That subtext was made plain as the bishops debated the topic for more than two hours on Thursday: “I can’t help but wonder if the years 2022 and 2024 might be part of the rush,” Bishop Robert M. Coerver of Lubbock, in Texas, said.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who leads the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, which put forward the communion effort, replied in a news conference that the upcoming midterm and presidential elections “never entered my mind, or the committee’s.”
Anti-abortion advocates already see political opportunity in the bishops’ plan. The organization Students for Life held rallies in seven cities on Thursday to urge the bishops to vote “yes.” So far, Republicans are “not having much luck demonizing Biden,” so they are testing abortion as a potential issue on which to criticize him, as they did with transgender athletes in youth sports and critical race theory, said Mike Mikus, a political consultant in Pittsburgh who advises Democratic campaigns.
“The point is to mobilize Republicans; it is all a play to the base,” he said.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, an assembly of the country’s 433 active and retired bishops, can issue guideline statements, but it does not have the authority to decide who can or cannot receive the sacrament of communion. That power is reserved for the local bishop, who has autonomy in his diocese, or the Pope.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has made it abundantly clear that he does not support denying communion to Mr. Biden. Bishop-elect William Koenig of Wilmington, Del., Mr. Biden’s hometown, has remained largely quiet on the issue ahead of his installation next month.
Usually the bishops’ annual June meeting is a dry affair. But this week’s was the most riveting in years, not only because of the topic but also because it was contentious and revealed the stark divide, theologically and politically, among the church’s U.S. leaders.