Catholic bishops in the US voted Friday to defy the Vatican and move forward with a plan to draft guidance on communion, an initiative that targets President Biden. The initiative stems from a “working group” set up after Biden’s election to address what Archbishop José Gomez called the “difficult and complex situation” of Biden, a Catholic who supports abortion rights and the rights of LGBTQ people.
The bishops will consider voting on the guidance at their planned general assembly this November. As the New York Times reports, passage of such a statement is unlikely absent either a unanimous vote or support from the Vatican in addition to votes of two-thirds of US bishops, but the promise to keep this issue alive going into next year’s midterms could be a “headache” for the President. Whatever the political ramifications may be for Biden and other Catholic Democrats (dozens of whom issued a statement last Friday that read, in part, “The Sacrament of Holy Communion is central to the life of practicing Catholics, and the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory”), it won’t affect his ability to receive communion in either of the dioceses where he resides.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has said for some time he has no plans to deny Biden communion, and his counterpart in Wilmington, Delaware, Bishop Francis Malooly, has previously said he does “not intend to get drawn into partisan politics nor do I intend to politicize the Eucharist as a way of communicating Catholic Church teaching.” Pope Francis has also signaled his opposition through Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who told US bishops that moving forward with their planned statement might “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”
Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, however, served on the working committee and spoke at a press conference last week about the statement, saying that it “is about what we believe about the Eucharist, how to live a eucharistic life, and to go forth in service” and also that “We do not cut off any person from the church.”
Biden is only the second Catholic to serve as US President. He reportedly considered entering the priesthood after his first wife died, attends Mass, and regularly carries his son Beau’s rosary beads. He described the bishops’ vote as a “private matter” and said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”