“How can he say he’s a devout Catholic and he’s doing these things that are contrary to the church’s teaching?”
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.
Such a stance, by a public figure, is “a grave moral evil,” according to Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities and believes it’s necessary to publicly rebuke Biden on the issue.
“Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents a unique problem for us,” Naumann told The Associated Press. “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.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, offers some context:
The last time the bishops voted on this, in 2004, the tally was 183 to 6 in favor of leaving the decision about abortion-backing politicians to their bishops. The topic of Catholic politicians who support reproductive freedom was everywhere that year due to the presidential candidacy of John F. Kerry, a Catholic. More than a dozen U.S. bishops that year said they would deny Communion to the Democratic candidate, on the grounds of his support for abortion rights.
But the Catholic Church in 2021 is different.
Now there is a U.S. Catholic president for the first time since the early 1960s, and one who is passionately open about both his Catholic faith as well as his liberal politics on topics like reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality — both areas with which he and a majority of other U.S. Catholics disagree with their church’s doctrine.
Biden is also facing a very politically divided U.S. church. Catholic voters were split down the middle about Biden, unlike their overwhelming support for John F. Kennedy in 1960.
There is a generation of harder-line figures who came in under popes John Paul II and Benedict, including San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone and Midwesterner Raymond Burke, a cardinal who sits on the Vatican’s Supreme Court. And there is the papacy of Francis, a more left-leaning reformer who is quickly bringing in and elevating leaders like himself — including Washington’s archbishop, Wilton Gregory, who Francis a few months ago made the first Black U.S. cardinal.