Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are trying to clarify their position and deal with the confusion caused by their announcement last week that they would create a teaching document on the Holy Eucharist or the meaning of Communion. The statement caused many to speculate that the Church was looking to deny President Joe Biden and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians from receiving Communion.
The speculation was misplaced, said the bishops.
“There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a Q&A document dated June 21.
“The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us,” the document continued.
The bishops say the document being drafted is “not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons.” But it would spell out “the responsibility of every Catholic” to live in accordance with the church’s teachings.
The committee vote last week triggered debate within the church over whether Biden and other politicians should be denied the right to participate in communion based on their stance on abortion.
Jayd Henricks, a former top lay official with the bishops conference, told The Washington Post on Friday that though Biden’s election set in motion the document’s creation, bishops have a larger concern about Catholics not understanding communion.
He clarified that the use of the words “national policy” was about “giving guidance on a national level,” The Post reported.
The bishops are a conservative group, with many having expressed the opinion that Biden and other Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi who not only support abortion but advocate for it are not in a “state of grace,” which is necessary to receive Communion. Pope Francis has tried to straddle the issue but is in favor of not “weaponizing” Communion as a “political weapon.”
Pope Francis, who has explicitly identified the United States as the source of opposition to his pontificate, preached this month that communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.” His top doctrinal official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote a letter to the American bishops, warning them that the vote could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”
The result is a rare, open rift between Rome and the American church.
Opponents of the vote suspect a more naked political motivation, aimed at weakening the president, and a pope many of them disagree with, with a drawn-out debate over a document that is sure to be amplified in the conservative Catholic media and on right-wing cable news programs.
The church hierarchy is split around the world over the pontificate of Pope Francis. For all his admonitions against bringing politics into the Church, his own pronouncements have a profound political impact. If he wants Catholic conservatives to shut up, perhaps he should engage them in some meaningful dialogue instead of sniping at them from afar.