FLASHBACK: U.S. Bishops Sidestep Confrontation with Joe Biden Over Communion

In November 2021, hundreds of the country’s Catholic bishops, their names on tags hanging from green lanyards around their necks, sat at long tables inside a conference room in Baltimore on Wednesday to vote on pressing issues facing the American Catholic Church.

First, the bishops tested their electronic keypads by voting whether to have ice cream at the break. Ice cream got the votes. But later in the day, a more significant decision came up, when the bishops voted on a 30-page teaching about the Eucharist, Catholicism’s central ritual of taking bread and wine to be in the presence of Jesus Christ.

The vote and the document’s wording were closely watched for signs that the bishops may include a rebuke of President Joe Biden, the country’s first Catholic President to support access to abortion, and open the door for priests to deny the Communion rite to public officials like the President who hold policy positions that run counter to church teachings.

But that didn’t happen. The hardliners backed down, and, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a softer wording in an effort to keep the conference unified. Instead of calling out Catholic politicians who support access to abortion, the document included instructions for Catholics “who exercise some form of public authority” to look inward. Those worshipers, the document states, “have a special responsibility to form their consciences in accord with the Church’s faith and the moral law, and to serve the human family by upholding human life and dignity.” The document passed by a wide margin.

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