Catholic Church and President Joe Biden: Communion controversy explained

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A committee of American Catholic bishops set to work on a policy document that sparked controversy among their colleagues before a word was even written about it.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a document “on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church” which some bishops hope will be a rebuke to politicians who support the Church. right to abortion but continue to receive communion.

The 168-55 vote to continue, which a minority of bishops vehemently opposes amid heated debate in virtual meetings, came despite calls from the Vatican for a more cautious and collegial approach.

Here’s a look at what happened and what lies ahead:

Is this targeting President Joe Biden?

USCCB Doctrine Committee Chairman Bishop Kevin Rhoades said no decision had been made on the final content of the proposed document, but that he would not mention Biden or others by their name. And it will offer guidelines, not establish a binding national policy.

However, several bishops on both sides recognize the political importance of the document and say it inevitably concerns the president. Supporters say a strong rebuke from Biden is needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding access to abortion, while opponents warn that in doing so, they risk being seen as a partisan force.

“It’s pretty clear that for many bishops a lot of the impact is political,” said William Cavanaugh, professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University in Chicago. “Some of them say it’s not Joe Biden, but in the comments the bishops made during this Zoom session, many of them mentioned Biden and gave the game away.”

Biden is the country’s second Catholic president and the first to take office since abortion became a major political issue. He supports the legality of abortion, while the Catholic bishops have long made its abolition a priority political objective.

The issue is particularly important with Biden as he has long been very public in his devotion, fluent in the language of the faith and regularly attending Mass, even on busy days like his own inauguration and the recent G-7 summit. in Great Britain.

What are Biden and the other Catholic Democrats saying?

“This is a private matter, and I don’t think it will happen,” the president said when asked Friday at the White House.

Sixty Catholic Democrats in Congress signed a letter to the bishops saying, “We solemnly urge you not to go ahead and deny this most holy of all sacraments, the source and culmination of all the work of the Church. Gospel on one question.

They said they are inspired by Catholic social teaching to serve those most in need and promote alternatives to abortion. They added that the “arming” of communion for those who support the right to abortion is inconsistent, as the bishops have not targeted Catholic politicians who support other policies that contradict Church teachings. , like the death penalty or tough positions on immigration and asylum.

What is the position of the bishops on this?

In a document titled Shaping Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, last updated in 2019, the American bishops set out their official teachings on the political responsibilities of Catholics. He cites a wide range of political concerns, but also prioritizes abortion.

“The threat of abortion remains our top priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place in the sanctuary of the family and because of the number of lives destroyed,” it read. “At the same time, we cannot rule out or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.

The bishops also deplore the “inhuman treatment” and family separations of immigrants, as well as “armed violence, xenophobia, capital punishment and other problems which affect human life and dignity”.

But it is much less common for bishops to discuss the denial of Communion on matters other than abortion.

Can the bishops’ conference forbid Biden from taking Communion?

No. Only the local bishop where he attends church can do this. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, has made it clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion in churches in the Archdiocese.

What happens next?

The USCCB Doctrine Committee will spend the next few months preparing a draft document.

At the next national bishops meeting in November, which is expected to be held in person in Baltimore, bishops will have an opportunity to propose amendments. To be adopted, the final draft would require the approval of two-thirds of the bishops, and then of the Vatican itself.

During the debate at this week’s meeting, several bishops suggested meeting regionally over the next few months to discuss their differences face to face.

Rhoades said his committee may soon start working on non-controversial sections and await input from regional meetings on more controversial parts.


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