US Catholic bishops are debating whether President Joe Biden's support for abortion rights should disqualify him from receiving communion, an issue that has deepened rifts in the church since the Democrat took office.
At their assembly in Baltimore, the bishops are scheduled to discuss a document clarifying the meaning of Holy Communion, a sacrament central to the faith. The bishops have been divided over how explicitly the document should define the eligibility of prominent Catholics like Biden to receive communion due to political stances that contradict church teaching.
The meeting runs through Thursday, and the document needs a yes vote from two-thirds of the conference to pass.
Some conservative bishops have argued the conference must rebuke politicians such as Biden who support abortion rights contrary to church teaching. That contingent has called for the document to set explicit standards of eligibility for receiving the sacrament.
Others have cautioned against weaponizing the Eucharist and withholding it as a means of punishing specific political stances.
Some 55% of US Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 59% of the general population, according to a Pew Research survey conducted in April.
Biden, the first Catholic US president since John F. Kennedy, has said he personally opposes abortion but supports a woman's right to choose. He has vowed to protect abortion rights in the face of increasingly restrictive laws enacted by states. Last month, his administration called on the Supreme Court to block a Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks.
The debate over communion eligibility has sown further discord as the church struggles to retain a fractured membership. Nearly 20% of US Catholics have left the church in the past two decades, according to a Gallup poll in March, as sexual abuse scandals involving predatory priests have emerged and members disagreed on social issues.
A draft of the document in question, published earlier this month by the Catholic newsletter The Pillar, does not mention Biden or any politician by name, but states that "people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to embody the church." It says Catholics who live in a state of "mortal sin" without repentance should not receive communion, but does not say who should sit in judgment.
A spokeswoman for the conference declined to comment on the draft.
The conference states on its website that it will not implement a "national policy" on withholding communion from politicians.
Biden met privately with Pope Francis at the Vatican last month and said afterward that the pope had told him he was a "good Catholic" who can receive communion.
Prior to that meeting, Pope Francis, whose liberal theology has ruffled many conservative Catholics since his election in 2013, appeared to criticize U.S. bishops for dealing with the issue in a political rather than a pastoral way.