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US bishops approve ‘teaching document’ that may rebuke Biden, other politicians supporting abortion rights

In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 file photo, President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle during Inauguration Day ceremonies in Washington.
EVAN VUCCI / AP

Catholic bishops in the U.S. overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a “teaching document” that many of them hope will rebuke Catholic politicians, including President Biden, for receiving Communion despite their support for abortion rights.

The decision, vehemently opposed by a minority of bishops, came despite appeals from the Vatican for a more cautious and collegial approach to the divisive issue. 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.

The result of the vote — 168 in favor and 55 against — was announced Friday near the end of a three-day meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was held virtually. The bishops had cast their votes privately on Thursday after several hours of impassioned debate.

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.

Supporters of the measure said a strong rebuke of Mr. Biden is needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access, while opponents warned that such action would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.

As a result of the vote, the USCCB’s doctrine committee will draft a statement on the meaning of Communion in the life of the church that will be submitted for consideration at a future meeting, probably an in-person gathering in November. To be formally adopted, the document would need support of two-thirds of the bishops.

One section of the document is intended to include a specific admonition to Catholic politicians and other public figures who disobey church teaching on abortion and other core doctrinal issues.

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Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wisconsin, said during Thursday’s debate that he speaks with many people who are confused by a Catholic president who advances “the most radical pro-abortion agenda in history,” and action from the bishops’ conference is needed.

“They’re looking for direction,” Hying said.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego countered that the USCCB would suffer “destructive consequences” from a document targeting Catholic politicians.

“It would be impossible to prevent the weaponization of the Eucharist,” McElroy said. He warned that the initiative would weaken the bishops’ ability to speak on issues such as poverty, racism and the environment.

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