23 June 2021, The Tablet

Bishops must not bar Biden

The politics of Communion


The bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States have embarked upon a course which is gravely damaging to the universal Church, to the interests of all its members and to the common good. By a majority of 168 to 55, they have set out to draw up a policy statement that is intended, despite any protestations to the contrary, to ban Joe Biden, the President of the United States, from receiving Holy Communion. They want Mr Biden, a practising Catholic, to commit to the repeal of federal laws that allow women access to legal abortion, which he has said he will not do, though he is personally opposed to abortion. The pressure they hope to apply to him by denying his access to Communion is a brazen infringement of the separation of Church and State, guaranteed by the Constitution of the US.

Under canon law, only the local bishop can bar someone from Communion. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, has made clear that Mr Biden will continue to be permitted to receive it in the archdiocese, regardless of what the majority of bishops decide. That does not diminish the significance of a policy document that is intended to have universal application. In May, the Vatican effectively warned them to desist, pointing out that such a document “could become a source of discord rather than unity” within the Church. The US bishops are declaring that they know better than the Pope where the truth lies in the delicate balance between religious faith and civic order – between God and Caesar.

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