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USCCB Votes at Spring Assembly To Draft Document On Eucharist

Msgr. Jeffrey D. Burrill, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, right, reads a message to Pope Francis June 16, 2021, at the USCCB headquarters in Washington on the opening day of the bishops’three-day virtual spring meeting. Also pictured are Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, USCCB vice president, and Archbishop JosÈ H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president. (Photo: CNS/Bob Roller)

Immigration, catechism also discussed during 3-day meeting of bishops

WINDSOR TERRACE — The nation’s bishops voted last week to approve a proposal from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrinal committee to draft a document on the Eucharist, after two days of spirited discussion on the topic that dominated this year’s spring meeting.

The results of the vote were announced June 18, with 168 bishops in favor, 55 opposed, and six abstentions. There was no further discussion of the issue on the final day of the meeting. The doctrinal committee will now draft the document for a vote at the next meeting in November, where it needs a two-thirds majority vote for approval.

[Related: U.S. Catholics Asked to Pray for Bishops as Communion Document Is Drafted]

Discussions of the proposal last week pushed the meetings well over their scheduled times. On June 17 in particular, more than 40 bishops spoke for, or against, the proposal. Both critics and champions of the proposition cited timing, unity, and politics as reasons it should or shouldn’t move forward.

“The choice before us at this moment is either we pursue a path of strengthening unity amongst ourselves or settle for creating a document that will not bring unity but may very well further damage it,” said Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who also voted against the proposal, made the case that more time is needed to make the decision.

“Voting in the affirmative will produce a document, not unity,” Cardinal Tobin said. “Voting against it will allow us to work together in dialogue to forge a broad agreement on the serious questions embedded in the issue of Eucharistic worthiness.”

According to Canon Law, in particular Canon 915, the decision of whether or not to deny an individual communion is the sole responsibility of that person’s bishops. A bishops conference cannot, and will not, ever take a vote to deny an individual communion.

In a pre-recorded address to open Thursday’s discussion, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the doctrinal committee chair, outlined the purpose and proposed content of the document. He also made it clear that the document was never considered by the committee to be about any one individual or category of sinful behavior.

However, as Catholic pro-choice politicians, particularly President Joe Biden, and to a lesser degree House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have been at the center of a months-long discourse over worthiness to receive communion, some thought the politicians were at the heart of this document, which some bishops said is divisive.

“There is an expectation out there by people because of what bishops are arguing for that we deny communion to the President, to Speaker Pelosi, and to other people that are being named,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said. “I don’t know how we get around that if we pass this document.”

Bishop Robert Coerver of Lubbock questioned if the timing is politically motivated.

“There seems to be a rush to this,” Bishop Coerver said. “I can’t help but wonder if the years 2022 and 2024 might be part of the rush, and I think we need to be really careful not to get embroiled in the political situation.”

Despite Bishop Rhoades and other members of the doctrinal committee making it clear the proposal wasn’t politically motivated, some of its supporters also brought up pro-choice Catholic politicians to make the case that the document is needed.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chairman of the USCCB pro-life activities committee, said it’s not the bishops but certain politicians that have created this controversy, noting Biden’s commitment to expanding abortion rights.

Bishop Liam Cary of the Diocese of Baker in Oregon called it an “unprecedented situation” that there’s a Catholic president who opposes the teaching of the church. And Bishop Donald Hying of Madison said he speaks with Catholics daily about Biden’s Catholicism.

By and large, the majority of bishops that spoke in favor of drafting the document expressed beliefs similar to those expressed by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who said drafting a document will create “further ways to have serene dialogue and conversation.”

Other Items on the Agenda

Aside from the conversations on the doctrinal committee proposal that took center stage this week, there were other notable decisions made and topics discussed.

The bishops authorized the development of a statement and comprehensive vision for Native American and Alaskan Native ministry, which was a request from Catholic Native American leaders.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, chair of the committee on evangelization and catechesis, presented a Eucharistic revival plan that starts next summer and culminates in a national event in 2024 that he hopes will draw 100,000 people. And Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, chair of the subcommittee on catechesis, proposed the creation of an institute on the catechism to respond to a changing catechetical landscape.

The bishops also voted to allow two dioceses to continue efforts to advance the canonization causes of Father Joseph Lefleur of the Diocese of Lafayette, an army chaplain in World War II, and Leornard LaRue, a naval captain, who later became a Benedictine monk named Brother Marinus.

To conclude the meeting, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, chair of the committee on migration, and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso gave a report on migration that stems from a meeting among prelates of the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and the Vatican, alongside Catholic organizations. Bishop Dorsonville called on the Biden administration to follow through on its commitment to immigration reform and encouraged his fellow bishops to respond to the hardships migrants face in their dioceses.

Bishop Seitz spoke to the fact that migrants are escaping poverty, violence, and persecution and are just looking for hope. He also warned that over the next several months the numbers of migrants crossing the border will only increase.

“I would like to invite every diocese to consider how your churches might participate in the beautiful experience of welcoming migrants and sharing their stories,” Bishop Seitz said. “This isn’t an experience just for border dioceses but can be an invitation to the entire church to welcome Christ in the stranger with compassion, dignity, and hospitality.

“It can renew ministry. It can renew your parishes. Don’t be afraid to reach out,” he added.