Catholic activists are rallying behind church leaders after Democratic politicians attacked bishops for reviewing church teaching on abortion and the Eucharist.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved creating a committee to clarify the doctrine of the Eucharist—which Catholics believe to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ—and is expected to settle debate over whether pro-abortion leaders can receive the sacrament. High-profile Democrats, including President Joe Biden and Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), have sometimes been denied communion in the past, and lawmakers were quick to condemn the effort.
Dear @USCCB: I’m Catholic and I support:
-A woman’s right to choose
-Treatments for infertility
-The right for people to get a divorce
-The right of same sex marriage
Next time I go to Church, I dare you to deny me Communion. https://t.co/bUmiyJ8TtH
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) June 18, 2021
Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers, one of the largest official ministries of the Catholic Church, told the Washington Free Beacon the bishops' vote on the document was meant not to condemn specific individuals but to bring about repentance.
"The bishops' chief interest is the salvation of the souls of Catholic politicians who flout Church teaching and the natural law on a grave matter," Check said. "Christians are confused by what they see as a lack of clarity from the USCCB and, in fact, are scandalized."
Traditionally, an individual Catholic clergyman has discretion to withhold communion from a parishioner he deems participating in unrepentant sin. The USCCB has written about communion policy before. In 2006, the conference drafted a document that said, "If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her Communion with the Church."
Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, a nonprofit political organization that advocates for the unborn, told the Free Beacon the document could unite bishops in deciding collectively to ask public officials either not to receive Communion or to deny them outright. He emphasized that the document is not a directed attack on any individual politician but rather a reminder for all Catholics about the importance of church teaching.
"We expect the document to focus on the rich teaching behind the sacrament with a focus on renewing understanding, respect and reverence for the Eucharist. We also expect the document to address the question of 'worthiness' to receive the Eucharist, including Catholic public officials who flaunt Catholic social teaching," Burch said. "The document almost certainly will not call anyone out by name, and is likely to remind all Catholics, public or otherwise, of their obligations to be 'in communion' with the Church."
The Biden administration moved to undo a Trump-era regulation that forbids health care providers from receiving federal funding to cover contraception and STD screenings if they refer patients for abortions. Planned Parenthood withdrew from the program as a result of the Trump regulation. Biden's proposed budget would remove the ban on most abortions that use federal funding. During his presidential campaign Biden promised to support a federal statute legalizing abortion if the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. "It's a woman's right to do that. Period," he said.
Democratic politicians lashed out after the Catholic leaders' Friday vote. Sixty Catholic members of Congress signed a statement that chastises Catholic leaders for the "weaponization of the Eucharist."
Pro-life activists have accused those Catholic Democrats of placing their political interests over their faith. Hugh Brown, executive vice president of American Life League, said pro-abortion politicians use their faith as cover to attack one of the central tenets of church teaching.
"Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Lieu, and people calling themselves Catholic while dedicating their lives to the promotion and protection of death are not Catholic. They are anti-Church," Brown said.
Catholics for Choice, a dissident advocacy group, has said that 67 percent of Catholics oppose withholding Communion from supporters of abortion rights, pointing to a Pew Research Poll that is divided along partisan lines. Nearly 90 percent of Catholics who identified as Democrats in the poll thought Biden should not be denied communion. Only 44 percent of Catholic Republicans thought the same.
When asked about the vote, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden does not see his faith through a political prism and that the White House was not going to comment on the inner workings of the Catholic Church. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The bishops are in the process of drafting the document and will vote on it in November.