Several bishops - including Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles and Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland - have referred to this study as “a wake up call,” and Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria released a teaching document on the Eucharist a year earlier than planned as a means of addressing the confusion.
With these statistics in mind, the bishops may find it important to focus their Eucharistic coherence document on the larger issue of Catholics believing in the Real Presence when they receive Communion.
But while there may be ample reason for the bishop to address a broader audience in their forthcoming document, it remains to be seen what kind of reception they will receive. The bishops’ credibility is still badly hurting in the wake of the McCarrick sexual abuse and cover-up scandal.
In addition, it may be hard for the bishops to come across as authoritative when there is so much division within the conference. There has already been opposition to a USCCB statement on “Eucharistic coherence” during the Biden presidency, as well as application of canonical penalties.
At a Feb. 1 online panel, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said that denying politicians Communion would be seen as “a weaponization of the Eucharist, and an effort not to convince people by argument, by dialogue and reason, but rather to pummel them into submission on the issue.”
At that same panel, former USCCB staffer John Carr said that bishops should spend more time talking about the humanity of the unborn than about denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians.
“There’s a reason why, throughout history, the Church hasn’t done this,” Carr said. To do so, he said, “seems to me theologically inappropriate.”
Without a unified approach, the bishops’ conference may find it challenging to reach precisely the segment of Catholics whom they most hope to reach with their message. If many Catholics already believe Communion to be just a “symbol,” as do Protestant denominations, they may not take kindly to being told by bishops to examine their consciences before approaching the altar rail—even if this is precisely what the Church has taught for more than two millennia.
Another consideration - as the bishops hope to help Catholics recover a proper sense of worthiness to receive Communion - is the connection with the sacrament of confession.
Although certain dioceses promote the sacrament of confession during Lent, there has not—yet—been mention by bishops of the need for confession as part of catechizing the faithful on reception of Holy Communion.
A statement of the bishops on “Eucharistic coherence” might address the need for frequent confession if it is also to address reception of Communion.
These topics give an added importance to the release of the “Eucharistic coherence” document. How the bishops handle some of the issues surrounding the document could offer insight into how the conference plans to address other key questions regarding sacramental catechesis, internal division, and Catholic politicians in the coming months and years.