Trouble is brewing between the Vatican and American bishops over the right of America's second Catholic president to receive Communion. The Vatican has issued what the New York Times calls "a remarkably public stop sign" telling conservative bishops not to try to deny the sacrament to President Biden and other politicians who support abortion rights, but the bishops are expected to press ahead with plans to rebuke Biden at a virtual national meeting that begins Wednesday. Pope Francis recently preached that Communion "is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners" and his allies say that while the church's opposition to abortion is unwavering, the pontiff is deeply concerned by attempts to use access to the sacrament as a "political weapon."
Conservative bishops make up at least half of the 273-bishop conference and a vote on drafting a document on the Communion issue is expected to go ahead despite the Vatican's opposition—but with scores of bishops opposed, the document would have no chance of gaining the unanimous support needed for ratification. Analysts say many of the conservative bishops involved consider both the pope and Biden too liberal. Steven Millies, associate professor of public theology at the Catholic Theological Union, tells the AP that this week's meeting will be a crossroads for the church. The most important thing on the agenda should be the adoption of a framework for youth and young adult ministry, but "the US bishops seem determined to keep abortion and partisan divisions front-and-center, inevitably squelching any focus on ways the church can appeal more broadly to young people," he says. (Read more President Biden stories.)