American Catholic bishops can avoid reprimanding Biden over abortion

While some American Catholic bishops continue to condemn President Joe Biden for his support for legal abortion, their conference as a whole is likely to avoid direct criticism of him at its forthcoming national convention.

The highest-profile agenda item is a proposed “teaching document” on the sacrament of the sacrament. Months of work on the document, conducted by the Conference Committee on Doctrine, coincided with the sometimes heated debate among bishops over whether Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights are unworthy of receiving communion.

A draft of the document circulating prior to the meeting on 15-18. November in Baltimore, breaks only a little new, though its language could become harsher during the gathering. The draft mentions abortion only once and does not mention Biden or other politicians, although at one point it said: “Lay people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to embody the teaching of the Church.”

A member of the Doctrine Committee, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, said he and his colleagues decided that the document should avoid any trace of party politics.

Still, Olson remains an outspoken critic of Biden’s abortion stance, saying the president has “increased the scale of the scandal.”

“He has been recorded as saying that abortion is a fundamental right while presenting himself as an exemplary Catholic,” Olson told the Associated Press. “The issue of public confusion is really at stake here.”

While some bishops have made it clear that they would deny Biden communion, there is no national policy in the matter. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, has confirmed that Biden is welcome to receive communion there.

Last month, after a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Biden said the topic of abortion was not raised, but indicated he had the pope’s general support.

“We just talked about him being happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving communion,” Biden said.

A Conservative bishop, Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, had called on Francis to confront Biden over abortion.

“Please challenge President Biden on this critical issue,” Tobin tweeted before the Vatican meeting. “His continued support for abortion is an embarrassment to the Church and a scandal to the world.”

Over the course of the year, Francis and some of his high-level aides have sought to downplay the anti-Biden sentiment with the USCCB ranks, calling for dialogue and an approach to communion that is pastoral rather than punitive.

The friction between American bishops and Catholic politicians who support abortion rights is a decades-old phenomenon; it reached an extremely intense stage in 2004 when John Kerry, a Catholic, won the Democratic presidential candidate.

But Biden’s election – as only the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, and the first with an explicit record in favor of legal abortion – created an unprecedented dilemma for the bishops.

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the American Conference of Catholic Bishops, last year formed a working group to assess the “complex and difficult situation” that the newly elected president’s attitudes toward abortion and other issues differ from official church doctrine , constitute. Before the dissolution, the group proposed that a new document be prepared that deals with the issue of the sacrament – a project assigned to the Doctrine Committee.

Among the outspoken Biden critics is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco – the hometown of house speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a Catholic. Cordileone has made it clear that Pelosi and Biden should refrain from receiving communion.

Cordileone told the AP that he does not expect the proposed document to highlight Biden, but he wants it to send a firm message about Catholics in public life and their stance on abortion.

He cited several “serious evils” that pose a threat to society – such as human trafficking, racism, terrorism, climate change and a deficient immigration system.

“The difference with abortion,” he added, “is that it is the only one of these serious evils that many people in public life explicitly promote.”

The incoming chairman of the bishops’ committee for pro-life activities, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, hopes the proposed document will ease the divide between bishops who were in favor of an explicit rebuke of Biden and those who opposed it.

“Sometimes you say, well, being in the middle is a kind of weakness,” he told the Catholic News Service. “These days, the position of strength and courage is often in the middle.”

Lori stressed the importance of unity in the ranks of the bishops in a time of political polarization in the United States

“We must be careful not to allow ourselves to walk down partisan alleys without an exit where there is no life at the end of it,” he told the CNS.

In a panel discussion Thursday sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, who is not in favor of reprimanding the president, criticized the proposed teaching document as at once meaningless and divisive. He said he would vote against it, but predicted it would win a two-thirds majority to be passed.

For some prominent politicians, denial of communion is not an abstract issue.

Dick Durbin, a No. 2 practicing Catholic and Democrat in the U.S. Senate, says he has been barred from receiving communion in his home diocese of Springfield, Illinois, for 17 years under directives from two successive bishops. Although he has found an inviting church in the Archdiocese of Chicago, he is still uncomfortable with the situation.

“It’s not a happy experience,” Durbin said in a recent interview with the Jesuit publication America. “I’m careful when I go to a church I’ve never been to before.”

The episcopal conference will include a speech by Gomez, which faces criticism from Catholic racial justice activists for recently saying that some contemporary social movements and theories – such as social justice, “vigilance” and intersectionality – represent “dangerous substitutes for true religion”. . “

“Today’s critical theories and ideologies are deeply atheistic,” Gomez said. “They deny the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature.”

The Washington-based clergy network Faith in Public Life circulated a petition – signed by several prominent activists – condemning Gomez’s statements.

“Racist justice movements have awakened our nation’s conscience to the epidemic of police killings and systemic racism,” John Gehring, the network’s Catholic program director, said in a statement announcing the petition. “Catholic bishops and other religious leaders should be on the streets with these organizers and not demean them.”

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