The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted overwhelmingly to draft a formal document on the meaning of the Eucharist after a contentious debate on whether President Biden and other politicians who support abortion policies are worthy of receiving Communion at Mass.
More than 73% of the U.S. bishops casting ballots at a virtual conference this week supported tasking the USCCB's doctrine committee to draft language on maintaining consistency with the Eucharist. A section of the document is expected to include a specific admonition to Catholic politicians and other public figures who disobey church teaching on abortion and other core doctrinal issues.
The vote tally announced Friday was 168 bishops in favor, 55 opposed and six bishops abstaining.
Up next, at least two-thirds of the bishops would have to vote to adopt the new language at their next gathering slated for November. The decision on whether Biden should be allowed to receive Communion would still be left up to individual bishops, as is standard for all churchgoers, but a new document would inform those decisions.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese. During Thursday's debate, Gregory pressed against authoring a new Communion document at this time.
"The choice before us at this moment is either we pursue a path of strengthening unity among ourselves or settle for creating a document that will not bring unity but may very well further damage it," Gregory said.
The secret vote tally was announced Friday afternoon, but the lengthy debate on the measure took place Thursday during a virtual session of the bishops' national meeting.
Catholics believe that during Mass the bread and wine used for Communion become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The sacrament of the Eucharist is so sacred to the Church that some bishops have expressed concerns about whether Biden is worthy for Communion given his pro-abortion policies that run counter to the Catholic Church's pro-life beliefs.
Biden, who attends Mass regularly, says he personally opposes abortion but doesn't think he should impose that position on Americans who feel otherwise. He's taken several executive actions during his presidency that were hailed by abortion rights advocates.
Asked about the Catholic bishops' move on Friday and whether he would be denied Communion, Biden said: "That's a private matter and I don't think that's going to happen."
Some bishops believe Biden forced their hand on making a decision and the church's credibility was on the line if they didn't move forward with a document reaffirming core Catholic values.
"It’s not the bishops who have brought us to this point — it's some of our public officials," said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas during Thursday's debate. "This is a Catholic president doing the most aggressive things we’ve ever seen on life at its most innocent."
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.
Asked directly on Thursday whether Biden should receive Communion, the chairman of the USCCB doctrine committee made clear it's not up for the conference to decide but rather look at "Eucharistic consistency" more broadly.
"That's a decision of his bishop," Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana said at a press conference. "That is not the task of our committee to look at individuals."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.