US Catholic bishops are on a potential collision course with President Joe Biden after voting to commission a document that may call for him to be barred from Holy Communion.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) clashed online over whether to draw up a teaching document on politicians who support abortion.
Holy Communion is the most important ritual in the Catholic Christian faith.
The Catholic president regularly attends Church services.
Responding to news of the bishops’ vote, he said: “That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”
The Vatican has already indicated its opposition to the bishops’ move.
The US clergy is deeply divided on the issue. The Most Rev Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, warned such a document would lead to the “weaponisation” of the Eucharist (the more formal name for Holy Communion).
However, the Most Rev Liam Cary, the bishop of Baker, Oregon, said the Church was in an “unprecedented situation” with “a Catholic president who is opposed to the teaching” of the Church.
The document will now be drafted by the doctrine committee of US bishops.
However, although it will be a form of national policy, it will not be binding. Each individual bishop has the right to decide who should be blocked from the Mass in his diocese.
The document will return for debate at the next bi-annual US Catholic Bishops Conference in November.
The controversial issue of whether politicians who support abortion should receive Mass has become more prominent with the election of Mr. Biden as president.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, warned most priests would be “puzzled to hear that bishops now want to talk about excluding people at a time when the real challenge before them is welcoming people back to the regular practice of the faith and rebuilding their communities”.
In an essay published last week, Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of Dignity USA which supports LGBTQ Catholics, accused bishops of behaving “in a brazenly partisan manner” by possibly denying Communion to President Biden and others.
“Withholding Communion from any Catholic to punish them for their identity, actions or beliefs is coercion. It violates the duty of care that is the central ministry of the ordained,” she wrote.
However, proposing the motion, Bishop Kevin Roades, of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said: “We weren’t targeting particular individuals or limited to one issue, but I think we need to accept the [Church’s] discipline that those who obstinately persist in grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
Cardinal Luis Ladaria – the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s theological watchdog – urged the US Catholic Bishops Conference to delay the debate.