In the frustration of not being heard, and in the wake of the McCarrick scandal, those calls intensified last year as several states passed expansive abortion laws. The controversy widened an already broad gap of distrust between many Catholics and their leaders.
Biden, who supports the federal funding of abortion and in 2016 officiated at a same-sex wedding, is likely to prompt similar calls from lay Catholics in the months to come.
So here’s what’s likely to happen:
At some point between now and election day, a young priest will find Joe Biden in his communion line. Because of the priest’s convictions about the unborn and his sacramental theology, he will deny Biden the Eucharist.
Someone will see it, a report will get out. CNA may well break the story (our reporters are the best in the business.)
Biden will say very little himself, and he won’t have to.
The priest will issue a statement explaining himself, and then be roundly criticized. A cardinal will appear on television, and he’ll disagree with the young priest’s decision. Pro-choice or progressive leaning Catholics will on social media call the priest a fundamentalist, and point out, correctly but as a distraction, that Trump also takes positions contrary to the Church’s teaching. The priest’s diocese will say very little. Other priests will wonder whether their bishops will support them, if they too act to follow the Vatican’s guidance on the matter.
After a news cycle or two, the issue will mostly die down, leaving those who continue to raise their concern ever more alone, and looking ever more like zealots.
In their frustration, some will turn to a growing chorus of anti-episcopal conservative media figures who make a living criticizing the Church’s leaders. Bishops will lament the popularity of those figures.
If that prediction sounds quite specific, that’s because it’s what happened in October 2019, the last time Biden was denied the Eucharist.
Some version of that story will happen again because, as things stand, the policy and the practice of the Church on this issue diverge from each other, dramatically.
(Story continues below)
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That leaves priests who put the policy into practice standing often by themselves. It leaves some Catholics confused about how seriously the Church takes its own teaching and its own sacramental discipline. Other Catholics, those who have watched that cycle play out a few times, are less confused than demoralized, and cynical.
But if election pollsters have it right, this issue isn’t going away. Biden, who would be the second Catholic president, has a big lead over Trump. Unless something changes, he’s likely to be the first Catholic president since Roe vs. Wade, and the first to publicly support abortion.
The U.S. bishops decided on a patchwork, diocese by diocese, approach to canon 915 in 2004. In some senses, from an ecclesiological perspective, that localized approach might make sense.
But the country may soon find itself with an aggressively pro-abortion president who likes going to Mass, and a piecemeal approach to an important question of sacramental discipline. Practically, that situation is likely to foment further division in the Church, as bishops promulgate dueling policies under a national spotlight.
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that any bishop will take up the project of making a nationwide change on this issue, and there are only a few positioned well to do so.
The Archbishop of Washington and the Bishop of Wilmington, both of whom have platforms as Biden’s shepherds, are among those who could.