U.S. Catholic bishops were largely in agreement that they should move forward with a plan that could ultimately lead to denying Communion to public figures who support abortion rights. That could end up in a stunning public rebuke of President Joe Biden and goes against the wishes of the Vatican. Despite all the controversy, the vote wasn’t close. In a 168-55 vote, bishops agreed to draft a “teaching document” on the meaning of the Eucharist in the church. The document will be presented for approval in November and would require a two-thirds majority vote for approval.
Even though the actual potential rebuke is still a long way away, the vote itself was still astounding considering it comes from leaders of the president’s faith and targets a leader who has regularly attended Mass his whole life. Biden is the second Catholic president in the country’s history and the most religiously observant one since Jimmy Carter. The vote was also particularly striking considering “many conservative Catholics turned a blind eye to the sexual improprieties of former President Donald J. Trump because they supported his political agenda,” notes the New York Times.
Asked about the possibility that bishops would approve a document that would prevent him from receiving Communion, Biden refused to comment in detail. “That’s a private matter, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. Biden has said he is personally against abortion but won’t impose his views on all Americans.
By approving the document, the bishops went against the direct appeals from the Vatican that had called for a less divisive stance on the issue. Pope Francis has worked closely with Biden in the past, particularly during President Barack Obama’s administration on the efforts to normalize relations with Cuba and climate change.
All the controversy led to heated debate at the annual spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was held virtually. Bishops on each side of the debate accused the other of threatening the church’s reputation. “Our credibility is on the line. … The eyes of the whole country are on us. If we don’t act courageously, clearly and convincingly on this core Catholic value, how can we expect to be taken seriously on another matter?” asked San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who expressed support for the document. But San Diego Archbishop Robert McElroy warned that if they choose to go down that path they’ll turn Communion into “a tool in vicious partisan turmoil.”