NEW YORK –Bishop Kevin Rhoades and Cardinal Joseph Tobin emphasized Tuesday the importance of dialogue with the whole American Church, not just the episcopacy, in formulating a new bishops’ conference document on the Eucharist.
“What we need is a broader consultation with the American Church on the mystery of the Eucharist and not one that is perceived as political action,” said Tobin, archbishop of Newark, who is a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. “It will make a more useful document.”
Rhoades, the chair of the U.S. Bishops Conference Committee on Doctrine that will ultimately draft the document, recalled a conversation he had with about 100 young adults in South Bend Tuesday night on the Eucharist, where he asked what they wanted to see in the document.
“It’s important that we bishops listen to our people,” said Rhoades, bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
The prospective document for months has been a source of division among Catholics, both the laity and clergy. In particular, a subsection of the proposed document on “Eucharistic consistency” that many believe will be aimed at pro-choice Catholic politicians, although Rhoades has maintained it will not directly address any individual person or group.
Rhoades and Tobin shared their perspectives on the document and the process up to this point Tuesday during a Georgetown University Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life online dialogue, “Communion, Catholics, and Public Life: Where Do We Go from Here?”
Participating as a panelist in the dialogue, John Carr, the Initiative’s co-director, implored the bishops as they continue to draft the document and in general to strive for unity in the Church.
“Be pastors. Don’t be chaplains to factions. Help us see what brings us together. Help us come out of the pandemic,” said Carr, who previously served as the director of the USCCB Office of Justice, Peace, and Human Development for two decades. “Help us see ourselves as one family and faith united by the Eucharist doing Christ’s work and invite people in. Don’t push people away.”
Rhoades said his committee was approached by USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez after a working group created by Gomez in November to navigate the relationship with the Biden administration recommended the publication of a document on Eucharistic coherence.
Rhoades clarified that instead of a specific Eucharistic coherence document, Gomez asked them to create a broader teaching document on the Eucharist, akin to what they’re drafting now. The hope is it will contribute to a Eucharistic Revival, part of the USCCB’s 2021-2024 strategic plan, “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of our Healing and Hope.”
The current document, that is yet to be formally drafted, will focus on the mystery of the Eucharist to be believed, to be celebrated and to be lived. The latter will contain the section on Eucharistic consistency, Rhoades said. It will be up for a vote when the bishops meet in-person for the first time since 2019 at the fall assembly in November.
The bishop noted that it will not be establishing norms or a national policy for who can receive communion. The Church’s discipline regarding the reception of Communion is already laid out in Canons 915 and 916, and the decision to bar any individual from Communion is up to the bishop of the person’s particular diocese.
During the dialogue, Rhoades didn’t offer any indication of what specifically will be in the section on Eucharistic coherence, explaining the Doctrine Committee is still waiting to receive input from the regional bishops’ meetings that are to be completed by the end of August.
The 2004 USCCB statement “Catholics in Political Life,” and 2006 document “Happier Those Who are Called to a Supper,” among other resources, will also be consulted.
Despite Rhoades clarification, Tobin said everything he saw from the creation of the working group up until the vote on the document in June contributed to his vote against it.
The cardinal said there was “initial confusion” by the creation of a working group when the Biden administration was barely off the ground. Followed by Gomez’s letter around the inauguration that “gave additional characterization of what this document was going to be about.”
And unrelated to politics, he firmly believes the bishops need more time.
“As bishops our relationship with each other has to be a relationship of discernment where we try to listen in many different ways to how the Holy Spirit is speaking to the church today,” Tobin said. “I don’t think the conditions of the pandemic allowed that.”
Regardless of the proposed documents intentions, it has thrust the debate about pro-choice Catholic politicians rights receiving the Eucharist to the forefront of the American Catholic Church, which Carr said is a “terrible thing” considering the timing.
“People have said in the midst of a pandemic, racial reckoning, let’s have a fight about whether the president ought to be able to receive communion,” Carr said. “We should spend our time talking about the humanity of the unborn child, and of all life, rather than fight about whether or not the second Catholic president ought to be able to go to communion.”
He suggests instead of pushing them away the American Catholic faithful and clergy should “engage our politicians and try to pull them back in so they see the richness of our tradition in its every day form.”
Tobin also made it clear the approach to the politicians isn’t a “disjunctive proposition.”
“Either we threaten canonical sanctions or we’re blasé about the issue. No,” Tobin said. “The issue is life, and I would say in a continuum from conception to natural death, it’s not a question of defending our witness, but it’s how we do it and always with the value of the unity of the Body of Christ before our eyes.”
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