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US Catholic bishops approve document that could lead to Biden being denied Communion over abortion support

·3-min read
Joe Biden at church in Wilmington, Delaware, on May 1, 2021. (REUTERS)
Joe Biden at church in Wilmington, Delaware, on May 1, 2021. (REUTERS)

Over the warnings of the Vatican, the conference of US Roman Catholic bishops approved a plan to draft a statement on the full meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist, part of a conservative push to condemn president Joe Biden for regularly receiving Communion at Mass despite his support for abortion, even though the church opposes it.

The decision, made public on Friday, was approved with 73 percent of the vote during June’s national meeting of US bishops.

The statement itself isn’t written, but America Magazine reported that an outline suggested it would “include the theological foundation for the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion and a special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness the faith.”

“That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Mr Biden said on Friday, after being asked about the vote.

The effort exposes divisions both within US Catholic leadership, and between American bishops and the Vatican.

Some supported the move.

“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?” San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone sai during discussion of the measure, The Washington Postreported.

Others argued such an explicit, political rebuke to Mr Biden, a devout Catholic and only the nation’s second president to hold that faith, would pull the church into partisan warfare.

“The Eucharist itself will be a tool in vicious partisan turmoil. It will be impossible to prevent its weaponization, even if everyone wants to do so,” San Diego Archbishop Robert McElroy said during the meeting. “Once we legitimize public-policy-based exclusion … we’ll invite all political animosity into the heart of the Eucharistic celebration.”

Last month, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, warned US bishops in a letter that making policies about politicians receiving communion would “become a source of discord rather than unity.”

The president has said he both personally supports abortion access in society, while privately opposing it and accepting the church’s doctrine on the subject, but his election provoked a furious response in some corners of the US Catholic Church.

After the victory, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez created a working group to address potential clashes between the church and the administration. He warned on Inauguration Day that Mr Biden “would advance moral evils” through his stances “in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”

Mr Biden, meanwhile, hasn’t made talking about abortion a central part of his public policy, even as a conservative-leaning Supreme Court threatens to throw out landmark abortion rights cases like Roe v. Wade.

In fact, as of late May, he didn’t even say the word “abortion,” according to one analysis. (He has, however, signed executive orders expanding abortion access and ending restrictions on using tax dollars for clinics that give information and counseling on abortion use.)

During his time as a senator, Mr Biden voted opposed various measures related to abortion, including those that made special exemptions for victims of rape and incest, as well as limiting federal funding and health insurance access for abortion services.

In his 2007 book Promises to Keep, he wrote that he doesn’t believe he has a “a right to impose my view on the rest of society.”

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