Catholic bishops back down from punishing Biden over his abortion stance

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The bishops had previously weighed denying communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.

The American arm of the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday backpedaled on its plan to rebuke President Joe Biden for his support of reproductive rights.

In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops cast a controversial vote to draft guidance that would deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights, stemming from a debate over Biden's stance. But the language was revised to remove any mention of Biden, politicians, or abortion in a draft written in September and published by the Washington Post in November.

Instead, the language in the current draft, which passed with an overwhelming majority of bishops on Wednesday, reads, "Laypeople who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to form their consciences in accord with the Church's faith and the moral law, and to serve the human family by upholding human life and dignity," according to a Post report.

"Many bishops have had a chance over the last several months in their regional meetings to discuss and offer amendments on the document on the Eucharist," the group of bishops said in a statement Wednesday. "During the debate and discussion today, the vote passed with 222 in favor with many bishops commenting on the beauty in the document."

The Vatican has weighed in on the debate in the United States several times, including urging bishops to "slow down" and consider their actions in May, before their initial discussion on how to handle Biden.

In an address to the bishops Tuesday, the Pope's ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, instructed attendees to seek unity.

"A divided Church will never be able to lead others to the deeper unity desired by Christ," he said, adding, "The Church needs this attentive listening now more than ever if she is to overcome the polarization afflicting this country."

When Biden met with Pope Francis in October, the president reported back that he had received the pontiff’s endorsement of his good standing with the church: "We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving Communion," Biden said Oct. 29 during his visit.

When the bishops first announced plans to draft a document on the Eucharist in March, the head of the Vatican's doctrinal arm, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, encouraged bishops to engage in more dialogue so that it did not "become a source of discord rather than unity."

Unlike at the tumultuous June meeting, in which bishops publicly clashed over the text of the document, the discussion by the bishops on Wednesday was relatively tepid and only featured a handful of speakers.

The most vehement opposition came from Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, a fierce proponent of denying Biden communion.

"I'm not sure that we've taken seriously as bishops our responsibility for the care of the souls of these politicians," he said before Wednesday's vote.

When asked back in June about the potential for bishops to deny him communion, Biden told reporters, "That's a private matter, and I don't think that's going to happen." 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.