The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting this month, and will debate a measure urging President Joe Biden and other Catholic politicians who support legal abortion to stop receiving communion.
The move has the support of several conservative bishops who argue that Biden’s pro-choice stand clashes with church doctrine.
“Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents a unique problem for us,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City told the Associated Press (AP). “It can create confusion. ... How can he say he’s a devout Catholic and he’s doing these things that are contrary to the church’s teaching?”
Biden is only the second Catholic to hold the presidency. The first, John F. Kennedy, was elected in 1960, 13 years before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld legal abortion in Roe v. Wade.
If the bishops approve the document, its effect might be limited. While the measure calls for Biden not to present himself for communion, it doesn’t require bishops to deny it to him. Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, often attend services in Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Del. Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington have both made it clear that Biden is welcome to receive communion.
At least one high-ranking church official wants to go beyond merely asking Biden not to take communion. Cardinal Raymond Burke, the AP has reported, has advocated for the possibility of cutting Biden off from the church. Burke has argued that political leaders who “publicly and obstinately” support legal abortion are “apostates” who should face excommunication.
A handful of church leaders are arguing for a more moderate course.
“If a politician is targeted as a negative example by his own church, that sets a sad context in which the church can deal with this Catholic president,” Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Mass., told the AP. “It contributes to the polarization of the church and of society.”
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego agreed, remarking, “I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders of the Eucharist based on their public policy stance can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist ... to pummel them into submission.”
Church officials at the Vatican are apparently not enthusiastic about the idea. Last month, a top church official warned that it would be “misleading” to put forth the idea that abortion and euthanasia are “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”
If support for legal abortion becomes a litmus test for the church, Biden may not be the only one told to skip communion. According to Pew Research, a majority of U.S. Catholics (56%) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.