Will the American Catholic Church Really Refuse Joe Biden’s Communion?


When the Catholic bishops of the United States voted last week to move forward with a measure that could limit the right of some politicians to receive the Eucharist, or communion, the move highlighted both the continuing politicization of religion in America and a growing divide within the Catholic Church. in general.

Defying the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted overwhelmingly last Friday to draft an official statement on “the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church,” a widely regarded measure as aimed at denying Communion to President Joe. Biden because of his support for abortion rights.

This decision highlighted the continuation of cultural wars in the United States, which increasingly involve the Catholic Church. “There has been cross-contamination between the political world and the spiritual world,” said Claire Giangravè, Vatican reporter for Religion News Service.

Much of the Catholic leadership is single-stake abortion voters and therefore closely aligned with the Republican Party. “A significant number of them are so attached to the issue of abortion that it takes precedence over everything else,” said Father Thomas Reese, Jesuit priest and senior analyst at Religion News Service.

Many key advisers in Trump’s inner circle were conservative Catholics, including former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and his advisor Kellyanne Conway, though Trump himself is not a Catholic and identifies with him. no specific Protestant denomination.

Biden is a practicing Catholic who attends mass regularly, even when traveling, as he did at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England. He is the second Catholic President of the United States, after John F. Kennedy. His support for pro-choice legislation, however, means that in the eyes of many, Biden is not a “worthy Catholic,” Giangravè said.

That Biden was the impetus behind the USCCB’s proposal was clear. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who chairs the conference’s pro-life activities committee, told The Associated Press in April that Biden should be reprimanded for his support for abortion rights.

“They use fellowship as a weapon to force him to come back,” Reese said. “I think this is inappropriate and so does the Vatican.”

Conservative bishops have been restless since Biden’s election in November. Shortly after winning the presidency, Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the conference, created a task force to resolve any conflicts that might arise between Biden’s policies, which Gomez said “would advance the moral evils ”and the teachings of the Church.

An act of rebellion

The measure was adopted by a large majority, with 168 American bishops voting for, 55 against and six abstentions, highlighting tensions between the Church in the United States and the Vatican.

The vote was indeed an act of rebellion against the Vatican leadership.

Although Pope Francis did not specifically comment on the measure, he had previously warned against the politicization of the Eucharist. Communion is “not the reward of a saint but the bread of sinners,” he preached earlier this month. And last month, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, secretary general of the International Theological Commission, wrote a letter to American bishops warning them that the vote could sow discord within the American Church.

Observers, however, note that tension in the Church in the United States existed long before the vote. “In the United States, there is this polarization because of the political events of the last few years,” said Giuseppe Rusconi, longtime Vatican correspondent and author of the Rossoporpora blog on the Church.

This gap has widened since the ascension of Pope Francis, who has a more progressive agenda than his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and who has highlighted the responsibility of the church to the poor and to the environnment management. The bishops and cardinals he appointed tend to favor his agenda. It didn’t always play well with the elders.

“They are leading rearguard action against Francis in the hope that he will die soon and be replaced by someone more like John Paul II or Benedict,” Reese said.

Basically, both sides agree that Catholic politicians should not support abortion rights. “It is not a theological difference between the Vatican and the American bishops, it is a question of method”, declared Giangravè. “The Vatican needs to think globally, so it needs to keep in mind that Catholic teaching believes abortion is a sin, and how do you find a way to speak and negotiate with politicians who support it?

A lot of noise for nothing?

Ultimately, the vote is unlikely to have a lasting effect. Under Church law, to pass, the measure would have to garner the unanimous support of the bishops of the United States or have the support of two-thirds of them and the approval of the Vatican, which is extremely little. likely.

“It won’t happen at this point,” a senior Vatican official told The New York Times. “It’s inconceivable.”

Even if adopted, the guidelines would not be binding. Only the local bishop can decide to refuse communion to a parishioner. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, has made it clear that he will not deny President Biden Communion.

“It’s almost more of a media campaign than anything else because legally the bishops’ conference cannot have a national policy,” Reese said.

When asked about the vote, Biden said it was “a private matter and I don’t think it will happen.”

The text of the orientation on communion has not yet been written, but according to the proposal, “the declaration will be addressed to all Catholics” and “would include the theological basis of the discipline of the Church concerning the reception of the Church. Holy Communion and a special call for Catholics who are cultural, political or parish leaders to bear witness to the faith ”.

Whether this decision is motivated more by political or doctrinal concerns will be clearer when the project is presented.

“It will be interesting to see how this document emerges,” said Giangravè. “Are they going to get stuck on abortion, or are they going to educate?” This will be the litmus test to see if they are influenced by politics… or if their purpose is to educate.

The bishops are expected to vote on it at their next meeting in November.

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