President Biden on Friday sidestepped questions about a controversial proposal by U.S. Catholic bishops that could result in denying him the sacrament of Communion because he supports abortion rights.
“That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Mr. Biden told reporters after a speech urging Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has voted to draft guidelines possibly defining who should and should not receive the Eucharist. The move has been seen as a first step by conservative Catholic clerics to limit or prohibit serving the Eucharist to Mr. Biden and other pro-choice Catholic politicians.
Other prominent Catholic politicians who have supported abortion rights include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat.
The official Catholic Church position is that those who support abortion should not take Communion.
The vote, taken Thursday but revealed Friday, was 168-55 in favor of drafting the guidelines with six abstentions. A two-thirds majority of the Catholic bishops would be needed to pass any new guidance, and the Vatican has sent signals it does not support the initiative.
Mr. Biden’s presidency has laid bare divisions among 70.4 million American Catholics. The proposal was introduced in November after the election of Mr. Biden as the nation’s second Roman Catholic president.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory — the archbishop of Washington, D.C. who has previously said the president is welcome to take Communion in his diocese — told the virtual bishops’ meeting, “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 may not bring unity but may well further damage it.”
But Bishop Thomas Daly of the Diocese of Spokane in Washington state said those calling for further discussion before approving the document may be seeking not “listen, but to delay.”
Doctrinal committee chair Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, who on Tuesday walked back earlier reports that the document would impose restrictions on those who go forward to receive the Eucharist, told bishops Thursday that while the question of worthiness would be considered in the document, the proposal did not intend to focus on a specific person or action.
Often described as “very Catholic,” Mr. Biden has frequently been photographed holding a rosary belonging to his late son, Beau, who died of glioblastoma in 2015 at age 46. The president regularly attends Mass, including visiting the Sacred Heart and St. Ia Church in St. Ives, Cornwall, last weekend while attending the Group of Seven summit in England.