A divided conference of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops announced on Friday that they had voted to draft a statement on Holy Communion that may admonish Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, who are pro-abortion.
The 168–55 decision to draft a teaching document on the Eucharist, a holy sacrament in the Roman Catholic faith, came after two hours of debate at the virtual assembly of the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference on Thursday, in which the bishops weighed the merits of reaffirming church teachings against the possibility of sowing partisan division.
The debate this week laid bare some of the cultural and political rifts that have rocked the church in the last several years. U.S. Catholic Church membership has dropped nearly 20 percent in the past two decades, according to a Gallup poll in March, as sexual abuse scandals involving predatory priests have come to light and members have become increasingly divided on social issues.
The bishops in favor of drafting the document insisted on Thursday that it would not call out any individual politician by name, but the topic of Biden’s social views came up repeatedly in the discussion. Biden, the second Catholic to serve as U.S. president, has alarmed many bishops by supporting same-sex marriage and abortion, views they say are antithetical to church doctrine.
Some bishops want to block politicians with views like Biden’s from receiving Communion. But any statement would serve as guidance, and individual bishops would be able to make an independent choice.
Asked on Friday if he was concerned by the bishops’ decision and if he would be blocked from participating in Holy Communion, Biden said, “That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Biden attends Catholic mass each weekend. The president has said he personally opposes abortion but believes the procedure should be accessible. He did not keep a Hyde Amendment ban on federal funds for abortions in his first budget presented earlier this year.
Some bishops advocating for drafting the document argued they had an obligation to clarify the church’s teachings for all Catholics in light of inconsistencies in the faith and actions of public officials like Biden.
“Almost daily I speak with people, Catholics…who are confused by the fact that we have a president who professes devout Catholicism and yet advances the most radical pro-abortion agenda in our history,” said Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wisconsin, who supported drafting the document.
Opponents said they feared writing the document could sow further partisan division within the church, and that the bishops should take more time to discuss the issue before moving forward.
Exit polls from the 2020 presidential election showed the Catholic vote nearly split between Biden and his predecessor, Republican President Donald Trump.