Maybe not, says John Allen in Crux:
In a seemingly dramatic decision this week, three-quarters of America’s bishops voted to move ahead with a controversial document on the Eucharist despite objections that it could disrupt church unity and set the stage for a fatal showdown with US President Joe Biden.
The key word in that sentence, however, is “seemingly,” because in the Catholic Church, things are rarely quite as they seem.
Media coverage styled the vote on the document as a referendum on whether Biden and other pro-choice Catholic politicians, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, should be allowed to receive communion, and there were certainly enough semi-veiled references to that question during floor debate to support the impression.
Yet it’s important to remember what the bishops actually were told they were deciding: Whether to draft a pastoral document on the Eucharist, at a time when all indications are that both attendance at Sunday Mass and belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist are on the decline.
According to a 2019 Pew Forum survey, only about one-third of US Catholics believe the bread and wine they receive at Mass is physically the body and blood of Christ, which is a fairly stunning defection from a key tenet of the Catholic faith. Lots of bishops are concerned about that situation – indeed, it would be fairly surprising if any weren’t.
Yes, the draft also will contain a section on “Eucharistic coherence,” meaning the conditions under which a given Catholic is eligible to receive the sacrament. Depending on the language, that may well have implications for Biden, Pelosi, and others, though Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, head of the doctrine committee that will draft the text, took pains to emphasize that no individual will be named and it won’t address whether Biden himself should be administered communion.
Indeed, even if the document tried to address Biden’s specific situation, it wouldn’t mean very much, since under church law a bishops’ conference has no power to decide such matters. It’s always up to the individual bishop to set policy for Catholic worship in his diocese, including the celebration of the sacraments.
J.D. Flynn offers this context at The Pillar:
For all the fight, the substance of the statement will hardly seem novel to those familiar with Catholic doctrine. It will say that Catholics conscious of grave sin or manifested opposition to Church teaching or governance should not receive Holy Communion.
It is possible the document could give oblique reference to the notion that bishops have the canonical prerogative to prohibit such persons from Holy Communion. But it seems highly unlikely.
In short, the document will say what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, what the U.S. bishops said already in 2006, and probably something far less specific than what the Latin American bishops’ conferences said in 2007.
But it will hardly matter to many Catholics what the document will actually say, because it has already been framed on the front pages of the nation’s biggest media outlets as a direct rebuke of Joe Biden, or even as a national policy barring the president from Holy Communion.
And that’s where things get interesting. So interesting, in fact, that by the time the letter is written, the document’s actual approval may seem like an afterthought to a showdown that began Friday evening.