The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) clashed online over whether to draw up a teaching document on politicians who support abortion.
Some bishops advocating for drafting the document argued they had an obligation to clarify the church's teachings for all Catholics in light of inconsistencies in the faith and actions of public officials like Biden. And it raises questions of how closely the bishops will be able to cooperate with the Biden administration on issues such as immigration and racial injustice.
Church officials announced Friday afternoon that the bishops had voted 165 to 88 to draft a "formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church". Biden, the second Catholic to serve as USA president, has alarmed many bishops by supporting same-sex marriage and abortion rights, views they say are antithetical to church doctrine.
The conference's Committee on Doctrine is now expected to draft the document ahead of a November meeting when the bishops will review an amendable draft. To be formally adopted, the document would need support of two-thirds of the bishops.
"The Eucharist.will inevitably become a tool in the vicious partisan turmoil that roils our nation", he said.
Nevertheless, at a time when the Catholic Church has been beset by a decades-long paedophilia scandal and membership has declined, the decision to consider punishing perhaps the best-known American Catholic - a man who attends Mass weekly and regularly speaks of his faith - comes with considerable risk.
Democrats have also mounted increasing pressure on Biden to take action in defense of abortion rights as Republicans, motivated by the defeat of Donald Trump by Biden and the shifting of both houses of Congress to nominal control by the Democrats, have rushed to introduce a wave of anti-abortion bills.
US Catholic bishops are on a potential collision course with President Joe Biden after voting to commission a document that may call for him to be barred from Holy Communion.
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"That's a private matter and I don't think that's going to happen", said Biden after delivering remarks about the state of the pandemic in the U.S.
"That's a decision of his bishop", Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana said at a press conference. Six bishops abstained from the vote. Even if the USCCB approves of a statement that would ban politicians like Biden from receiving communion, it only has the authority to publish guideline statements.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., says he will not prevent the USA president from participating in the sacrament over his support for abortion.
Still, some bishops said the document itself wouldn't be about one individual and reiterated that it wouldn't bar any one person from receiving Communion, since that is still left up to individual bishops under church law. During Thursday's debate, Gregory pressed against authoring a new Communion document at this time.
The USCCB has identified the fight against abortion as its "preeminent" priority. "This is a Catholic president doing the most aggressive things we've ever seen on life at its most innocent".
The controversial issue of whether politicians who support abortion should receive Mass has become more prominent with the election of Mr Biden as president.
Biden was refused Communion in 2019 by Father Robert Morey of Saint Anthony Catholic Church in SC.
He wrote to the conference saying it would be "misleading" to suggest abortion and euthanasia were "the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics".