When Joe Biden assumed the presidency of the United States in January of this year, he became only the second Catholic in American history to hold that position. The first was John Kennedy, who ruled the country from 1961 to 1963.
But while many Catholics celebrated Biden’s victory, his presence in the White House spawned what some American bishops describe as a “difficult” situation: Biden supports abortion rights, which are legal in the United States but condemned by the Catholic Church.
This position has led some of the leaders of the American Church to propose that Biden – a devout Catholic, who attends mass every Sunday, often quotes biblical passages and Pope Francis in his speeches and has previously stated that his faith Catholic serves as an “anchor” – and other politicians who defend the right to abortion are banned from attending Communion.
The debate was divisive and regained attention this week with a virtual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) where the main topic of discussion is the meaning of the Eucharist and the way of approaching the situation of Catholic pro-abortion politicians. .
The 280 voting bishops must decide whether to ask the Commission for Doctrine (which advises on matters of faith and morals) to prepare a document specifying who can receive Communion and the circumstances under which the sacrament can be. refuse.
After hours of debate and disagreement, the religious voted this Thursday (6/17), the second day of the meeting. The final result should be announced this Friday (06/18), at the end of the meeting.
If the proposal is approved, the Doctrine Committee will begin preparing the document, which will be voted on at the next USCCB meeting in November. To be approved, the final document will need the support of at least two-thirds of the voters.
But in practice, the final decision on whether or not to allow Biden (or any other believer) to receive Communion will rest with the responsible bishop of each diocese.
In Washington, where the president regularly attends Holy Trinity Church in the Georgetown neighborhood, Archbishop Wilton Gregory has previously indicated that he has no intention of preventing Biden from receiving Communion. The same is likely to happen in Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden is based and attends mass on some weekends.
“Legally, (the USCCB’s decision) has no impact,” Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at the University of Villanova in Pa., Author of the book “Joe Biden, told BBC News. and Catholicism in the United States “. (Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States).
However, the mere debate over the possibility of a national rule preventing pro-abortion politicians from taking Communion has strong symbolic significance and reveals not only the internal division and political polarization in the American Church, but also its divisions from the Church. Vatican.
“The bishops who defend this proposal the most are the same who, over the past eight years, have been most vocal against Pope Francis on various issues,” notes Faggioli. “And they’re part of the same majority that over the past 10 or 20 years has become incredibly politicized and aligned with the Republican Party.”
Opposition to Pope Francis
The conservative wing of the American Catholic Church is home to at least half of the country’s bishops and is known for its opposition to Pope Francis, who advocates a less rigid stance towards believers who have strayed from doctrine.
Since taking charge of the Vatican in 2013, the Pope has shed light on social issues, encouraging believers to care for the poor, welcoming immigrants and fighting climate change, showing tolerance towards homosexuals and a paved the way for communion for divorced or remarried Catholics.
But many of its detractors fear that the Church’s more liberal view on these issues will lead to a weakening of religion.
Like the American bishops, Pope Francis is also opposed to abortion, considered by the Church to be a “mortal sin”. But the Pope and other Vatican leaders prefer the path of dialogue to a ban like the one proposed by the bishops in the United States.
Critics of the proposal say preventing Catholic politicians from receiving Communion because of their stance on abortion is more politically motivated than religious.
The Pope even declared that “the Eucharist is not a price for the saints, but the bread of sinners”.
In a rare public intervention by the Vatican on the dispute in the American Church, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a letter to Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gomez, president of the USCCB, urging caution and warning. for the consequences of a hasty decision.
Ladaria called for dialogue between American bishops to “preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreement on this controversial issue”.
In a demonstration of the internal division caused by the issue, 67 US bishops requested that the discussion be postponed until they can attend a meeting in person. But the creators of this week’s virtual meeting decided to keep the topic on the agenda.
The debate over denying communion to pro-abortion politicians is not new to the United States. For decades, the conservative wing of the Catholic Church in the country has sought to make abortion opposition its priority and central religious issue.
In 2004, a group of conservative bishops previously attempted to prevent then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry from receiving the sacrament for this reason. Kerry was the first Catholic to run for president of one of America’s major parties since Kennedy’s assassination.
At the time, the position of the conservative American bishops was supported by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who in 2005 would become Pope Benedict 16. But the final decision was that each bishop would have the autonomy to decide whether or not to allow pro politicians. -abortion in common.
Biden himself was denied the scholarship at a church in South Carolina in 2019, while a candidate, due to his stance on abortion. His arrival at the White House has heightened the urgency with which parts of the Church in the country see the problem.
Biden replaced Republican Donald Trump, who during his administration passed several measures restricting abortion and appointed hundreds of judges against the practice to courts across the country, including three to the Supreme Court, America’s highest court and who has the power to decide the future of abortion in the country.
Since coming to power, Biden has rescinded some of the restrictions adopted under the Trump administration. Additionally, his presidency marks a time when Democrats have stepped up their advocacy for abortion, a position currently shared by nearly all party politicians.
“At the time (of Kerry) the situation was different, because he was not a Catholic president, (only) a candidate,” Faggioli points out.
“Now that would be a declaration of war by the Bishops’ Conference on the president, and also a demonstration that they do not take seriously what is coming from the Vatican on this issue.”
For Faggioli, the effort underway in the United States is historically unique and “more American than Catholic”.
“There are examples in the past of difficult relations between the Catholic Church and heads of state,” he underlines. “But there has never been this kind of high-level public debate, involving an entire conference of bishops, to plan to punish a Catholic president for his opinions.”
The current movement is led by influential names from the conservative wing of the American Catholic Church. Besides Gomez, this list includes, among others, Cardinal Raymond Burke and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.
“It’s fundamentally a question of integrity,” Cordileone said in May, in a message not only to Biden but also to Speaker of the House of Representatives (the equivalent of the House of Representatives) Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who is Catholic, defends the right to abortion, and attends church in San Francisco.
“In the Catholic liturgy, to receive the Blessed Sacrament is to publicly embrace the faith and moral teachings of the Catholic Church, and to desire to live in accord (with them),” Cordileone said.
Many supporters of the ban fear that the example of politicians may influence other believers. But many opponents of the proposal believe religious leaders should discuss privately with these politicians how their support for abortion goes against church values.
For Faggioli, the current debate risks further alienating some of the faithful who are already moving away from the Church.
“The mere fact that there was this meeting and the narrative surrounding this debate is a very serious problem. Because it gives the impression that this is a convention of a political party.”
Faggioli points out that a document advocating the exclusion of Biden or other Catholic politicians from the Eucharist will have an effect on the general Catholic population of the country.
“What Biden says about abortion is what about half of American Catholics also believe,” he says.
According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of American Catholics say Biden should not be excluded from communion because of his stance on abortion. Another 2019 institute survey indicates that 56% of American Catholics believe abortion should be legal in most cases.