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One Bread One Body

U.S. Catholic bishops approve document on the Eucharist that avoids confrontation with Biden, Pope Francis

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 222 to 8 on Wednesday to approve a document on Catholics and the Eucharist, the central rite of Catholic religious observance. Three bishops abstained.

The 30-page document, titled "The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church," is the fruit of a contentious yearlong debate on whether to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights, sparked by the election of President Biden, the second Catholic president. In the end, the National Catholic Reporter says, the U.S. bishops "approved a milquetoast text summarizing Catholic teaching on communion." The document doesn't name any Catholic politicians, only obliquely refers to their special responsibility to model Catholic teaching, and barely mentions abortion.

"Lay people 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 document says. And "that's as close as the document got to Biden, who on Wednesday was in Detroit to promote electric vehicles and his infrastructure bill," The Washington Post notes

Two weeks after Biden's election, the USCCB president, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, had called for a working group to address the "difficult and complex situation" and "problem" of a pro-choice Catholic president who regularly attends Mass. He went after Biden directly on Inauguration Day. On Monday, Gomez told reporters "the intention of the document since the beginning was to educate Catholics about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist."

The Vatican, and Pope Francis himself, warned the bishops against politicizing the Eucharist, or the partaking of bread and wine the Catholic Church teaches have been substantively transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican's representative to the U.S., reminded the bishops on Tuesday about "the temptation to treat the Eucharist as something to be offered to the privileged few." 

After an unusually long meeting with Pope Francis last month, Biden said "we just talked about the fact that he was happy that I was a good Catholic and keep receiving communion." The Vatican has declined to comment on Biden's account but has not denied it, Religion News Service notes.

The approval of the Eucharist document capped the USCCB's five-day annual fall meeting in Baltimore, their first in-person gathering since 2019.