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U.S. bishops to discuss whether Biden, Catholic politicians should get Communion if they support abortion rights

Catholic communion controversy
Catholic communion controversy 03:56

Whether in Washington, D.C., Delaware, or overseas, one thing is consistent for President Biden—he always makes sure to attend a Catholic mass. But the president's faith is under a new spotlight this week, as the nation's more than 200 Catholic bishops gather virtually.

Among the topics to be discussed: Whether high-profile Catholic politicians should be denied Communion if they support abortion rights. CBS News papal and Vatican contributor Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo said the Catholic church's opposition to abortion is clear.

"And even Pope Francis, you know, he has called [abortion] an abomination," Figueiredo told CBS News' Ed O'Keefe.

The bishops' focus will be on whether to draft an official document clarifying the church's position on receiving the sacrament of Communion.

"Sometimes, the church has really failed on making the church's teaching known and understood," Figueiredo said.

Catholic church policy says that any parishioner in "good standing" can receive Communion at mass. But bishops are divided over whether a vocal political supporter of abortion rights qualifies. The president has said he's personally opposed to abortion, but in 2019, he dropped his longstanding opposition to federal funding for abortion procedures.

The decision to give Communion is still up to each of the country's more than 200 diocesan bishops. Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory said he plans to give Communion to the president. But the incoming bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, the president's home diocese, hasn't said what he would do.

San Francisco's Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, one of the most vocal critics of politicians who support abortion rights, will be part of this week's discussions, which he says isn't only about abortion.

"Helping people return to the Holy Eucharist, understanding what it is and appreciating the gift, that they are living their life in a way that is coherent to what it means to receive Holy Communion " Cordileone told O'Keefe.

But Cordileone said he would not give President Biden Communion, in part because the president is publicly at odds with an issue the church considers very important. 

"We praise where we can, but we need to correct where we need to correct," he said.

But others disagree—San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy wrote last month that weaponizing the eucharist will "bring the terrible partisan divisions that have plagued our nation into the very act of worship."

Polls show church membership has steadily declined over the years, and Catholic university's Kurt Martens says the public debate over Mr. Biden's faith could be harmful.

"If you single out a president or any Catholic politician, you're blowing up bridges. A dialogue is much better than the finger lifted, trying to say, from the pulpit, 'here is what you're going to do,'" Martens said.

When asked about the implications of this meeting for President Biden, the White House said, "The president is a strong person of faith." A final resolution on this likely won't come until the Bishops' next meeting in November at the earliest. The Vatican has strongly urged them not to take it up, arguing it could politicize the eucharist.

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