NEW YORK – U.S. bishops voted overwhelmingly to approve a proposal from their doctrinal committee to draft a document on the Eucharist which could have implications for Catholic politicians receiving the Eucharist, despite last minute pleas from some of the nation’s top prelates to delay.
The results of the vote were announced Friday on day three of the bishops’ spring meeting. 168 bishops voted in favor of the proposal, 55 voted against it, and there were six abstentions. There was no further discussion of the topic after the results were read, following two days of passionate remarks from bishops on both sides of the issue.
After the meeting, at least a few bishops issued statements on the results. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said he was “grateful” for the decision.
“At this historic time in the church, I would exhort us all to remember the Eucharistic martyrs who died to protect the Most Blessed Sacrament from profanation, and to take heart,” Cordileone said in a statement.
“I look forward to continuing fruitful dialogue with all my brother bishops, and I place my trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us to a real and not feigned unity in Christ,” he continued. “I ask all Catholics to pray for their own bishop, and for all of us bishops as we discern the best way to speak these profound truths about the Holy Eucharist.”
Now that the proposal has been approved, the doctrinal committee will draft the document for a vote at the next meeting in November, where it will need a two-thirds majority vote for approval.
At the heart of the controversy surrounding the soon-to-be drafted document is a subsection on Eucharistic consistency that many expect will address Catholic pro-choice politician’s worthiness to receive the Eucharist.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne South Bend, the doctrinal committee chair, emphasized Thursday that the document is not about one individual, or one category of sinful behavior. However, a number of bishops claimed the document is aimed towards President Joe Biden, and to a lesser degree House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics, because of their commitment to expanding abortion rights.
Cordileone, who is Pelosi’s archbishop, has advocated for months that public figures who support abortion rights be barred from Communion. Over the course of the two discussions on the doctrinal committee proposal this week, multiple other bishops mentioned Biden specifically as a reason why this document is needed.
Following a briefing on the status of Covid-19 vaccinations Friday, Biden told reporters “that’s a private matter and I don’t think that is going to happen.” Biden’s local bishop, Cardinal Wilton Gregory who has sole authority over barring anyone in the Archdiocese of Washington from communion, has already said he will not do so to the president. Gregory vocalized his opposition to drafting the document Thursday.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin on Thursday made the case that “voting in the affirmative (of the proposal) will produce a document, not unity.”
Bishop Douglas Lucia of Syracuse published a statement after day three of the spring assembly Friday where he took aim at the media – as multiple bishops did throughout the assembly – for reports that the bishops have approved drafting a document aimed at specific individuals.
“The primary purpose of this proposed document is to welcome Catholics back to Mass after the pandemic and to accompany the Eucharistic Revival project that will begin in the U.S. Church next summer,” Lucia said. “Hence the media is missing the point; this document is only in its drafting stage and will be accompanied by consultation with a variety of persons, including politicians.”
Even though the topic of drafting a document on the Eucharist stole the show at this week’s meeting, there were other notable topics discussed.
The bishops authorized the development of a statement and comprehensive vision for Native American and Alaskan Native ministry, which was a request from Catholic Native American leaders.
Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, chair of the committee on evangelization and catechesis, presented a Eucharistic revival plan that starts next summer, and culminates in a national event in 2024 that he hopes will draw 100,000 people.
And Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, chair of the subcommittee on catechesis proposed the creation of an institute on the catechism to respond to a changing catechetical landscape.
Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, chair of the committee on migration, and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso gave a report on migration that stems from a meeting between prelates of the U.S., Mexico, Central America and the Vatican, alongside Catholic organizations.
Dorsonville called on the Biden administration to follow through on its commitment to immigration reform and encouraged his fellow bishops to respond to the hardships migrants face in their dioceses.
Seitz spoke to the fact that migrants are escaping poverty, violence and persecution and are just looking for hope. He also warned that over the next several months the numbers of migrants crossing the border will only increase.
“I would like to invite every diocese to consider how your churches might participate in the beautiful experience of welcoming migrants and sharing their stories,” Seitz said. “This isn’t an experience just for border dioceses but can be an invitation to the entire church to welcome Christ in the stranger with compassion, dignity and hospitality.
“It can renew ministry. It can renew your parishes. Don’t be afraid to reach out,” he added.
The nation’s bishops plan to reconvene in Baltimore in November, for what will be their first in-person gathering in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg