US bishops flout Vatican request

Pope Francis has not commented about America’s Catholic bishops’ vote to deny US President Joe Biden Holy Communion because of Biden’s political support for abortion.

The US bishops are drafting new guidance on the abortion-communion issue, which they expect to release in November.

Their decision to vote about this matter flouts a letter from the Vatican in May.

The letter explicitly urged the bishops to avoid the vote.

The decision also disregards Francis’s pleas for them to de-emphasise culture war issues and expand the scope of their mission to climate change, migration and poverty.

The US bishops’ vote resulted in a large majority – 168-55 – agreeing to begin drafting guidance on the sacrament of the Eucharist at the bishops’ virtual meeting last Friday. Six bishops abstained from the process.

Although the guidance’s details have not been divulged, it is assumed that conservative leaders in the U.S. church will use it as a vehicle to deny communion to prominent Catholics who support abortion rights. Biden is one such Catholic.

Church law, however, says for the bishops to pass a doctrinal declaration on banning communion, the conference needs either unanimous support – and at this stage not all US bishops are in agreement. The alternative is for the bishops to have two-thirds support and the Vatican’s approval.

Vatican approval seems unlikely.

“It’s not going to get to that point,” says a senior Vatican official with knowledge of the thinking inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal watchdog.

Biden, who attended Mass on Sunday (pictured) and was named several times during the bishops’ debate, says whether he is allowed to receive holy communion is a “private matter”.

He agrees with the Vatican that it’s unlikely to happen.

The grave issue of Friday’s vote is that it particularly threatens the unity of the American church itself.

“Bishops now want to talk about excluding people at a time when the real challenge before them is welcoming people back to the regular practice of the faith, and rebuilding their communities,” Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich says.

Another critic, NCR’s Michael Sean Winters takes particular aim at USCBC President Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez.

“If you look to Gomez for leadership, you are going to be severely disappointed.

“When he was named to Los Angeles in 2010, I held out hope that his pastoral instincts would triumph over the culture warrior attitudes of some of his colleagues. I was wrong.

“Gomez has led the bishops to this point.

“His inability to stand up to the bullies in the conference has crippled it.

“Now, this man who once said, ‘There are no single-issue saints,’ has allowed the conference to descend into a functional schism.

A Vatican spokesperson commented that Francis understood that only time would change the composition of the American Bishops conference and put the American church in alignment with Rome.

“There has to be a biological solution,” he said.

“Francis has to wait for them to retire.”


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