American Catholic bishops have overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a “teaching document” that many hope will rebuke Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, for receiving Communion despite their support for the right to abortion.
The result of the vote – 168 for and 55 against – was announced on Friday towards the end of a three-day meeting of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference held virtually.
The bishops voted in private Thursday after nearly three hours of heated debate.
Supporters of the measure said a strong rebuke from Biden was needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding access to abortion, while opponents warned such action portrayed bishops as a force partisan during a period of bitter political divisions across the country.
Following the vote, the USCCB Doctrine Committee will draft a statement on the meaning of fellowship in the life of the church which will be submitted for consideration at a future meeting, possibly an in-person meeting in November.
One section of the document is intended to include a specific warning to Catholic politicians and other public figures who disobey church teaching on abortion and other fundamental doctrinal issues.
Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wis., Said in Thursday’s debate that he spoke to many people baffled by a Catholic president pushing “the most radical pro-abortion agenda in the world. history ”, and action by the bishops’ conference is needed.
“They are looking for a 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 militarization of the Eucharist,” said McElroy.
Biden, who attends mass regularly, says he personally opposes abortion but doesn’t think he should be forcing that position on Americans who think otherwise. He took several executive steps during his presidency that were hailed by abortion rights advocates.
USCCB Doctrine Committee chair Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, said no decision has been made on the final content of the proposed document. He said bishops who are not on the committee will have the opportunity to give their opinion and the final draft will be subject to amendments before being put to a vote.
Rhoades also said the document would not mention Biden or others by name and offer guidelines rather than impose a mandatory national policy.
This would leave decisions regarding communion for the specific faithful to the individual bishops and archbishops. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, has made it clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion in churches in the Archdiocese.