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Heated debate before US Catholic bishops vote on Communion

In impassioned debate Thursday, U.S. Catholic bishops clashed over how to address concerns about Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden, who continue to receive Communion despite supporting abortion rights.

Some bishops said a strong rebuke of Biden is needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access. Others warned that such action would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.

The issue is by far the most contentious agenda item at the national meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is being held virtually. It will conclude Friday soon after an announcement of how the bishops cast their secret ballots on the Communion dispute.

If a majority of bishops approve, the USCCB’s doctrine committee will draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church that would be submitted for a vote at a future meeting, probably an in-person gathering in November. One section of the document is expected to include a specific admonition to Catholic politicians and other public figures who disobey church teaching on abortion and other core doctrinal issues.

Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wisconsin, said he speaks with many people who are confused by a Catholic president who advances “the most radical pro-abortion agenda in history,” and action from the bishops’ conference is needed.

“They’re looking for direction,” Hying said. 

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego countered that the USCCB would suffer “destructive consequences” from a document targeting Catholic politicians.

“It would be impossible to prevent the weaponization of the Eucharist,” McElroy said. “We will invite all of the political animosities that divide our nation into the heart of the Eucharistic sacrament.”