Catholic Bishops Mull Communion Ban For Pro-Choice Politicians Like Joe Biden

Will conservatives weaponize the Eucharist? Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

It seems a significant number of Catholic bishops want to pick a fight with the second Catholic president of the United States, reports the Associated Press:

When U.S. Catholic bishops hold their next national meeting in June, they’ll be deciding whether to send a tougher-than-ever message to President Joe Biden and other Catholic politicians: Don’t receive Communion if you persist in public advocacy of abortion rights.

A document is being drafted by a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “clarifying” the church’s stance on what some conservatives have called “eucharistic coherence,” referring to a uniform rule denying communion to those who are publicly associated with promoting the “grave moral evil” of legalized abortion. If the policy statement is actually approved, it might have the effect of nationalizing a decision that has previously been left up to individual bishops and even individual parish priests, who mostly declined to deploy the extreme sanction of de facto excommunication no matter how strongly they felt about abortion.

The possibility of such a move by UCCB conservatives became apparent on Biden’s Inauguration Day, when UCCB president Jose Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles, warned that “our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” Chicago Cardinal Blaise Cupich, considered a close ally of Pope Francis, who has himself been friendly towardsBiden, sharply criticized Gomez’s statement, making it clear the bishops were blindsided by the shot at the first Catholic president to be inaugurated in 60 years. But conservative sentiment for a rebuke of Biden persisted.

Liberal Catholic writer Michael Sean Winters told the Washington Post that “there will not be a two-thirds vote for anything to proceed that will suggest Biden not receive Communion. And, he noted, the Vatican would have to approve it as well.” In a broader context, Pope Francis has opposed using access to communion as a way to force conformity to Church doctrine, and Biden’s own bishops in Delaware and Washington, D.C., have refused to weaponize the Eucharist as well.

Even if the conservative gambit goes nowhere, the debate is likely to cast a brighter spotlight on individual clergy who choose to grandstand by publicly denying communion to pro-choice politicians. This happened to Biden in a South Carolina church in 2019. And when John Kerry was running for president in 2004, his staff had to make sure he didn’t land on any given Sunday in one of the scattered dioceses whose bishops had publicly advocated denying him access to the sacrament. Like Biden, Kerry attended mass faithfully. (Non-churchgoing if conspicuously religious presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush haven’t had to worry about the embarrassment of being excluded from the altar or the pews.). You have to wonder if the Biden controversy will encourage conservative clerics in and beyond the Catholic faith to more actively police the political views of their flocks, particularly those who are public figures. It’s all part of a trend wherein the Religious Right warns constantly of the threat of secularism while making secular culture-war causes sacred.

Catholic Bishops Mull Communion Ban for Pols Like Biden