This is only the second time in history that a Catholic president has been in the White House. For this president, however, a light of excommunication looms. On Friday, a large majority of American bishops voted to investigate the possibility of denying reception to “Catholics who are cultural, political or spiritual leaders” if they support abortion. President Joe Biden defends the right of women to terminate their pregnancies.
The bishops’ decision at their annual spring meeting is a first step towards excluding Biden from one of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. According to the 55 bishops who voted against (against 168 for), the motion is specifically directed against the president. Biden says he’s not a devout Catholic, but a staunch practitioner, who goes to Mass every Sunday – and celebrates the Eucharist there.
Support for gay rights
Immediately after Biden’s victory in the election, the Association of American Bishops set up a task force to study the “problem,” as Episcopal Conference president José Gomez called it, of Biden and his policies. on abortion and LGBTQI rights. The goal of the working group is to prepare a document for the bishops to vote on at their fall conference. Two-thirds must then agree to the document being adopted. Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has previously announced that priests in his Archdiocese of Biden will not turn down the host.
Biden himself wasted no time on the pastoral decision. Reporters asked the president for comment on Friday. “It’s a private matter,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Pope Francis has not commented on the decision of the American bishops. In May, the Vatican urged the American Bishops’ Conference to find unity to make such a drastic decision.
The issue appears to highlight tensions in a church struggling with declining membership. Multi-year research conducted by the Gallup agency shows that secularization has hit the Catholic Church in the United States harder than the Protestant Church. Over the past two decades, the degree of clergy among American Catholics has increased from 76 percent to 58 percent.
The Catholic Church in the United States has been hit by major scandals surrounding the abuse of children in its care. In several dioceses, investigations have uncovered years of abuse involving hundreds of priests and thousands of children. Claims for damages have brought some dioceses to the brink of bankruptcy. Cardinal Gregory’s predecessor has resigned as Archbishop of Washington.
The fact that a president who attends church, and who regularly quotes the Bible in his speeches, has such progressive views on issues like abortion must have made American church leaders angry, said Massimo Faggioli. The Washington Post. Faggioli is a professor at the Catholic University of Villanova in Pennsylvania and the author of the book Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States. “It is remarkable that the bishops have been looking for a way to punish him for the past seven months,” Faggioli said. “And Joe Biden completely ignored them.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of June 21, 2021