The times when Catholics and Protestants clashed on the streets of American cities are in the past. But despite this, the Catholic bishops from the United States still have enough enemies. One of them is the president of the country, Joe Biden, who, ironically, is himself a Catholic. And the second Catholic head of state in the history of the United States. The main claim of the clergy is that the Democrat supports the right to abortion, which, according to the church, is a grave sin.
Last week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops held an annual meeting, where it voted for the need to develop a document that would determine which Catholics deserves and who does not deserve the Eucharist. Its adoption may lead to the fact that American politicians who support abortion, including Joe Biden, will not be able to participate in the main sacrament of their church.
168 participants of the conference voted for the creation of the draft document against 55, with six abstentions. According to The New York Times, this indicates the strengthening of the conservative wing within American Catholicism. For Biden, a Catholic who regularly attends Mass and observes all Christian rituals, refusing communion from a religious point of view means “deprivation of eternal life.”
What is the Eucharist?
This is an important ritual for Christians, which sends believers to the Last Supper. According to the interpretations of the Gospel, it was then that Jesus Christ shared his last meal with 12 followers and predicted the betrayal of one of his disciples.
The participants of the Eucharist consume consecrated bread and wine especially, which symbolize the flesh and blood of Jesus. According to the church, the rite is necessary for “unity with God” and “salvation of the soul.” According to the canons of Catholicism, not all parishioners can take part in it, but only those who are Catholic.
There are other limitations as well. For example, a parishioner who has committed a “grave sin” and has not confessed cannot participate in the rite. It is based on this point that the American bishops hope to excommunicate some American Catholic politicians who support abortion from the Eucharist.
What was Biden guilty of?
Joe Biden has repeatedly publicly stated that every woman should have the right to determine for herself whether to give birth to a child or not. He also promised to support the right to abortion at the federal level to give women the opportunity to circumvent restrictive laws in conservative states.
Just a week after taking office as president, Biden signed an executive order that officially lifted Trump’s ban on helping international medical organizations that perform abortions or advise people on this procedure. The Democrats also opposed the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits covering abortions with state insurance.
According to Reuters, Biden has long supported the Hyde Amendment, but changed his position during the presidential campaign in 2019, saying that the right to abortion is under attack in many states and is becoming increasingly inaccessible to low-income women.
The Catholic Church in the United States did not appreciate such a change in views.
“Abortion is a direct attack on life, which also hurts a woman and undermines the foundations of the family,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This issue is not only someone’s personal decision, but it also affects fundamental values, such as issues of brotherhood, solidarity, and inclusion in the human community.”
Will the president lose “eternal life”?
Obviously, the conference cannot prohibit Biden from taking communion. Only the Pope has such powers. However, the right to refuse this rite to the president remains with the local bishops. Whether they will do this or not depends on each minister.
For example, in 2019, the president was no longer allowed to receive communion in one of the churches of the state of South Carolina, just because of his position on abortion. At the same time, Cardinal Wilton Gregory from Washington has already stated that he will not limit the president in any way. Bishop-elect William Koenig of Wilmington (Delaware), Biden’s hometown, has not yet commented on the issue.
Biden himself seems to be sure that church sanctions will not be imposed on him. Commenting on the initiative of the bishops, he noted that this is a personal issue and he “does not think” that this “can actually happen.”
The situation with Biden is not the first time that the US clergy uses the sacrament to influence the country’s politics. In 2004, retired Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput said that voting for a presidential candidate like John Kerry (who supported the right to abortion) would be a sin. According to Chaput’s instructions, to receive communion after the election, Kerry’s supporters had to first confess.
What do believers think?
Although the church opposes abortion, more than half of US Catholics support the right of women to terminate a pregnancy. Also, the majority of believers do not believe that the president should be denied communion. At the same time, abortion is not the only issue that the US church and secular authorities look at differently.
Another example is the death penalty, which is legal in more than half of the states and at the federal level. In 2018, Pope Francis called this practice wrong. As for Biden, during his presidential campaign, he promised to work on the abolition of federal executions and urged states to abandon capital punishment.
Another stumbling block between the authorities and the clergy is same-sex marriage. They became possible across the country after the Supreme Court overturned all state bans on such unions in 2015.
The initiative that the bishops decided to develop should appear during the summer. It will then be submitted for amendment. The final vote on it is expected in November. This will probably lead to the approval of the document.
However, according to the rules, it must be approved in the Vatican, where such steps are not too welcome.
As The New York Times notes, the Holy See has already tried to dissuade American bishops from adopting the document. At the same time, Pope Francis himself has not yet commented on the situation.
“The bishops are well aware that they will not be able to decide who participates in the Eucharist and who does not, without the approval of the Vatican. What they can do is create information channels before the 2022 election cycle and even more strongly incline conservative Catholics to the Republican camp,” MSNBC columnist Anthea Butler writes.