Catholic Bishops' June Meeting to Include Debate on Who Can Take Communion

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will discuss which Catholics deserve to receive Communion at their virtual June meeting. The agenda decision comes after calls from various conservative bishops to bar Catholic politicians who are in favor of abortion rights, including President Joe Biden, from taking Communion.

Meanwhile, dozens of bishops have requested that Los Angeles Archbishop and USCCB President José Gomez remove the topic from the meeting's agenda until the group can meet in person. Gomez released a memo this past Saturday that affirmed the discussion would take place and would address whether cultural and political figures should be able to receive Communion.

Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, a conservative bishop in favor of denying Communion to politicians like Biden, said those opposed to the discussion were promoting a climate of "factionalism." San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, a critic of calls to deny Communion to politicians, wrote in an essay that it can have "tremendously destructive consequences" and that "the Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare. This must not happen."

Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez
Archbishop José Gomez holds a Communion wafer at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

A vote is scheduled on whether the conference's Committee on Doctrine should draft a document addressing the Communion issue and present it at a later date.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, one of the conservatives, criticized the request to delay the debate.

"I'm deeply grieved by the rising public acrimony among bishops and the adoption of behind-closed-doors maneuvers to interfere with the accepted, normal, agreed-upon procedures of the USCCB," Cordileone said in a statement. "Those who do not want to issue a document on Eucharistic coherence should be open to debating the question objectively and fairly with their brother bishops, rather than attempting to derail the process."

Cordileone thanked Gomez "for his integrity in assuring that the procedures of our bishop's conference are followed" and said he looked forward to "serene dialogue" about Communion policies at the June meeting.

Aquila, in his statement, suggested that Catholics endanger their souls if they receive Communion "in an unworthy manner."

"As bishops, we are failing in our duty as shepherds if we ignore this truth and how it is manifesting itself in today's society, especially with regards to those in prominent positions who reject fundamental teachings of the Church and insist that they be allowed to receive Communion," Aquila said.

In a May 7 letter to Gomez, head of the Vatican's doctrine office, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, urged the U.S. bishops to deliberate carefully and minimize divisions before proceeding with any action on the Communion issue.

Ladaria's letter made several points that could affect how the USCCB handles the issue:

— He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics regarding their worthiness to receive Communion.

— He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as "the preeminent" moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document "were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics."

— He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops' conferences in other countries "both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church."

USCCB Assembly
Indiana Bishop Timothy Doherty listens while Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on November 12, 2018, in Baltimore. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images