

    Well, yes & no :-) The Church is not the sole or original source of the Teaching that life begins at conception, but She does Teach this, viz.: 2273: every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."80;'the unborn child from the moment of conception';2274:'from conception as a person'. God the Holy Spirit Teaches this, here, in Holy Writ, etc. God is the source and origin of this, the Church and science reaffirm, accordingly! Great work!