The presidency of the country’s second Catholic president is revealing deep divisions among U.S. bishops, and one after another appeared Thursday at their annual meeting to say their fraternity is now at a crossroads — although they disagree on what type of juncture they face and why.
The ballot question on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ agenda this week seemed basic: Should the conference’s doctrine committee create a draft document about the meaning of the Eucharist, the bread-and-wine rite at the heart of Communion?
But embedded in it were explosive, profound differences about theology, pastoring, human nature and a political backdrop that set off a rare public show of division among the bishops that stretched for 2½ hours. One bishop said the men were meeting at a time of “historic opportunity.” Another said he could not recall a moment like this in 30 years. Yet another said the bishops’ afternoon discussion was the most robust discussion in a decade.
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At midday Friday, the USCCB was scheduled to release the results of the vote, which pits bishops who feel that a Catholic president who supports abortion rights and receives Communion is an urgent scandal against those who see a church struggling to excite and attract adherents and who want to focus on welcoming people home, especially after a pandemic-year away. Some felt they could fit in the middle.
Each side said the other was jeopardizing the church’s reputation. Normally, the men meet for three days each June in a huge Baltimore ballroom, but this year (like last year) they were spread across the country, addressing one another virtually.