The Committee on Doctrine for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is working on a document that would call on all politicians who espouse abortion rights or publicly advocate for abortion rights to not take the sacrament of Communion.
The debate over the policy will take place at the bishop’s annual conference in June. A two-thirds majority would have to approve the document for it to pass.
“Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents a unique problem for us,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, told the Associated Press. “It can create confusion. … How can he say he’s a devout Catholic and he’s doing these things that are contrary to the church’s teaching?”
Naumann added that “Such a stance, by a public figure, is ‘a grave moral evil.'” Millions of American Catholics have been thinking the same thing.
The document, if approved, would make clear the USCCB’s view that Biden and other Catholic public figures with similar viewpoints should not present themselves for Communion, Naumann said.
In accordance with existing USCCB policy, it would still leave decisions on withholding Communion up to individual bishops. In Biden’s case, the top prelates of the jurisdictions where he frequently worships — Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. — have made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches they oversee.
The debate among church leaders has been going on since abortion became legal and isn’t likely to be resolved at one meeting. There are several sensitive issues in play, including the separation of church and state in the U.S. and the historic reluctance of the Catholic church to involve itself too heavily in national domestic disputes.
Bishop Robert McElroy, who also sits on the doctrine committee, is a big supporter of Pope Francis and thinks the bishops should be focusing on meaningful issues like climate change.
“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders of the Eucharist based on their public policy stance can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist … to pummel them into submission,” McElroy said during an online forum in February.
“Weaponization” of the Eucharist? Is he kidding?
Bishops already troubled by Biden’s stance on abortion grew more dismayed by three measures from his administration in mid-April.
It lifted restrictions on federal funding for research involving human fetal tissue. It rescinded a Trump administration policy barring organizations such as Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family planning grants if they also refer women for abortions. And it said women seeking an abortion pill will not be required to visit a doctor’s office or clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling women to get a prescription via telemedicine and receive the pill by mail.
Naumann, who issued strongly worded denunciations after each action, told AP he was frustrated that Biden could authorize those while identifying as a devout Catholic.
“He doesn’t have the authority to teach what it means to be Catholic — that’s our responsibility as bishops,” Naumann said. “Whether intentional or not, he’s trying to usurp our authority.”
There has been some discussion of giving Biden the ultimate punishment of Excommunication for his stance. But that’s a decision for the Vatican and with Biden being friends with Pope Francis, who has asked the bishops to drop their emphasis on abortion in favor of more “modern issues” like climate change, no action is expected.