The bishops want to clarify Communion's purpose for priests and laypeople, and call for "consistency" when worshippers present themselves for the rite, said Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne–South Bend, Ind., who is leading the writing of the document, in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, a Roman Catholic publication.
The vote is another example of the conservative American bishops moving in a more political direction, says Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University and author of Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has become "beholden to the political agenda of the Republican Party," Faggioli says. But the fact that half of American Catholic voters backed Biden shows that many are seemingly open to policies that embrace gay rights and access to abortion, even if they go against church doctrine or their own personal beliefs.
Biden also campaigned on several issues the church embraces, such as aiding refugees, advancing racial justice, ending the death penalty and addressing climate change. And some church observers are concerned that the bishops' hard-line approach to Biden is a symptom of an attitude toward the faith that could further alienate American Catholics at a time when congregations are shrinking.
The move also cuts against a welcoming tone set by Pope Francis when he became Pontiff eight years ago, allowing more perspectives to be aired within the church. Francis, who clashed with former President Donald Trump over racism and immigration, has repeatedly shown his openness to Biden in closely choreographed moves seen as signaling a desire for dialogue and engagement. In May, a papal adviser, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, sent the U.S. bishops a letter warning them that moving forward with a teaching document on Communion could sow "discord" and that efforts should be made to "preserve unity" in the church.
This isn't the first clash between Biden's faith and politics: in 2019, while he was campaigning in South Carolina, a Catholic priest released a statement saying he had denied Biden Communion because of his stance on abortion. But asked on June 18 at the White House whether he thought the bishops' decision could lead to his being denied the sacrament, Biden said, "It's a private matter, and I don't think that's going to happen."