Catholic bishops may call for Biden, other politicians who support abortion rights to stop receiving Communion
When U.S. Catholic bishops hold their next national meeting in June, they’ll be deciding whether to send a tougher-than-ever message to President Joe Biden and other Catholic politicians: Don’t receive Communion if you persist in public advocacy of abortion rights.
At issue is a document that will be prepared for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by its Committee on Doctrine, with the aim of clarifying the church’s stance on an issue that has repeatedly vexed the bishops in recent decades. It’s taken on new urgency now, in the eyes of many bishops, because Biden, only the second Catholic president, is the first to hold that office while espousing clear-cut support for abortion rights.
“Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents a unique problem for us,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “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?”
The document, if approved, would make clear the USCCB’s view that Biden and other Catholic public figures with similar viewpoints should not present themselves for Communion, Naumann said.
In accordance with existing USCCB policy, it would still leave decisions on withholding Communion up to individual bishops. In Biden’s case, the top prelates of the jurisdictions where he frequently worships — Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Del., and Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. — have made clear that he may receive Communion at churches they oversee. Malooly is retiring, and his successor, Monsignor William Koenig, said Friday he would gladly speak with the president about his views on abortion but did not say whether he would allow him to continue receiving Communion.
The document results from a decision in November by the USCCB’s president, Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, to form a working group to address the “complex and difficult situation” posed by Biden’s stances on abortion and other issues that differ from official church teaching.
The doctrine committee, which subsequently was assigned the document project, has not released details about it. Bishops will vote in June on whether the committee should continue its work so a document could be publicly released later. Even critics of the initiative predict it will win overwhelming approval.
Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., is among those who worry the USCCB’s emphasis on abortion undercuts Pope Francis’ exhortations also to stress issues such as climate change, immigration and inequality. Stowe also worries that the U.S. bishops are missing a chance to find common ground with Biden.
“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.”