The Plenary Assembly of the American Episcopal Conference, the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), which opens virtually Wednesday, June 16, promises to be stormy. On the menu, in particular for the three days of discussions, a vote on the drafting of a document on “The meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church”. The holding of this debate results from the unease of several bishops reputed to be conservative in the face of the presence, at the highest echelons of power, of elected Catholics openly in favor of abortion. Starting with President Joe Biden and the leader of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, the third figure in the federal state.
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Since the drafting of such a document was proposed by a USCCB committee tasked in November with examining the challenges posed by the Biden presidency, the bishops have made no secret of their dissent on the issue, even if it means putting undermines the tradition of consensus observed by the assembly. In April, Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, sent a letter to the Archbishop of Denver, Monsignor Samuel Aquila, criticizing a forum in which the prelate had called on bishops to defend the Eucharist, “Whose holiness is diminished” when it is received by individuals who are not “Worthy”, in particular political figures who “Rule in violation of natural law”.
In May, the fractures took on a new dimension with the revelation of a letter signed by 47 bishops, including five cardinals, asking Mgr José Gómez, president of the USCCB, to postpone this reflection to a later meeting, in person. “It is impossible to address these questions of a serious nature(…) Productively in the fractured and isolated context of a virtual meeting ”, argued the signatories, including Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington. Despite the tensions, the discussion was kept on the agenda.
This is not the first time that the bishops are divided on the subject of communion for elected officials in favor of abortion or euthanasia. The candidacy of Democrat John Kerry for the 2004 presidential election had already caused a stir within the episcopal conference. “At the time, a minority of bishops were hostile to excommunication. Maybe others agreed, but didn’t say anything publicly. Today, more of them are coming out of the woods ”, observes Steven Millies, associate professor of public theology at the Catholic Theological Union, a Chicago-based school of theology.
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The consequence, according to him, of the growing polarization of American society. “Like the population, the bishops have become more and more politically divided. American bishops are also… Americans. “ During the campaign, Joe Biden’s pro-abortion positions had divided bishops, even though a majority of American Catholics share the Democrat’s views and want voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) legal in “All” or ” most “ cases, according to the Pew Institute.
A debate in question
Faced with criticism, several bishops and personalities, hostile to the line of Pope Francis, defended the need to debate the “Eucharistic coherence” without delay to preserve the integrity of the Church. At the end of May, the archbishops of San Francisco and Denver, Mgrs Cordileone and Aquila, stepped up to denounce the attempts to postpone the debate. “As bishops we would be failing in our mission as pastors (if the issue of fellowship were ignored), especially when those in preeminent positions reject the basic teachings of the Church and insist on being allowed to receive fellowship. “, Bishop Aquila said.
Bishop Gómez recalled in a note that a favorable vote would only open the process of drafting a document by the USCCB Doctrine Commission. The text would then be put to the vote of the Plenary Assembly, in November at the earliest. Steven Millies recalls that this document would not be binding. “Each bishop will decide whether or not to apply it. Only the Vatican has the power to impose it on everyone, he said. This process only accentuates the divisions within the episcopate. “