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What Is the Dispute Over Catholic Communion?


FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 file photo, President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle during Inauguration Day ceremonies in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
What Is the Dispute Over Catholic Communion?
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A committee of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops is getting to work on a new policy document that some say targets U.S. President Joe Biden.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved the writing of a document “on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.” The Eucharist is an important Christian ceremony or rite. A believer eats bread and wine in honor of Jesus Christ.

Some bishops hope the new document will criticize politicians who support abortion, and possibly deny them the Eucharist rite. Abortion is a medical operation that ends a pregnancy causing the fetus’s death. The Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion.

The Bishops voted 168 to 55 to write the document although the Vatican urged them to deal with the issue carefully.

Is the proposed document aimed at politicians?

The chairman of the USCCB’s doctrine committee, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, said no decisions have been made on the document. He said it will not include any names and it will offer guidelines, not new rules.

However, several bishops said the document is politically important and relates to the president. Those who support the writing of the document say Biden should be criticized because of his actions to protect abortion rights. Those who argued against the document say the Roman Catholic Church risks appearing partisan in a disputed political issue.

“It’s quite clear that for a lot of the bishops, a lot of the impact is political,” said William Cavanaugh. He is a professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

“You have some of them saying this is not about Joe Biden,” he said. Cavanaugh added that during online discussions so many bishops talked about Biden that it “gave the game away,” or made their opinion clear.

The bishops met online because of COVID-19 concerns.

Biden is the nation’s second Catholic president. But, he is the first to be elected since abortion became a political issue.

Biden supports the legality of abortion. The Catholic bishops want abortion to be illegal. Biden speaks openly about his Catholic faith and attends Catholic church services often.

What do Biden and other Catholic politicians say?

When asked at the White House Friday about the document, Biden said: “That’s a private matter, and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Sixty Catholic Democratic Party members in Congress signed a letter to the bishops urging them not to write the document. The letter said the Eucharist should not be denied to anyone “over one issue.”

The congress members said they follow Catholic teaching to serve the poor and want the Catholic Church to help women find other ways to deal with an unwanted pregnancy.

They added that the bishops have not targeted Catholic politicians who disagree with the Church on other issues, such as the death sentence or immigration.

What is the bishops’ position?

The bishops wrote an earlier document called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. It was last updated in 2019. In it, the U.S. bishops explain official teachings on the political responsibilities of Catholics. It discusses many political issues, but places abortion as the number one issue.

Abortion “directly attacks life itself,” the document says. It goes on to state, however, that other serious threats to human life cannot be ignored. But it is much less common for bishops to discuss denying the Eucharist over issues other than abortion.

Can the group of bishops deny Biden the Eucharist?

The bishops’ conference cannot deny Biden the rite of the Eucharist. Only the bishop where Biden attends church can do that. Cardinal Wilton Gregory is the archbishop of Washington, D.C. He has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive the Eucharist at Catholic churches in the Washington area.

What will happen next?

Next, the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine will spend the next few months writing a first version of the document.

The bishops will meet in Baltimore in November. Observers expect they will have a chance to offer amendments to the first version.

For the document to become policy, a final draft must be approved by more than 66 percent of bishops in the United States. Then, it must be approved by the Pope who is the leader of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

bishop – n. an official in some Christian religions who is ranked higher than a priest and is in charge of a geographical area.

doctrine – n. a set of ideas or beliefs that are taught or believed to be true

partisan – adj. strongly supporting one leader, group or political party over another

impact – n. a powerful or major influence or effect

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