On June 17, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has pushed ahead a draft in a majority vote that would deny President Joe Biden the Holy Communion because of his stance on abortion laws. Approval of this new statement will authorize individual bishops to deny Catholic politicians, who support abortion, the sacred rite of the Eucharist. Never has tensions between church divisions and the legislation been prevalent since the Trump administration. This new step has further reinstated the debate on the church's interference in politics.
The recent vote also reflected the internal divide among US church leadership, specifically between the liberal and conservative followers. The proposer of this motion, bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said, "We need to accept the discipline that those who obstinately persist in grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion." This was also an act of divergence from Pope Francis' teachings which urges the church to "accept all" without discrimination.
A story and then a thread on bishops, Biden and abortion: U.S. Catholic bishops next month will take a vote aimed directly at the question of whether pro-choice politicians should receive Communion. 1/7https://t.co/lgyVLtOeIP
— Michelle Boorstein (@mboorstein) May 26, 2021
President Biden identifies as a devout Catholic, and his religious beliefs have come to attention many times with his political orientation. As the second Catholic president of the US, after John Kennedy, Biden has said in the past that his faith shapes "all that I do" and it will "serve as my anchor." His response to this USCCB move was that the matter was private: "I don't think that's going to happen."
Despite his faith, Biden upholds his democratic values, including the ones that contradict Catholic beliefs. In 2015, Biden famously mentioned that even though he believes life begins at conception, "What I'm not prepared to do is impose a precise view that is born out of my faith on other people." His other Catholic-contradictory moves include lifting restrictions on federal funding for research involving human foetal tissue, rescinding a Trump policy barring organizations that refer women for abortions from receiving federal grants, allowing women to remotely obtain a prescription for an abortion pill during the pandemic, etc.
Conservatives have been against the Biden administration since the election. Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, a leader of an anti-abortion committee in the USCCB, told Washington Post that the "climate" of abortion rights is currently different in the US. Leaders like bishop Liam Cary have been even more explicit about their focus on Biden, stating, "It seems to me this is an unprecedented situation in the country, we've never had a situation like this where the executive is a Catholic president who is opposed to the teaching of the church."
However, Wilton Gregory of Washington and Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware, the dioceses where Biden usually attends mass, have declared that Biden is welcome to participate in communion. In fact, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of US catholics agree in that Biden's views on abortion should not disqualify him from receiving communion.
On June 18, a group of 60 Catholic Democrats in the House of Representatives released a "statement of principles" on the following day of the USCCB vote , urging the USCCB to stop "weaponizing" the Holy Eucharist. Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Sylvia Garcia and Joaquin Castro of Texas, and more were among the signers of the statement which was distributed among the lawmakers.
The lawmakers have also been vocal about the USCCB's over-emphasis on the issue of abortion. In the statement, they wrote, “No elected officials have been threatened with being denied the Eucharist as they support and have supported policies contrary to the Church teachings, including supporting the death penalty, separating migrant children from their parents, denying asylum to those seeking safety in the United States, limiting assistance for the hungry and food insecure, and denying rights and dignity to immigrants.” Rep. Ted Lieu called out the USCCB in a series of tweets calling them "hypocrites" for "being nakedly partisan".
A formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist has yet to be drafted and has to win by a margin of two-thirds majority vote from the conference to be authorized into action. Even after being approved, the individual bishops will hold discretion on whether to deny someone of communion or not. Many believe this entire ordeal is symbolic and a message from the conservative Catholic leaders.