When asked if the subject of abortion was brought up during his recent Vatican summit with Pope Francis, President Joe Biden replied, “No, it isn’t. It came – we just talked about how happy he was that I was a good Catholic and that I should continue to receive Communion.
The next day, The Associated Press noted that Biden had received Holy Communion at St. Patrick’s Church in Rome.
When asked to validate the president’s second-hand quote, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters: “I would consider this a private conversation.”
What do the American bishops think? It has remained a hot topic as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops prepares for its meetings in Baltimore next week (November 15-18) – the group’s first in-person assembly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
What qualifies as “draft 24” of a proposed USCCB declaration on “Eucharistic coherence” refers to an earlier controversy over Catholic politicians, Holy Communion, and an atmosphere of “scandal” among the faithful.
This draft – dated late September and first obtained by Catholic news site The Pillar – reads: “We repeat what the American bishops said in 2006:” If a Catholic in his or her personal life or professional knowingly and stubbornly rejecting the doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and stubbornly repudiating the definitive teaching (of the Church) on moral matters, it would seriously diminish its fellowship with the Church.
The quote continued: “Receiving Holy Communion in such a situation would not be in keeping with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so he or she would have to abstain. “
As initiates predicted, this project of “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church” does not mention the debates over the sacramental status of Catholic politicians who have always defended abortion rights, such as Biden or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
However, he links certain points on this subject by drawing inspiration from the writings of Pope Francis.
“Lay people who exercise a certain form of public authority have a particular responsibility to embody the teaching of the Church in the service of the common good,” notes the project. “Pope Francis has warned us that in our ‘throwaway culture’ we need to fight the tendency to think of people as ‘throwaway’. … Ultimately, “people are no longer seen as a primary value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled”, “not yet useful” – like unborn children – or “ is no longer needed ”- like the elderly. “
Some American bishops – with close ties to Pope Francis – have argued that this USCCB statement should be delayed or eliminated altogether.
To be frank, bishops know they have other issues affecting the bottom line of American parishes, according to Timothy P. O’Malley, executive director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.
“Denying Communion to Mr. Biden will not stem the decline in attendance at Sunday Mass,” he argued in America magazine, a Jesuit publication. “This will not end the cronyism that has led to the rise of figures like Theodore McCarrick, or the clericalism that still unfolds in too many American parishes. It will not suddenly bring together a church … whose members are sometimes more likely to bend their knees before an elephant or a donkey than before the Lord Eucharist.
However, a new poll from Saint Leo University has proven that these debates will not end anytime soon. Of those Catholics who responded, 47.4% agreed that “Communion should be denied to leaders who are in favor of legal access to abortion.”
The ultimate question is whether Catholics who challenge ancient Church doctrines on abortion and marriage are guilty of “serious” or “fatal” sins. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that the clergy, when dealing with those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,” should deny them Holy Communion, while urging them to go to confession.
As indicated in the “Eucharistic Coherence” project: “There are sins… which break the communion we share with God and the Church. …
“The person who, by his own action, has broken communion with Christ and his Church, but receives the Blessed Sacrament, acts inconsistently, both claiming and refusing communion. It’s a counter sign – it expresses a fellowship that has in fact been broken.
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.