search
Sections List
American Journal News

U.S. Catholic bishops greenlight plan to deny communion to Biden

The bishops will vote again in November, likely offering ammunition to conservatives ahead of the midterm elections.

By Josh Axelrod - June 21, 2021
Share
Joe Biden

The American arm of the Roman Catholic Church voted Friday to draft controversial guidance on denying communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians, an implicit salvo against the nation’s second Catholic president.

While the vote only advanced a plan to draft the measure, clergy are expected to include language around abortion once they vote again in November.

Proponents argue that the measure is not about any one individual and is not intended to create a national policy but instead a way to re-emphasize the importance of the Eucharist, the Christian sacrament in which churchgoers are offered bread and wine. While transubstantiation, or the idea that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ after consecration, is central to Catholicism, a 2019 poll showed only one-third of U.S. Catholics believe in it, which bishops cited as the impetus for the measure, saying there was a need for a “unified and strong revival of the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church and in the lives of each one of her members.”

Critics, however, say the proposal represents a rightward trend among Catholic clergy, an attempt to weaponize doctrine against a Democratic presidents with an objectionable political agenda.

“What we see are the sorts of visible political partisan divisions that exist outside of the church very much driving these kinds of conversations inside the church,” Steven Millies, author of “Good Intentions: A History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump,” told The American Independent Foundation.

Central to the conversation is the president, a devout Catholic, who attends church regularly. Some scholars claim that denying the Eucharist to those with beliefs not in line with the church is in fact crucial to its wellbeing.

“When you have the president who is a Catholic and when the church fails to apply its teachings and to uphold its teachings, then it is an extra source of scandal. … it sends a message to everyone that the teaching is not really being taken seriously,” Daniel Philpott, a professor of religion and political theology at the University of Notre Dame, told The American Independent Foundation.

When Biden makes visits to local churches, his staff typically steers him clear of bishops or priests that might invite controversy or make political statements, The Washington Post has reported.

Nonetheless, in 2019, that very scenario unfolded when Father Robert Morey, a pastor in South Carolina, denied Biden communion for his support of abortion.

The Vatican tried to weigh in last month, with Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who heads the Catholic Church’s doctrinal arm, urging bishops to slow down and engage in more extensive dialogue on the subject, so it does not “become a source of discord rather than unity.”

“The polarization around the church in the United States has infected the U.S. Conference on Bishops,” Millies said. “The bishops are visibly at odds with one another and with Pope Francis over this and that’s not a good look for the bishop’s conference.”

The more-than-two-hour debate over the measure centered on the idea of Eucharistic consistency or coherence, a term Pope Francis helped coin in 2007. According to a document Francis and other bishops proposed, legislators, heads of governments and health professionals, “cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged.”

But a previous dictum issued by Pope John Paul II complicates the debate. In 1998, he decreed that episcopal conferences like the USCCB cannot override the decisions of individual bishops.

“The result of it would really be eucharistic incoherence — there would be a patchwork around the U.S. depending on the preferences of individual bishops,” Millies said.

Though the measure would be an indictment of the current president, the debate far predates Biden. Millies points to Cardinal John O’Connor’s spat with Gov. Mario Cuomo (D-NY) as the first notable instance of pro-choice politicians butting up against Catholic ritual.

In 1984, O’Connor said, “I do not see how a Catholic, in good conscience, can vote for an individual expressing himself or herself as favoring abortion” and later warned in 1990 that pro-choice Catholic politicians risk ex-communication. O’Connor also took aim at Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY) for her pro-choice views.

O’Connor’s comments enraged Cuomo at the time, and he accused the church of meddling in politics, according to “Sons of Saint Patrick: A History of the Archbishops of New York, from Dagger John to Timmytown” by George Marlin and Brad Miner.

Perhaps the first politician to actually be denied communion for their stance on abortion, Lucy Killea’s (D-CA) run-in with Bishop Leo Maher of San Diego vaulted her to political victory in a 1989 special election for the California Senate. Maher announced she would be barred from receiving communion, which political analysts said helped to sway a razor-thin election in her favor, according to Marlin and Miner.

Next to earn the ire of the Catholic Church over abortion was John Kerry (D-MA) during his 2004 presidential campaign. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote a letter deeming pro-choice politicians unworthy of communion “due to an objective situation of sin” and even implicating Catholics who voted for them.

“A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia,” Ratzinger wrote in a letter entitled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles,” addressed to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2004.

Ratzinger’s stance was not met without argument, however. McCarrick rebuked him at a 2004 meeting in Denver, telling bishops that “the battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square, in hearts and minds, in our pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and communities.”

The current debate will continue until November when the bishops will vote again on a drafted proposal. Millies said the back and forth wasn’t surprising but was the product of centuries of tension between the Catholic Church and the U.S. political system.

“The expectation that Joe Biden can just ignore constitutional law, can just ignore Roe vs. Wade because of his Catholic conscious doesn’t really make a lot of sense from the side of the American political and legal system,” Millies said. “And so so it’s a mismatched expectation that the church has that has grown from not really dealing yet theologically with the reality of modern democratic and constitutional government.”

He added, “That’s just a long way of saying this is the latest chapter in a 500-year-long struggle and it’s not going to end this week.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


AJ News
Get the latest news here first.

Tai News

Newsletter
Read More
Utah lawmakers want to repeal abortion clinic ban hoping it will speed up trigger law case

Utah lawmakers want to repeal abortion clinic ban hoping it will speed up trigger law case

By Katie McKellar, Utah News Dispatch - February 27, 2024
Abortion care and transgender health care are ‘parallel struggles’ in 2024 legislation

Abortion care and transgender health care are ‘parallel struggles’ in 2024 legislation

By Danielle J. Brown, Maryland Matters - February 16, 2024
Texas conservatives test how far they can extend abortion and gender-transition restrictions beyond state lines

Texas conservatives test how far they can extend abortion and gender-transition restrictions beyond state lines

By Eleanor Klibanoff, Texas Tribune and William Melhado, Texas Tribune - February 09, 2024
Republicans block attempt to add rape, incest exemptions to Missouri’s abortion ban

Republicans block attempt to add rape, incest exemptions to Missouri’s abortion ban

By Anna Spoerre, Missouri Independent and Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent - February 08, 2024
Other states’ ballot successes provide model for Arkansas abortion initiative

Other states’ ballot successes provide model for Arkansas abortion initiative

By Antoinette Grajeda, Arkansas Advocate - February 02, 2024
After enacting strict abortion bans, Oklahoma GOP lawmakers seek more restrictions

After enacting strict abortion bans, Oklahoma GOP lawmakers seek more restrictions

By Carmen Forman, Oklahoma Voice - February 02, 2024
AJ News
Latest
Republican Eric Hovde makes inconsistent statements about family history

Republican Eric Hovde makes inconsistent statements about family history

By Jesse Valentine - February 26, 2024
Republican David McCormick invests millions in website that platforms Holocaust denial

Republican David McCormick invests millions in website that platforms Holocaust denial

By Jesse Valentine - February 09, 2024
Lawmakers will again take up bills expanding, tightening gun laws

Lawmakers will again take up bills expanding, tightening gun laws

By Annmarie Timmins, New Hampshire Bulletin - January 31, 2024
UAW delivers rousing presidential endorsement for Biden over ‘scab’ Trump

UAW delivers rousing presidential endorsement for Biden over ‘scab’ Trump

By Ashley Murray, States Newsroom - January 24, 2024
Republicans Sam Brown and Jeff Gunter sling mud in Nevada senate primary

Republicans Sam Brown and Jeff Gunter sling mud in Nevada senate primary

By Jesse Valentine - January 17, 2024
A Young Texas Woman Almost Died Due To The Texas Abortion Bans – Now She’s Battling To Save Other Women

A Young Texas Woman Almost Died Due To The Texas Abortion Bans – Now She’s Battling To Save Other Women

By Bonnie Fuller - January 10, 2024
Health care legislation preview: Maryland advocates want to focus on access, patients in 2024 session

Health care legislation preview: Maryland advocates want to focus on access, patients in 2024 session

By Danielle J. Brown, Maryland Matters - January 08, 2024
How GOP senate hopefuls try to excuse the  January 6 insurrection

How GOP senate hopefuls try to excuse the  January 6 insurrection

By Jesse Valentine - January 05, 2024
NH lawmakers will be taking up major voting bills this year. Here are some to watch for.

NH lawmakers will be taking up major voting bills this year. Here are some to watch for.

By Ethan DeWitt, New Hampshire Bulletin - January 04, 2024
Republican US Senate candidates want to make Trump’s tax cuts permanent 

Republican US Senate candidates want to make Trump’s tax cuts permanent 

By Jesse Valentine - December 22, 2023
Rand Paul went all in on the Kentucky governor’s race. It didn’t work.

Rand Paul went all in on the Kentucky governor’s race. It didn’t work.

By - December 15, 2023
Texas governor and attorney general do little to curb state’s chemical plant crisis

Texas governor and attorney general do little to curb state’s chemical plant crisis

By Jesse Valentine - December 08, 2023
Likely GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde proposed tax hike for poorer workers and retirees

Likely GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde proposed tax hike for poorer workers and retirees

By Jesse Valentine - December 07, 2023
Whitmer signs specific criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers into law

Whitmer signs specific criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers into law

By Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance - December 06, 2023
105 Republicans voted to expel Santos for things Trump has also done

105 Republicans voted to expel Santos for things Trump has also done

By Jesse Valentine - December 05, 2023
For Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Trump term is another chance to kill Obamacare

For Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Trump term is another chance to kill Obamacare

By Jesse Valentine - December 04, 2023
Florida Sen. Rick Scott backs Donald Trump in revived push to repeal Obamacare

Florida Sen. Rick Scott backs Donald Trump in revived push to repeal Obamacare

By Jesse Valentine - November 30, 2023
Tate Reeves took donations from power company that hiked customer rates

Tate Reeves took donations from power company that hiked customer rates

By Jesse Valentine - November 06, 2023
Daniel Cameron ran on depoliticizing the Kentucky AG’s office. He made it more political.

Daniel Cameron ran on depoliticizing the Kentucky AG’s office. He made it more political.

By Jesse Valentine - November 03, 2023
Republican operatives sound every alarm on current trajectory of 2023 governor’s race

Republican operatives sound every alarm on current trajectory of 2023 governor’s race

By Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today - October 24, 2023
Utah lawmakers want to repeal abortion clinic ban hoping it will speed up trigger law case

Utah lawmakers want to repeal abortion clinic ban hoping it will speed up trigger law case

By Katie McKellar, Utah News Dispatch - February 27, 2024
Republican Bernie Moreno opposes existence of minimum wage

Republican Bernie Moreno opposes existence of minimum wage

By Jesse Valentine - February 23, 2024
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott floats building a wall on the Oklahoma border

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott floats building a wall on the Oklahoma border

By Jesse Valentine - February 22, 2024
More than 48,600 18-year-olds are registered to vote in Ohio, a 35% increase from late August

More than 48,600 18-year-olds are registered to vote in Ohio, a 35% increase from late August

By Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal - February 22, 2024
Not if, but when: Parents of slain Parkland students urge Utah lawmakers to pass school safety bill

Not if, but when: Parents of slain Parkland students urge Utah lawmakers to pass school safety bill

By Kyle Dunphey, Utah News Dispatch - February 21, 2024