Fresh off a commendation of President Biden’s actions on the climate crisis—and ahead of his 100 Days address to Congress tonight—the USCCB is in the news as possibly seeking to deny him Communion by fiat.
A document concerning the matter will be voted on at the bishops’ next national meeting scheduled for June 16-18, and while the document itself would only be a strongly-worded message to pro-choice Catholic politicians, some bishops are hoping for something a bit more unprecedented.
This is ultimately the result of a working group formed last Fall by Los Angeles’ Archbishop José Gomez, president of the conference, to address Biden’s dissent from Church teaching. The group disbanded in February and the Committee on Doctrine picked up from there, formulating the yet-to-be-seen plan of action.
Today’s news comes courtesy of the Associated Press, whose report included comments from Pro-Life Committee chair Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, who spoke with a sharp tongue on the new presidents’ dissent from Church teaching.
He was joined by various conservative champions among the bishops, including Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone—whose diocesan Black ministry director openly called for Biden to be denied Communion, as recently as December.
Cordileone, who is not on the Doctrine committee but serves on the one for Canonical Affairs, said the document would not supersede the authority of local bishops to allow Communion as they see fit.
Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, however, went on the record saying he supports a blanket policy that would be incumbent upon all US bishops—calling the status quo a "patchwork approach".
(One version of the story also includes comments from quintessential Traditionalist voice Cardinal Raymond Burke advocating for full-on excommunication—denial of all the sacraments, and any participation in Catholic worship other than attendance—but these quotes are not presently live on the AP site’s post.)
The criticism comes on the heels of Biden’s latest public rebuttal of the bishops, in which his press secretary Jen Psaki passed along to an EWTN reporter yesterday that the Biden administration “respectfully disagrees” with Church teaching on using fetal tissue from abortion in medical research.
The AP report also included comments from bishops less supportive of Communion denial, including noted progressive Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, and the version posted on ABC also includes similar reservations from Bishop Robert McElroy in San Diego.
Both men opined that the weaponization of the Eucharist would ultimately prove counterproductive, though Stowe predicts that the proposed USCCB measure will meet with “overwhelming approval” at the meeting in June.
As the AP notes, however, Biden’s own bishop at present (Cardinal Wilton Gregory of DC) has publicly taken a stance toward allowing the president Communion, one which he has held since shortly after Biden’s election.
He is joined in this by W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware, and presumably a number of other more progressive prelates—perhaps among them Bishop Daniel Flores, chairman-elect of the Doctrine committee, who was not mentioned or quoted in today’s reports.
In any case, Naumann sees the actions of President Biden as “a unique problem”, and a direct attack on the US bishops themselves.
“Whether intentional or not, he’s trying to usurp our authority.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).