U.S. Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday were set to vote on a document about the meaning of Holy Communion, a matter that has ignited debate over whether politicians like Joe Biden, who support abortion rights, should be able to receive the sacrament.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches abortion is immoral. Biden, the first Catholic U.S. president since John F. Kennedy, has said he personally opposes abortion but supports a woman’s right to choose. Last month, his administration called on the Supreme Court to block a Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks.
A draft of the bishops’ communion document released on Wednesday does not mention Biden or any politician by name, and does not focus on the issue of abortion.
The draft reaffirms the church’s teaching that Christians have an obligation to protect “the unborn,” and it states that Catholics who live in “mortal sin” without repentance should not receive communion.
It vaguely appears to chastise politicians who support abortion rights by stating, “Lay people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to form their consciences in accord with the Church’s faith and the moral law, and to serve the human family by upholding human life and dignity.”
The document avoids giving an explicit directive to bishops to withhold communion from Catholics who they deem to be sinners. But it does say: “It is the special responsibility of the diocesan bishop to work to remedy situations that involve public actions at variance with the visible communion of the Church and the moral law.”
The document could still be amended before an expected vote on Wednesday in the Baltimore hotel ballroom where bishops are meeting this week. It needs a “yes” vote from two-thirds of the conference to pass.
Some conservative bishops have argued the conference must rebuke politicians such as Biden who support abortion rights, or else they will lose credibility among parishioners for not forcefully responding to what they say is a matter of scandal. That contingent previously called for the document to set explicit standards of eligibility for receiving the sacrament.
Others have cautioned against weaponizing the Eucharist and withholding it as a means of punishing specific political stances. They have warned that the document, rather than accomplishing its stated goal of bringing Catholics together in renewed faith in the Eucharist, will sow further division in the fractured church.
Some 55% of U.S. Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 59% of the general population, according to a Pew Research survey conducted in April.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell)