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Why some Catholic bishops don’t want Biden to take communion

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted this week to draft a document on access to the Eucharist

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, listen as Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, prays.
President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, listen as Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, delivers the invocation during a COVID-19 memorial at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. American Catholic bishops voted this week to begin work on a statement about access to communion — a move that many believe will further complicate President Joe Biden’s relationship with his church.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press

American Catholic bishops voted this week to begin work on a statement about access to Communion — a move that many believe will further complicate President Joe Biden’s relationship with his church.

The eventual document will likely explore the significance of the Eucharist and call on Catholics who hold secular leadership roles to represent the church well in public life, according to America magazine.

Once drafted, it would need to be approved by at least two-thirds of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Nearly three-quarters of the group voted to begin the work.

The push to draft such a statement came from conservative bishops who are unhappy with the president’s support for abortion rights. During the debate leading up to this week’s vote, several leaders said they felt obligated to do something to defend the unborn, Religion News Service reported.

“It’s not the bishops that have brought us to this point — it’s really, I think, some of our public officials,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City on Thursday night.

More liberal bishops spoke against working on a statement, arguing that church leaders should avoid politicizing sacred rites.

“Any effort by this conference to move in support of the categorical exclusion of Catholic political leaders based on their public policy will thrust the bishops of our nation into the very heart of the toxic partisan strife, which has distorted our own political culture and crippled meaningful dialogue,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin of New Jersey, according to Religion News Service.

Some Catholic leaders shared similar thoughts in 2019 when Biden was denied Communion on the campaign trail by a priest in South Carolina. They warned that using religious rituals to rebuke politicians does little to change hearts and minds.

“You simply cause more division,” said John Gehring, Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, to the Deseret News at the time.

Although the Catholic Church formally opposes abortion, Pew Research Center has found that around half of its members believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Still, many Catholics believe it’s important for the church to defend its teachings when Catholic politicians seem to go astray. They support bishops’ efforts to bring Biden’s policy plans more in line with the Catholic Church.

Since January, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released at least a dozen statements on the Biden administration’s actions. While they’ve applauded the president’s efforts to protect immigrants and refugees, they’ve expressed concern about his approach to religious freedom and abortion, as the Deseret News reported last month.

“It is grievous that one of President Biden’s first official acts actively promotes the destruction of human lives in developing nations,” said a statement on Biden’s decision to allow humanitarian groups receiving U.S. aid to discuss abortion with their clients.

Overall, nearly 6 in 10 Catholics (58%) were happy with the president’s job performance after his first 100 days, Gallup reported.