The US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a document that fell far short of refusing Holy Communion to President Joe Biden or others who support abortion rights, something conservatives in the Church have pushed for in spite of guidance from Pope Francis.
The document – which passed with 222 in favor, eight against and three abstentions – would need Vatican approval before any action is taken that would directly target any elected official.
“This is really something that is meant to help Catholics understand the intent of the Eucharist,” said Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
A draft of the document, which emerged from a summer of work, contained measured wording that fell far short of refusing Communion to Biden or others who support abortion rights. The only line that was seemingly pointed at the White House said, “Lay people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to embody Church teaching in their service of the common good.”
Biden, while visiting Italy last month, said Pope Francis told him he was happy he was a “good Catholic” and said he should continue receiving Communion.
Biden, who is a lifelong devout Catholic, was denied Communion in 2019 at a Catholic church in South Carolina over his support for abortion rights.
Pope Francis has spoken out against the moves by some American bishops to permit individual bishops to deny Communion to politicians who support abortion rights. The Communion refusal movement is driven by a more conservative wing of the Catholic Church.
The President’s support of abortion rights and gay marriage has often put him at odds with leaders in the church. Biden has said he is personally opposed to abortion but does not believe he should impose his views on the rest of society.
The President attends weekly Mass, often wears his late son’s rosary on his wrist and frequently speaks about the important role his faith plays in his life, particularly in carrying him through grief.
Biden’s first wife and infant daughter were killed in 1972 in a car crash right after he had won his US Senate seat. Biden’s son Beau, an Iraq War veteran who served as the attorney general of Delaware, died in 2015 from brain cancer at the age of 46.
The President has said his administration is “deeply committed” to a woman’s right to have an abortion and that his administration would “protect and defend that right.” He recently blasted a Texas state law that bans abortion after as early as six weeks into pregnancy as “extreme” and said it “blatantly violates” a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion, as affirmed by the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
Biden has also said he would seek to eliminate the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that bars federal dollars from being used to pay for abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. Biden previously supported the Hyde Amendment but reversed his position earlier this year amid criticism from his 2020 Democratic presidential rivals.
This story has been updated with additional information.