Bishops, at risk of division in the U.S. Catholic Church, point to a Catholic president who supports abortion rights.
A split conference of Roman Catholic bishops in the United States announced Friday that they will draft a statement on Holy Communion that may admonish Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, who supports abortion rights.
The decision of 168-55 to draw up a didactic document on the Eucharist, a sacred sacrament in the Roman Catholic faith, came after two hours of debate at the virtual assembly of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of the United States on 17 June, in which the bishops weighed merits in reaffirming the teachings of the church against the possibility of sowing a partisan division.
This week’s debate exposed some of the cultural and political cracks that have shaken the church in recent years. Membership in the U.S. Catholic Church has fallen nearly 20 percent in the past two decades, according to a Gallup poll released in March, according to sexual abuse scandals involved predatory priests have come to light and members have become increasingly divided on social issues.
Biden is a lifelong devout Roman Catholic who supports the ability of women in the U.S. to end unwanted pregnancies, a fundamental policy of the American Democratic Party he now leads. However, many American Catholics oppose abortion, believing that for religious reasons the fetus has a right to life.
Bishops in favor of drafting the document insisted he would not call on any individual politician, but the issue of Biden’s social views repeatedly appeared in the discussion. Biden, the second Catholic to hold the presidency of the United States, has alarmed many supporting bishops gay marriage and the rights to abortion, opinions that are said to be antithetical to ecclesiastical doctrine.
On Friday, at a White House ceremony, Biden refused to answer a journalist’s question about the bishops’ decision. “This is a private matter and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Biden said.
Some bishops who advocated drafting the document argued that they had an obligation to clarify the teachings of the church for all Catholics in light of inconsistencies in the faith and actions of public officials such as Biden.
“I speak almost daily to people, Catholics … who are confused by the fact that we have a president who professes devout Catholicism and yet advances the most radical pro-abortion agenda in our history,” the bishop said. Donald Hying, of Madison, Wisconsin, who supported the drafting of the document.
Opponents said they feared that writing the document could sow a new partisan division within the church and that bishops should spend more time discussing the issue before moving on.
A Vatican official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, had written the conference in May urging caution over the debate over views on abortion and the communion of politicians, saying it could become a “source of discord,” he reported. Catholic News Service.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego argued against the wording of the document, saying the measure would go against the goal of bishops to unite Catholics through the sacrament.
“The Eucharist … will inevitably become a tool in the cruel partisan convulsion of our nation. It will be impossible to avoid arming the Eucharist in partisan battles,” he said.
Exit polls for the 2020 presidential election showed that the Catholic vote was almost split between Biden and former Republican President Donald Trump.
Pope Francis congratulated Biden in a phone call after his election, even when some Catholic bishops refused to recognize Biden’s rise as president because of this support for abortion rights.
The conference’s Doctrine Committee is now expected to draft the document before a November meeting, when the bishops will review an editable draft.
In 2004, the conference issued a statement saying bishops could decide whether to deny communion to Catholic politicians who supported abortion rights.