“As a convert, I never expected much of the bishops,” Dorothy Day wrote in a 1968 letter. “In all history, popes and bishops and abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy. I never expected leadership from them.” Many Catholics, and not only converts, would agree with Day’s jaundiced view of bishops—and June’s meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reminded us why that’s the case. President Joe Biden’s worthiness to receive Communion dominated coverage of the proceedings, a predictably divisive outcome that underscored the bishops’ political obtuseness and pastoral failings.
Not long after last year’s election, USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez announced that a special working group would be formed to deal with Biden—the nation’s second Catholic president, but one whose support for legal abortion created what Gomez called an unusually “difficult and complex situation.” Then, on the day of Biden’s inauguration, Gomez issued a statement that emphasized where they disagreed, “most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” In February, the USCCB’s working group recommended that a document explaining Church teaching on the Eucharist be drafted, and that it insist on “the fact that our relationship with Christ is not strictly a private affair.” When that proposal was taken up by the U.S. bishops last month, most observers assumed it was aimed at Biden.
The USCCB’s leadership has since tried to walk back any suggestion that they had Biden in mind. “The question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot,” they claimed in a recent press release. “The vote by the bishops last week tasked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine to begin the drafting of a teaching document on the Eucharist.” Alas, their protests were betrayed by bishop after bishop who couldn’t help blurting out during the meeting that Biden was the problem.