Not a perspective we hear often on mainstream American television. I’m glad someone’s around to provide it.
Biden’s views on abortion are newly germane because of the measure passed last week by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops authorizing a statement to clarify that Catholic leaders have a special duty to “witness the faith” if they receive communion. That’s a nudge to Biden to shape up on abortion or to stop accepting the Eucharist at mass. The fascinating backdrop to that move, though, is how the Conference has gone right politically at a moment when the Vatican, under Francis’s leadership, has gone left. This NYT piece about the tensions between the two has a whiff of schism about it:
The divergence of the conservative American church from Francis’ agenda is now so apparent as to become unremarkable, and Vatican officials and experts said Saturday that the pope’s silence [about the Conference’s measure] also underlined just how unsurprising the American vote, made public on Friday, was to the Vatican.
The deeply conservative American bishops conference has already flouted a remarkably explicit letter from the Vatican in May urging it to avoid the vote. It has disregarded years of the pope’s pleas to de-emphasize culture war issues and expand the scope of its mission to climate change, migration and poverty.
“White Catholics are increasingly Republican: About six in 10 registered white Catholic voters are now Republican, compared with four in 10 in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center,” the Times noted in another story about the standoff between Rome and the U.S. Catholic leadership. Go figure that as white Catholics have become more conservative, possibly in reaction to Francis’s relative liberalism, so too has the mostly white conference of bishops. In the end, Francis will get his way here and Biden will continue to receive communion regardless of what statement the bishops eventually issue. That’s because Biden’s own bishop in D.C., who gets to decide, says he’ll permit the president to go on participating. In addition, the bishops would need to support the statement they’re drafting *unanimously* for it to carry any authority. If they fall short but manage to gather two-thirds support then the measure would have authority only if Francis himself also supports it.
Which isn’t going to happen. The Pope’s not going to tell the president of the United States not to receive the Eucharist. But the bishops sure could put him on the spot by getting two-thirds and forcing him to take a position on the matter.
How sure are we, though, that American Catholics support the bishops on denying communion to Biden? Pew polled the issue in March and got this result:
Only 29 percent in favor. Even Catholic Republicans are nearly evenly split, a sign of squeamishness about telling the second Catholic president in American history that he can’t participate in the sacrament. The obvious reply to the lack of public support is to say that it doesn’t matter what rank-and-file Catholics think; the Church is a hierarchy and the bishops make the rules, subject to the Pope’s approval. But there’s no Church in practice if no one’s in the pews for mass. If the Conference signals to pro-choice Catholics that they can’t receive the Eucharist and those people stop attending, the Church will begin to look more like evangelical Christianity over time, essentially an adjunct of a single political party.
Maybe that’s for the best. Let the Catholics who don’t want to follow the Church’s doctrinal teachings go. But institutions as a rule tend not to seek their own diminution. Who’s going to pay the bills?
Another recent poll, this time from Gallup, found that a new record high number of Americans believes abortion is morally acceptable. Forty-seven percent say so versus 46 percent who say it’s morally wrong, the first time in 20 years of polling that the former has outpolled the latter. Republican opinion has been steady over those 20 years; it’s Democrats and especially independents who have driven the shift.
I don’t know how to explain that recent spike among independents except possibly as a reaction to Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation and the sudden likelihood that abortion might be made illegal. There may be some indies who have no firm views on abortion but feel drawn to provide a counterweight to whichever party’s in power and at risk of “overreach.” Independents might have swung around to the status quo on Roe once Barrett was put in a position to end it. Speaking of which, Gallup also found that 58 percent oppose overturning Roe, in line with opinion over the past 30 years. Nearly the same share oppose banning abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy.
Here’s McCain. In lieu of an exit question, read this amazing story about the world’s most premature baby. He was born after 21 weeks and could fit in the palm of his parents’ hands. Doctors gave him no chance of survival. He just turned one and is doing fine.
"I believe that he's doing grave spiritual harm to himself and harm to this country."
Meghan McCain blasted President Biden, who is Catholic, for being pro-choice, saying he will eventually have to "talk to his creator" and "reconcile his politics with his personal faith." pic.twitter.com/Xubbsnobv8
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) June 21, 2021