WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Catholic parish in Washington frequented by President Joe Biden has expressed disappointment with a June vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to begin drafting a document on the Eucharist.
Holy Trinity Parish said June 27 it backs the stance of Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington that discussions prior to the vote had weakened the voice of the church.
When the bishops gathered via Zoom June 16-18 for their spring general assembly, 168 bishops voted to approve advancing a plan to draft a document to examine the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church.”
But 55 bishops opposed it and some prelates expressed concerns prior to the vote that the draft was simply the beginning a plan to exclude from the Eucharist Catholic politicians, including Biden, who back policies favorable to abortion, which the Catholic Church opposes.
Some like Gregory argued June 17 during the bishops’ meeting that the vote and discussion on the document should be postponed until the prelates are to meet in person at their general assembly in Baltimore in November so that they could talk with the “spirit of unity based upon serene dialogue,” as a Vatican official had advised.
“Cardinal Gregory serves as one of the most prominent ecclesiastical leaders in the current controversy and so it was therefore shocking and disappointing that his request to postpone the draft of portions of this document about the Eucharist received the minority of votes among the bishops,” said John Dolan, a member of the Holy Trinity parish council who read a statement by the group following the 5:30 p.m. Mass June 27.
Dolan said the council backed Gregory’s pastoral approach, adding that “Holy Trinity Catholic Church will not deny the Eucharist to persons presenting themselves to receive it.”
The Vatican official who had offered some advice to the bishops on their discussions was Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In May, he sent a letter to Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, USCCB president, urging the U.S. bishops to proceed with caution in their discussions.
In a news conference late June 16, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the doctrine committee, which is charged with drafting the document, said what is being proposed would not be a national policy and therefore the process being followed in discussing whether to move forward fell in line with Ladaria’s message.
The draft would explore “eucharistic consistency” and the church’s teaching on the reception of Communion for all Catholics.
The USCCB posted a June 21 Q&A on its website, www.usccb.org, to answer questions about what the vote meant and said that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups holy Communion was not on the ballot.”
“The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons,” the Q&A explains. “It will include a section on the church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”
Before the virtual meeting, however, some prelates had expressed worries that behind the issue was a movement to use the Eucharist as a “tool in political warfare,” as Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego described it in a May 5 essay in America magazine, and a move toward excluding Catholic politicians from the sacrament.
“Once we legitimize public-policy-based exclusion,” he wrote, “we’ll invite all political animosity into the heart of the eucharistic celebration.”
The Holy Trinity parish council said it agreed with Gregory’s assessment that in “the discussions leading up to the vote, ‘the strength of our voice in advancing the mission of Christ has been seriously weakened.'”
“Sadly, the recent vote has caused considerable desolation among our parishioners as well as Roman Catholics throughout the nation,” said Dolan, reading from the statement, now posted on the church’s website.
“As Pope Francis recently reaffirmed, Communion should be viewed ‘not as a prize for the perfect, but as a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’ None of us, whether we stand in the pews or behind the altar, is worthy to receive it. The great gift of the holy Eucharist is too sacred to be made a political issue,” said Dolan, receiving thunderous applause from the pews, which lasted several minutes.
Though Biden continues mostly to attend Mass at his home parish, St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware, he has intermittently attended Mass at Holy Trinity near Georgetown University.
The country’s first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, also attended Mass at Holy Trinity.