In New Rules, U.S. Catholic Bishops Sidestep Direct Answer on Who Is Allowed Communion

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Wednesday voted to approve a new document about Holy Communion that has generated controversy within the Catholic community over the past several months.

Catholic leaders in the U.S. introduced the proposed work, titled "The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church," as a "teaching document" about Communion, also referred to as the Eucharist. The document would not create a national policy on which U.S. politicians can or cannot receive Communion, the USCCB said ahead of the vote.

The USCCB's gathering this week in Baltimore follows a virtual conference in June, during which the assembly decided it would begin drafting the Eucharist document.

On Tuesday, the USCCB opened the floor for questions about the draft, which members said had been revised several times, and bishops were invited to submit amendments for the assembly's consideration. Bishops were given until 6 p.m. local time on Tuesday to suggest further revisions.

On Wednesday, the assembly moved to approve the document in a 222-8 vote. Those bishops in attendance applauded after the vote for its passage.

US President Biden Arrives At Vatican To
Whether some Catholic politicians should be offered Communion has become an issue for some Catholics partly because of President Joe Biden's stance on abortion. Above, Pope Francis meets Biden at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on October 29. Photo by Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty Images

In its final version, the document says, "Laypeople who exercise some form of public authority 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 controversy surrounding the Eucharist document stems from concerns that Catholic leaders might move to block some Catholic politicians from receiving Communion. Those concerns came to light following President Joe Biden's inauguration earlier this year. Biden, the first Catholic to serve as president in more than 50 years, supports abortion rights for women, a policy position that is at odds with the Catholic Church.

Some conservatives have questioned whether Biden should continue receiving Communion because of his stance on abortion. Biden has said Pope Francis encouraged him to "keep receiving Communion" during his visit to the Vatican last month, although the Vatican has declined to comment on the specifics of their conversation, according to the Associated Press.

In advance of this week's conference, the USCCB took steps to explain on its website why its Committee on Doctrine was drafting the document for the assembly's consideration. The document was "not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons," the USCCB said. It would address what the assembly described as "the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist" among members of the Catholic community.

"There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians," the USCCB said. "The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church's teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us."

Addressing the attendees on Tuesday, the USCCB's National Advisory Council chairman, Mark Sadd, said he received a "rich patchwork of reflections" from the 32 NAC members who reviewed the document ahead of the November conference. He noted that the NAC's purpose was not to arrive at any single consensus about the proposed document but said the council's members were "united in our conviction that the Eucharist cannot be a tool for division."

"The Eucharist cannot be ideological, the Eucharist cannot be partisan or made into any of these through calculated expression or calculated suppression of our doctrine and belief," Sadd added.

After hearing the NAC's report and a few questions regarding the document's content from attendees, the USCCB said any bishops who wished to file amendments for the assembly's consideration would have until Tuesday evening to do so.

Some bishops wished to pass amendments with more of an emphasis on the importance of obedience, while others wanted to add the poor and human trafficking victims to the document's list of vulnerable groups. Ultimately, such amendments were not passed.