The deliberations underway in Baltimore are likely to unfold in a tense atmosphere. Gathered in the largest city in the state of Maryland for their fall Plenary Assembly, the American bishops are preparing to vote, Thursday, November 18, on the content of a controversial document that could lead to the refusal of the communion with President Joe Biden. The text is expected to be debated Wednesday, November 17, before being put to a vote by American Church officials.
→ ANALYSIS. Will Joe Biden still be able to receive Communion?
The second Catholic president in the history of the United States is targeted by part of the American episcopate because of his support for the right to abortion. In June, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted in favor of the drafting of a document entitled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the life of the Church”.
Under this name hides in reality the principle of “Eucharistic coherence”, which implies, in order to receive this sacrament, to conform one’s acts with the teachings of the Church, in particular for political leaders. President Biden was targeted for his support for the Roe vs Wade ruling, the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. Other American Catholic politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, could be concerned.
A text that will evolve
In recent days, observers have however noted a softening on the part of the bishops, under the leadership of Bishop José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles and deemed closer to the moderate fringe of the American episcopate. Several press titles now doubt a vote against President Biden.
A first version of this text had been revealed by the conservative Catholic media The Pillar, and the name of the American president does not appear there. The document seems to place more emphasis on the divine presence during the Eucharist rather than on the refusal of the sacrament.
Only a section of the text indicates that there is “Certain sins which break communion (…) between God and the Church ”. “As the Church teaches, a person who receives Communion in a state of mortal sin not only does not receive the grace of the sacrament, but he or she commits a sacrilege”, can we read there. Over the course of the debates, the text could be revised by the American bishops.
“A good Catholic”
On October 29, Joe Biden visited the Vatican. While the issue of abortion was not discussed with Pope Francis, the US president said after the interview that the Pope had called it “Good Catholic” and that he should continue to receive communion. A month and a half earlier, François claimed to have “Never refused communion to anyone”, before warning bishops and priests against the temptation to venture into political considerations.
→ READ. Texas abortion law, the Biden government’s response
The decision of the American bishops must come in a social context marked by the restrictions imposed by the conservative state of Texas on access to abortion, making it illegal as soon as the first fetal heartbeat is detected. In a statement the USCCB had supported the law called the Texas Heartbeat Act. Several associations, such as the federal government, were outraged by this new legislation and took the case to the Supreme Court, which heard the first pleadings on 1er November.