US Catholic Bishops Probably Won't Rebuke at Conference

Meeting agenda includes 'teaching document' on Communion
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 14, 2021 5:15 PM CST
US Catholic Bishops Unlikely To Rebuke Biden Over Abortion
File photo of a meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops holds meeting in 2019 in Baltimore. While some US bishops continue to denounce President Joe Biden for his support of legal abortion, the conference is likely to avoid direct criticism of him at its national meeting.   (AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File)

While some US Catholic bishops continue to denounce President Joe Biden for his support of legal abortion, their conference as a whole is likely to avoid direct criticism of him at its upcoming national meeting. The highest-profile agenda item is a proposed “teaching document” about the sacrament of Communion. Months of work on the document, by the conference’s Committee on Doctrine, coincided with sometimes heated debate among the bishops as to whether Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights are unworthy of receiving Communion. A draft of the document circulating ahead of the Nov. 15-18 meeting in Baltimore breaks little new ground, though its language could be toughened during the gathering. The draft mentions abortion only once and doesn’t name Biden or other politicians, though it says at one point, “Lay people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to embody Church teaching.”

A member of the doctrine committee, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, said he and his colleagues decided that the document should avoid any trace of partisan politics. Yet Olson remains an outspoken critic of Biden’s abortion stance. “He’s gone on record as saying abortion is a fundamental right while presenting himself as an exemplary Catholic,” Olson told the Associated Press. “The issue of public confusion is really at stake here.” While some bishops have made clear that they would deny Communion to Biden, there is no national policy on the matter. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has affirmed that Biden is welcome to receive Communion there.

Last month, after a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Biden said the subject of abortion was not raised, but indicated he had the pontiff’s general support. “We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving Communion,” Biden said. One conservative bishop, Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, had urged Francis to confront Biden over abortion. “Please challenge President Biden on this critical issue,” Tobin tweeted before the Vatican meeting. “His persistent support of abortion is an embarrassment for the Church and a scandal to the world.” Throughout the year, Francis and some of his high-level aides have sought to tone down the anti-Biden sentiment with USCCB ranks, calling for dialogue and an approach to Communion that is pastoral rather than punitive. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)

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