After months of rumblings by some Catholic leaders that President Joe Biden’s embrace of abortion flouts Catholic doctrine, American bishops will vote in June on a document clarifying whether high-profile pro-abortion Catholics such as Biden should be denied Communion.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will face divergent views, with some leaders saying the church needs to send a message to public figures that they cannot defy Catholic teachings yet pose as faithful Catholics, while others say denying Communion due to differences on abortion is too harsh a step, according to The Associated Press.
Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, said focusing on the issue of abortion makes it more difficult for the bishops to find common ground with Biden on other issues such as climate change, immigration and inequality.
“If a politician is targeted as a negative example by his own church, that sets a sad context in which the church can deal with this Catholic president,” Stowe said. “It contributes to the polarization of the church and of society.”
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said Communion should not become a weapon.
“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 in February.
But San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said the Church needs to take a stand.
“Abortion is not just one among many important issues. … It’s a direct attack on human life,” he said. “There’s a growing sense of urgency.”
He said he hopes what the bishops decide will impact Catholic political leaders who support abortion.
“They need to understand the scandal that is caused when they say they are faithfully Catholic and yet oppose the church on such a basic concept,” he said.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said Biden’s support for abortion is “a grave moral evil.”
“Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents a unique problem for us,” Naumann said. “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 said three recent decisions have added urgency to the need for the Church to respond: the end of a federal ban on funding research that uses the tissue from aborted babies; a reversal of a rule that barred groups who refer women for abortions from getting certain federal grants; and federal actions making it easier for women to obtain an abortion pill.
“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.”
The bishops are expected to decide whether to continue working on a document that would call upon pro-abortion Catholics not to seek Communion, but would allow each bishop to decide the policy for each diocese.
That means as a practical matter, the decision would have little impact on Biden, as Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. have said Biden can receive Communion on their turf.
Earlier this year, the Rev. Jerry Pokorsky, writing on the website CatholicCulture.org, said Biden has “magnified and institutionalized countless major violations of the Ten Commandments. The hypocrisy rivals that of the chief priests and Pharisees and is worthy of the same condemnation.”
The bottom line, according to Pokorsky, is that “Biden is the most aggressively anti-Catholic president in history.”
In an Op-Ed on the website First Things, now-retired Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said “Public figures who identify as Catholic give scandal to the faithful when receiving Communion by creating the impression that the moral laws of the Church are optional.”
“By his actions during the course of his public life, Mr. Biden has demonstrated that he is not in full communion with the Catholic Church.”
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UPDATE, April 29, 2021: This story’s headline has been updated to better reflect the fact that as a practical matter, the decision would have little impact on Biden, as Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. have said Biden can receive Communion on their turf.
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