Following Friday’s decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the fifty-year-old decision Roe v. Wade, and determine that legislating the legality and limits of abortion is within the power of state legislatures, some pro-abortion activists have targeted the homes of the court’s justices.

Others have laid the blame, or part of it at least, at the door of the Catholic Church. Demonstrators paraded around St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York, a city where abortion remains legal on demand up to, and including, during birth. Some online groups called for a "night of rage" against church buildings.

It...

Following Friday’s decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the fifty-year-old decision Roe v. Wade, and determine that legislating the legality and limits of abortion is within the power of state legislatures, some pro-abortion activists have targeted the homes of the court’s justices.

Others have laid the blame, or part of it at least, at the door of the Catholic Church. Demonstrators paraded around St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York, a city where abortion remains legal on demand up to, and including, during birth. Some online groups called for a “night of rage” against church buildings.

It is true that the Catholic Church remains, squarely and unfashionably, of the opinion that the voluntary taking of innocent human life is always a grave sin. This is not, however, an opinion shared by America’s most famous Catholic layman, President Joe Biden, who has demanded Congress act to enshrine abortion through all nine months of pregnancy as a right in federal law. This marks quite a departure from the Joe Biden of the 1990s, who used to parrot the then-standard Democratic line that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.”

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone recently barred House Speaker Nancy Peolsi from receiving Holy Communion over her pro-abortion activism. Many now wonder if the American bishops might do something similar with the nation’s commander-in-chief, given his resolute commitment not just to support abortion but to fight against those who oppose it.

Could the bishops excommunicate Joe Biden? Interesting as the question may be, the answer is a certain “no.”

There is no question that Biden rejects the church’s teaching on the grave immorality of abortion, or of the seriousness of that teaching, even among the notoriously fractious US episcopate. Biden’s own local bishop in DC, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, has said as much.

However much emphasis the bishops might prefer to put (or not) on abortion as an issue, the bishops aren’t actually in disagreement about what the church teaches. Where they divide is on something else altogether: Holy Communion. And this is why Biden looks set to remain a weekly Mass attendee and communicant at his chosen parish in Washington.

For sure, many bishops, in the US and in Rome, are nervous of picking a religious fight with the American head of state. But the real bone of contention between them is who and when, if anyone ever, should be denied access to communion.

When Cordileone acted to deny Pelosi the sacrament last month, he patiently laid out the years he’d spent trying to quietly and pastorally engage with the House Speaker on the issue. When it became apparent she wasn’t interested, he made clear his decision wasn’t a “punishment” but a pastoral act: the Catholic Church teaches that Christ is truly present in the Eucharistic species, which are not merely a spiritualized symbol.

To receive communion in a state of grave sin, the church says, is to commit a blasphemy and to do oneself immense spiritual harm, compounding an already gravely sinful state. Cordelione’s argument was as obvious as it was controversial among the US bishops, who spent much of 2021 rowing about just this issue.

A few of them, with the apparent sympathy of Cardinal Gregory, made clear that they see any attempt to deny anyone communion as a “weaponization” of the sacrament. They see its purpose as spiritual medicine, not a stick with which to beat malefactors.

It’s true the sacrament is medicinal and only a monster would withhold it coercively.

Listening to some of the arguments against denying communion to Biden, Pelosi or any Catholic, politician or otherwise, under any circumstances, it’s difficult not to conclude that at least a few of the bishops don’t think this is the case. Their belief seems to be invested less in the raw sacramental power of communion, and more in the importance of all being welcome.

Debate among the US bishops on this is likely to remain hot for some time to come — this month they kicked off a two-year national “Eucharistic revival” aimed at teaching and encouraging devotion to the sacrament.

Biden’s name is sure to crop up frequently in that discussion. But when it does, it will likely be in conversations that say more about what the bishops believe about communion, than on what Biden believes about abortion.

This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.