Bishops’ approval of the document, avoiding direct rejection of Biden
Baltimore — US Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved a long-awaited document on Communion Wednesday that fell short of calling for the sacrament to be withheld from politicians like President Joe Biden who supports abortion rights but offers much tacit justification for individual bishops to do so.
The first major statement issued by the American Conference of Catholic Bishops on Communion in 15 years, “The Sacrament of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” does not explicitly address the controversy over elected officials, abortion, and the sacrament that has surrounded the document. The past several months have partially inspired its creation in the first place.
Instead, it provides an overview of the Church’s teachings, stresses the centrality of the Eucharist to faith and worship and partly reflects concern among bishops that many Catholics do not know or accept such teachings.
It was approved by 222 to 8 at the fall assembly of the convention in Maryland after receiving only minor amendments in recent days by the drafters of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.
The editors added a reference to defending the “unborn” alongside other vulnerable people, such as immigrants, the elderly, and victims of racial injustice. They also reinforced the definition of “scandal” as weakening the resolve of other Catholics to follow the teachings of the Church.
The latest revision came in a passage reiterating a 2006 statement saying it is scandalous if a Catholic “in his personal or professional life willfully or stubbornly rejects” church teachings or moral teachings.
The document does not identify Biden or other politicians by name, although at one point it says, “Ordinary people who exercise some form of public power have a special responsibility to embody the Church’s teachings.”
He calls on Catholic writers to examine their conscience and ensure their conformity with the church’s teachings, and says that bishops have a “special responsibility” to respond to situations “that involve public actions contrary to the visible communion of the church and moral law.”
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who chairs the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and whose work includes anti-abortion advocacy, considered the document as emphasizing the importance of “our responsibility to look after the lives of these politicians.”
Naumann called on bishops to find common ground in which politicians would agree with the church’s vision of “human dignity,” but also “not be afraid to fulfill our obligations to let them know how seriously” they oppose the church’s teachings.
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Texas Tyler, an outspoken critic of the president, asked his colleagues to amend the document by citing ecclesiastical teaching and the Torah saying that anyone who creates a scandal would do better to hang a “militar stone around his neck and be drowned in … the sea.”
The motion was met with silence when put to a vote and was not adopted.
Congress cannot dictate a comprehensive policy of depriving politicians of communion. Each bishop has authority in his diocese.
While some bishops have said they will deny the sacrament to Biden, the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, has confirmed that the president is welcome to receive the sacrament there. Biden said Pope Francis also told him in a private meeting recently to continue receiving Communion.
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