Update (11/17/21, 12:55 p.m.): The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted in support of a document that says, in effect, President Biden and other pro-choice politicians shouldn’t present themselves for Holy Communion. The vote was 222 to 8 with 3 abstentions. The document doesn’t mention abortion or specific politicians, but per the Washington Post, it says: “Laypeople 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 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a group of unelected officials that did little to stop and even covered up the sexual abuse of hundreds of thousands of children and young people worldwide, will decide this week whether President Joe Biden’s support of abortion rights should disqualify him from receiving Holy Communion. This is all because the Roman Catholic Church believes abortion to be a sin, and maybe because of recent financial backing from conservative groups. The Church’s own leader, Pope Francis, has said that Catholics should not be denied Communion.
Biden is the first Catholic president since John F. Kennedy Jr., and the first-ever pro-choice Catholic president, though before his 2020 run he regularly supported anti-abortion policies like the Hyde Amendment. (It’s somewhat amusing that the Church is reacting this strongly to someone who was wishy-washy on abortion until the age of 76, as an aside.)
The Bishops drafted a document after a June conference that would formalize the meaning of Communion and whether public officials—like Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who disagree with the Church’s teachings can be denied Communion. In September, Pope Francis said that “communion is not a prize for the perfect.” Biden met with the Pope in October and when reporters asked Biden about the communion issue, he said, “We just talked about the fact that he was happy I was a good Catholic and keep receiving Communion.”
The Church has more conservative views on abortion than its parishioners: The majority of Catholics in the U.S., like the majority of Americans overall, are pro-choice. Yet the Bishops have been behind efforts to prevent Obamacare health plans from covering abortion and birth control, in apparent violation of bans on lobbying for tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organizations.
The Church has been hemorrhaging members in recent years. A Gallup poll showed that, from 2000 to 2020, membership in the Catholic Church has declined by 18 points, from 76 percent to 58 percent. So why are they engaging in a fight that will very likely alienate their remaining members? As the Associated Press reported in April, it may be down to money:
Steven Millies, a professor of public theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, said the Catholic church received significant financial support in recent years from conservative philanthropists who are skeptical of Francis and favored Donald Trump over Biden in the 2020 election.
“What we’re seeing now is an effort to please donors who want a church which will wage a culture war,” Millies said.
Catholics for Choice President Jamie L. Manson said the group is in Baltimore for the conference along with progressive Catholic organizations and is holding a demonstration on Monday afternoon. Manson told Jezebel in a statement:
“[T]here is no place for partisanship, shame, or division at the table of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the central unifying sacrament of our church, and the very idea of using Jesus’s body as a tool of punishment and intimidation against pro-choice Catholics is a grievous betrayal of everything Jesus taught us. In bringing this message to the bishops’ doorstep on Monday, we are putting them on notice: you can choose to weaponize the Eucharist, but please don’t do it in the name of our faith.”
In short: Let Joe eat the wafers.