Catholic bishops approve document that doesn't ban pro-choice politicians from communion

National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Members of the congregation take part in a communion with social distancing during a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception June 22, 2020 in Washington, D.C. The government of District of Columbia has begun phase two of reopening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with houses of worship resuming at maximum of 50% capacity, and no more than 100 people. |

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has approved a document on communion that doesn’t overtly call for a ban on pro-choice politicians receiving the sacrament despite early speculation that it might do so following the election of President Joe Biden. 

At a general meeting on Wednesday, bishops overwhelmingly approved a document from the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine known as The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.

Eight bishops voted against the document, while 222 bishops voted in favor. Three abstained. 

With Biden, a pro-choice Catholic politician, taking office this year, there has been an increased debate among American Catholic leaders over whether Catholic public officeholders who advocate for abortion should be denied communion, a practice done in somedioceses

The document does not name Biden or any other pro-choice Catholic politicians, nor does it state that such politicians should be denied communion as long as they advocate for abortion.

The word abortion is mentioned only once, describing it along with terms like “murder,” “euthanasia” and “genocide” as actions that are “opposed to life itself.”

However, the document states that Catholic laity “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.”

“It is the role of the laity in particular to transform social relations in accord with the love of Christ, which is carried out concretely in actions that work for the objective common good,” the document reads. 

“As Christians, we bear the responsibility to promote the life and dignity of the human person, and to love and to protect the most vulnerable in our midst: the unborn, migrants and refugees, victims of racial injustice, the sick and the elderly.”

The document was primarily focused on “the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church,” especially in light of the global pandemic that resulted in churches temporarily closing down, as well as ongoing socially-distanced worship services.

“Many of the faithful appear to have had their faith and their desire for the Eucharist strengthened by such a long separation,” noted the document.

“At the same time, as pastors we sense that others, having lived without Mass for so long, may have become discouraged or accustomed to life without the Eucharist. In many ways the pandemic is still with us.”

In June, the USCCB voted 168 to 55 to approve the drafting of a document centered on the sacrament of holy communion. The was speculation the document would call on clergy to deny communion to pro-choice public figures.

After the vote, around 60 House Catholic Democrats signed a letter arguing that “the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory.”

Some, among them Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, argued that pro-choice Catholic politicians should not present themselves to receive communion over their abortion advocacy. 

“You cannot be a good Catholic and support expanding a government-approved right to kill innocent human beings,” wrote the archbishop in a recent column. 

In response to the reports and the concerns, the USCCB released a question-and-answer statement that clarified that the proposed document would not address the debate over banning pro-choice politicians from receiving communion.

“Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching,” stated the USCCB at the time.

“There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.”

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