NEW YORK – A motion to give individual bishops unlimited time to speak on a U.S. Bishops Conference doctrinal committee proposal to draft a document on the Eucharist was ultimately denied at day one of their spring meeting Wednesday, but not before a spirited, near hour-long, debate on the timing of the proposal.
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis made the motion during what is typically a routine vote on accepting the agenda. Supporters of the motion made the case that every bishop deserves to have their voice heard on the controversial proposal. Meanwhile, those opposed to the motion called it a “delaying tactic,” and made the case that if the proposal is approved a robust discussion will take place when the drafted document is voted on in the future.
“This topic and its implications are so far reaching and putting limits on the amount of time given for our discussion will not help us,” Rozanski said. “I urge that this opportunity be offered for all who wish to speak, that the fullest discernment be achieved at our meeting.”
In the end, 59 percent of the bishops voted down the motion.
About 20 bishops made their case for or against the motion and the proposal to draft the document, before Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB ended the discussion to move the meeting along.
Among the supporters of the motion were Bishop John Stowe of Lexington and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who both brought up the political component of the months-long debate. Particularly, that the debate surrounding the document both inside and outside of the episcopacy have focused on President Joe Biden – a Catholic and pro-choice Democrat – and other pro-choice Catholic public figures and their worthiness to receive communion.
Both prelates were also among the nearly 70 bishops who signed a letter to Gomez last month to delay the vote on the proposed document until the bishops gather again in person in November.
“Rather than see this as a delay tactic, it seems that some of the brother bishops want to rush this discussion and to focus the emphasis on a teaching document on the Eucharist about whether our Catholic president is able to receive communion,” Stowe said.
Cupich said the views and statements made by members of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. has “colored the perception of this document.” He and other bishops in support of the motion also made the case that the conference isn’t following recent advice of Cardinal Luis Ladaria of the Vatican’s doctrinal to have an “extensive and serene” dialogue amongst themselves and with Catholic politicians in their dioceses before moving forward.
In a conversation with Crux at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, however, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, who serves on the doctrinal committee, believes they’ve done what Ladaria counseled them to in the letter.
“When the letter Ladaria came to us, in a sense, we were either already doing what he counseled us to do and what we’ve been doing for 25-30 years as bishops and as a conference with regard to dialogue,” Olson said. “I appreciate the cardinal’s letter. It affirms the good work we were doing, and also it offers us clarity and a structure now to continue this dialogue in the development of the document itself.”
Olson also said the document isn’t political.
“What we’re doing as bishops here is not a political statement,” he said. “Our main point is a doctrinal understanding and better grasp of the Eucharist that will go hand in hand with the ongoing work of the evangelization committee on the Eucharistic Revival.”
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois told Crux if the motion passed it would’ve almost amounted to a sort of “episcopal filibuster.” He said it’s important to vote on the proposal so that there is a draft ready for a full discussion on the topic come November.
Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe was among the bishops in support of the motion. Part of his reasoning is a belief that Zoom isn’t the proper place to take up complicated issues. But he also believes a document on the “beauty and importance of the Eucharist” and Eucharist coherence about who can receive the Eucharist are separate issues that “shouldn’t be conflated.”
“Go ahead and do something on the Eucharist but don’t include this other issue because they’re completely different issues,” Wester told Crux.
“It’s very difficult, complicated, nuanced, neuralgic and takes a lot of thought,” he added about Eucharist coherence. “Before we really take all that up we need to talk among ourselves about the main points of how we come together.”
Outside of the debate on the doctrine committee’s proposal were calls for unity from both Gomez and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.
“It’s not realistic to expect the church to stay immune from the pressures of division,” Gomez said in his presidential address. “Those pressures are all around us. So, we need to guard against the temptation to think about the church in simply political terms.”
In part of Pierre’s pre-recorded speech he told the bishops simply, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
The discussion and vote on whether or not the doctrinal committee will draft the document on the meaning of the Eucharist in church life is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, day two of the three day spring meeting.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg