U.S. Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a “teaching document” that many of them hope will rebuke Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, for receiving Communion despite their support for abortion rights.
The result of the vote — 168 in favor and 55 against — was announced Friday near the end of a three-day meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was held virtually.
The bishops had cast their votes privately on Thursday after nearly three hours of impassioned debate.
Supporters of the measure said a strong rebuke of Biden was needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access, while opponents warned that such action would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.
As a result of the vote, the USCCB’s doctrine committee will draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church that will be submitted for consideration at a future meeting, probably an in-person gathering in November.
One section of the document is intended to include a specific admonition to Catholic politicians and other public figures who disobey church teaching on abortion and other core doctrinal issues.
Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wisconsin, said during Thursday’s debate that he speaks with many people who are confused by a Catholic president who advances “the most radical pro-abortion agenda in history,” and action from the bishops’ conference is needed.
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“They’re looking for direction,” Hying said.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego countered that the USCCB would suffer “destructive consequences” from a document targeting Catholic politicians.
“It would be impossible to prevent the weaponization of the Eucharist,” McElroy said.
Biden, who attends Mass regularly, says he personally opposes abortion but doesn’t think he should impose that position on Americans who feel otherwise. He’s taken several executive actions during his presidency that were hailed by abortion-rights advocates.
The chairman of the USCCB doctrine committee, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, said no decisions have been made on the final contents of the proposed document. He said bishops who are not on the committee will have chances to offer input, and the final draft will be subject to amendments before it is put up to a vote.
Rhoades also said the document would not mention Biden or other individuals by name and would offer guidelines rather than imposing a mandatory national policy.
That would leave decisions about Communion for specific churchgoers up to individual bishops and archbishops. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.