US President Joe Biden may be facing a fight of faith as Catholic bishops look to ban him from taking holy communion over his backing of abortion rights.
On Friday, US bishops voted overwhelmingly in support of drafting a teaching document on the meaning of the Christian sacrament, which is set to include a section on disallowing it for any Catholic politician or other public figure who goes against church doctrine.
Mr Biden, a devout Catholic who attends Mass at least once a week, also supports abortion rights – something which is at odds with the official stance of the Catholic Church.
The document, which won the bishops’ vote 168 to 55, could therefore be used to stop the President from taking part in communion, also known as the eucharist.
The vote took place at the Catholic bishops’ spring general assembly, despite appeals against it from the Vatican. The document will now be discussed further at their next meeting in November.
A Vatican official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote to the conference in May urging caution on the debate over politicians’ abortion views and communion, telling Catholic News Service it could become a “source of discord”.
Another vocal opponent to the document is Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. He warned it could lead to the “weaponisation” of the eucharist and would lead to further divisions in the Catholic Church.
“The Eucharist … will inevitably become a tool in the vicious partisan turmoil that roils our nation,” he said.
But those who supported the document insisted that it would not call out any individual politician by name, although the topic of the President’s views reportedly came up often in the discussion.
At a press conference on Thursday, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, said the committee drafting the statement “will be looking at that whole issue of Eucharistic consistency”.
“That is not the task of our committee, to look at individuals,” Bishop Rhoades said.
Mr Biden, 78, is the second Catholic to serve as President and has concerned many in the church by throwing his support behind such issues as same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
On Friday, when asked if he was concerned over the bishops’ move, Mr Biden said: “That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Decision up to individual bishops
Holy communion, is among the most sacred rituals in the Catholic Church and there have been calls from some conservative church leaders to deny the sacrament to politicians who support abortion rights.
It is up to each local bishop to decide who receives communion in their diocese.
In 2019, a priest at a Catholic Church in South Carolina refused holy communion to Mr Biden because of his stance on abortion.
– with wires