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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops's June 17 vote authorizing its doctrine committee to draft a document outlining church teaching on the Holy Eucharist has been largely interpreted and reported as an effort to deny Communion to President Joe Biden and other pro-abortion rights Catholic officials.
That the public witness of Biden and other Roe v. Wade-supporting Catholic leaders was a subtext of that agenda item at the USCCB's recent assembly is obvious enough. Several bishops mentioned Biden by name during discussions. Others have spent recent months discussing it publicly, and crafting such a document on the Eucharist was one of two recommendations made by a working group of bishops formed specifically to address issues associated with Biden's election as the second Catholic president, including his support for abortion rights, USCCB President Jose Gomez said at the time of the inauguration.
However, rebuking pro-abortion-rights Catholics is not why the conference voted 168-55 to move forward with the document discussing one's worthiness to receive what the church theologizes to be the “source and summit” of the Christian life, according to one prominent bishop.
“The vote was simply, 'Do they have permission to continue to work on a document, a teaching document, on the Eucharist meant for all the faithful?'” Bishop Michael Burbidge, who leads the USCCB's communications committee and who also leads the Washington-adjacent Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, told the Washington Examiner.
“There is no way anyone can accurately report that this was in any way targeting any individual or group of people,” Burbidge said when asked about the accuracy of headlines following the vote. "It will not be a single issue when we talk about what we call 'Eucharistic coherency,' but it reminds all faithful of the need to be in union with Christ and his church and his teachings."
He also sought to allay concerns that the 55 “no” votes reflect substantial doctrinal divisions, saying the chief objection among bishops was how deciding to move forward with the document in a remote environment could threaten church unity.
“They thought that the opportunity to have the discussion and the debate that we had ... would be much better handled in person rather than in a Zoom meeting,” Burbidge said.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who leads the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., did insist ahead of the vote that bishops needed to spend time together "in candid, straightforward conversation ... prior to taking the next steps toward any statement or plan of action.”
However, others at the meeting objected to the substance of an outline for the proposed document.
"The topic of Eucharistic consistency in the proposal that has been presented to us today constitutes a profound challenge [to unity],” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark said. Tobin framed the document as an attempt to deny leaders Communion and said doing that would "thrust the bishops ... into the very heart of the toxic partisan strife."
Burbidge, for his part, didn’t deny that the responsibility of officials to be aligned publicly with church teaching would be part of the doctrine committee's considerations.
“Those in high-profile positions, because of the public nature of their roles, certainly have a significant obligation because they are public,” he said. However, he insisted that the final product, to be taken up at a November meeting after bishops suggest amendments, would be a teaching resource, not a national policy for administering communion. That is the local bishop's role, he said.
Prominent members of the USCCB have stayed mostly quiet since the vote. Gomez, who, in addition to being head of the conference, leads the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, has preferred to let the vote speak for itself, a USCCB spokesperson told the Washington Examiner.
Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego, who has spoken and written with frequency about the issue, is not doing interviews about the vote to avoid “stirring the pot,” a diocesan official said. Gregory's office did not respond to multiple interview requests, while other bishops were simply unavailable for interviews, their offices said.
Responses to the vote would seem to vindicate their apprehension: It’s a political landmine, inspiring a statement of principles by Catholic Democrats who acknowledged "the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas." One California Democrat threatened to take away the church’s tax-exempt status.
Such pushback is not new, noted Burbidge, who acknowledged that the bishops were frequently met with criticism for opposing Trump administration policies.
"I think that confuses politicians who say, 'Well, the Catholic Church, they're with us on this, but with this party on this side,' Burbidge said. "We have no political home."
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Original Author: Jeremy Beaman