The campaign to get the US bishops’ conference to adopt a document effectively barring President Joe Biden from Communion burst into the open last week as several prominent bishops spoke to a reporter about the issue and San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone issued a pastoral letter on the matter.
“Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents a unique problem for us,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, told The Associated Press. “It can create confusion. ... How can he say he’s a devout Catholic and he’s doing these things that are contrary to the church’s teaching?” Naumann said that Biden’s position on abortion – that he is personally opposed but does not believe he should impose his religious convictions on others – was “a grave moral evil”.
US Cardinal Raymond Burke, who lives in Rome, has called Catholics who support abortion rights “apostates” and has long argued that Canon 915, which calls for denying communion to those who persist in “manifest grave sin” applies to politicians who support abortion rights.
In his pastoral letter, Cordileone argued that political support for abortion rights constituted illicit “cooperation in moral evil” and demanded correction. “Because we are dealing with public figures and public examples of cooperation in moral evil, this correction can also take the public form of exclusion from the reception of Holy Communion,” he wrote.
Other bishops have indicated their opposition to any such document. “I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders of the Eucharist based on their public policy stance can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponisation of the Eucharist,” said San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy at a panel discussion sponsored by the Boisi Center at Boston College.
Until now, the two bishops who arguably have jurisdiction in the matter, Cardinal Wilton Gregory in Washington and Bishop Francis Malooly in Biden’s home diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, have indicated they would not deny Biden or any politician Communion. In December, when asked about whether he would deny the incoming president Communion, Gregory said, “I want to begin a relationship with him that allows us to have a serious conversation, knowing full well that there are issues that he and I will be diametrically opposed to, but hopefully also being able to capitalise on issues that we can advance together. I don’t want to go to the table with a gun on the table first.”
On 30 April, Pope Francis accepted Malooly’s resignation and appointed Mgr William Koenig as the new bishop of Biden’s hometown. Koenig previously served as Vicar for Clergy in the Diocese of Rockville Center. At a press conference in Wilmington, Keonig did not state his position on the issue of denying Communion to the president.
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