Catholic bishops decided on Friday to create new communion standards, which might pave the way for the sacrament to be denied to political leaders who favour abortion rights, like as President Joe Biden.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gathering electronically for its 2021 Spring General Assembly, voted 168-55 in support of producing a statement to study the “meaning of the eucharist in the life of the church.” with six abstentions.
The vote came following a lengthy and often emotional debate in which some bishops expressed strong reservations about the potential for the new guidelines to politicize the sacrament by denying it to Catholic politicians such as Biden who back abortion rights.
During his presidential campaign, Biden suggested a healthcare plan that would extend access to contraception and abortion, as well as restore financing to Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, the strategy intended to prevent states from enacting anti-abortion legislation.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., chairman of the bishops’ doctrine committee, said in a prerecorded opening statement that it was never their intention to “produce national norms for denying Catholics holy communion” but rather “to present a clear understanding as to why the church has these laws.”
The proposed guidelines — part of a larger effort to revive the institution of the eucharist among Catholics — are also not meant as “a statement about any one individual or about any one category of sinful behavior,” he added.
But Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said there was “significant ambiguity” about the actual intention of the effort.
“We have heard a number of bishops … indicate, in fact, that it’s time that we take a position with regard to these public officials receiving communion. So it’s hard to know what direction you’re going to go.”
San Diego Archbishop Robert McElroy, meanwhile, warned that it will be “impossible to prevent [the eucharist’s] weaponization, even if everyone wants to do so” and that it could become “a tool in vicious partisan turmoil.”
If the church legitimizes “public policy-based exclusion” from communion, McElroy said, “we’ll invite all political animosity into the heart of the Eucharistic celebration.”
The vote allows the bishops’ doctrine committee to proceed with drafting the document and present it for discussion when the bishops reconvene in person in November.