This was the big bombshell today, as the Catholic Bishops decided to go to war over who gets the daily wafer and wine (I think. I'm Unitarian, dammit, I'm not fully hep to the rituals of the Trinitarian types!) Via Sarah McCammon at NPR:
After a contentious debate, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has voted to move forward with a process that could call into question the eligibility of politicians like President Joe Biden to receive Communion.
The bishops voted 168-55 in favor of drafting "a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church," officials announced on Friday afternoon, the final day of their three-day virtual meeting. Six bishops abstained.
Biden's election as only the nation's second Roman Catholic president has prompted renewed debate over denying communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, a position at odds with church teachings.
During their online meeting, bishops held a spirited discussion Thursday before voting on the proposal to direct the bishops' Committee on Doctrine to draft the statement. Such a document, once completed, could include guidelines for denying communion to public officials...
If you have any awareness of the Constitutional arguments over the Separation of Church and State, you might notice that this is drawing a very big line in the sand with a major church interfering with the order of the federal government.
Churches and religious leaders are not supposed to tell politicians what to do: Withholding something as sacred as Communion is a way of bullying an elected official to toe the church's faith instead of upholding the secular laws. In spite of the overtly religious psychotics running around out there claiming we're a Christian Nation, the United States is NOT supposed to be a theocracy. Congress (and the rest of the government) cannot put one church above any others (per the First Amendment), nor should they impose Religious Tests (per Article VI of the Constitution).
What the Bishops are doing here is imposing a Religious Test, in an attempt to put themselves - and their fellow Far Right anti-abortion Christian allies - above all other churches and Christian faithful who are Pro-Choice.
It should be telling that the Bishops are doing this in spite of the fact that a majority of American Catholics are Pro-Choice: The church leadership stateside is about to alienate a large portion of their own parishes doing this. It should also be telling that the Bishops are doing this in spite of their own Pope Francis - The Head of the Whole Damn Church, the one who is supposed to be Infallible and carrying the keys to Jesus' Kingdom - not to use the Communion as a weapon against their own churchgoers.
It should be telling that this is a political move, not a religious one. If the Bishops were serious about punishing politicians who ignore Catholic church stances on Life, you'd be seeing the Bishops denying the Communion service as well to Far Right politicians (mostly Republicans) who cheer on the death penalty that the Church also condemns. The hypocrisy of this reeks.
At first glance, this looks like a partisan political power grab by the national Catholic leadership. A means of imposing their will in open violation to the Separation of Church and State they'd been observing for centuries. It would also seem to be organizational suicide, above all: The Bishops are about to drive off more than half of their own church-goers just to score cheap political points that would likely lessen their political influence on Catholic Democrats (their target in this matter) who can simply walk away, and are doing this at a time when church attendance across the board in the United States is spiraling downward.
But here's the thing: Try to think the way the Far Right religious types - the Evangelicals and other anti-abortion churches cheering on the sidelines - think. Try to recognize who would truly profit from this move of the Catholic Bishops alienating both their parishes and their own Pope.
There are a handful of ways this will all play out, all of them benefitting the Far Right ultra-religious who currently hold sway over the Republican Party, keeping allegiance to the corrupt like trump and the racist, sexist world-views that underscore their hypocrisy.
Let's say the Bishops finish making this proposal a reality, and they go ahead with denying the Eucharist to liberals and Democrats who support a woman's right to choose. They risk the political reaction of having the Catholic Church's tax-exempt status taken away. What the Church might do here would be considered "issue advocacy" and violate their exempt status.
The simplest response by the federal government if the Catholic leadership goes this way would be to remove that exemption. It would certainly break the financial power the Church would have as a lot of their properties suddenly get taxed, and it would collapse a number of non-profits no longer able to stay well-funded when federal subsidies dry up.
However, that response would be a public relations nightmare: The United States hasn't de-exempted a church organization of this size ever. In fact, the government has penalized just one church for breaking the Church-State separation when they revoked the exemptions for Pierce Creek Church in NY back in 1992 when it openly campaigned against Bill Clinton. Going after the ENTIRE Catholic Church in the U.S. would shock every Christian organization, even the ones that are liberal and pro-choice, and create a backlash that would create a political divide within Democratic ranks among those who are still church-goers and those who went secular (and have no qualms about taxing the shit out of rich churches. Sorry Bono, but your Catholic Church has its own fucking bank). It would certainly give the Religious Right political ammo to attack the Democrats as "anti-Christian," which they do now anyway but would finally have "proof" to back those attacks.
Another option for Democrats and liberals would be to walk away, abandon the Catholic Church in droves and accelerate the downward spiral of church-going turnout. It would cut into the Church's tithing and donations received: It would force remote parishes emptying out to close and relocate elsewhere, diminishing the Church's reach. This is something that could seriously hurt the Catholic Church both now and forever.
However, this is still something the Religious Right wants. They WANT the liberal left-leaning influence of the parishes gone, leaving behind only the "true" faithful of the conservative pro-fetus church-goers who will become devout foot soldiers in the Far Right's war on everybody else. You see it in other Christian churches that have also lost enough liberal followers to where the more conservative forces have taken internal control of the church organization. The Far Right wants the Catholic Church to be as fully Far Right as they are, even if it means reducing their numbers from millions to hundreds.
The Religious Right would also crow to their media allies how this shows liberals abandoning Christ, becoming as Godless and Un-Christian as they've claimed all along. In a nation where religion still holds cultural/social influence, this would be a big hit against the Democrats even in the Blue states.
A third option wouldn't involve American politics, but the Church's internal organization. By ignoring Pope Francis here, the U.S. Bishops are risking serious rebuke by their Boss. It wouldn't even be fearing any financial devastation that might hurt the Church if the U.S. revokes their tax exemption, this would be a serious act of insubordination that could force the Vatican to denounce their Bishops for going too far, with disciplinary actions ranging from forced retirements, banishments to other parishes overseas where they lose their political authority, up to something severe as straight-up defrocking similar to what they did to priests and bishops tied into the sex abuse and coverups.
However, any of those moves to regain organizational control over the rogue Bishops - even if Francis narrows it down to just a handful of ringleaders - could well create a schism within the Church on a global scale. There are a large number of conservative, extremely pro-fetus Bishops and priests who would quit the Catholic Church if they feel the Pope is violating the Church's own tenets against abortion (that he is, by allowing pro-choice Catholics to continue on, betraying the cause). Not just in the United States, but across Europe and Africa and Asia and Central/South America. Any mass resignation could cripple the Church's organization for decades and likely accelerate the turnout spiral just as much as having the liberal Catholics resign the Church.
This again profits the Far Right, because any attempt to weaken the power of the Catholic Church - which opposes the Evangelical and Protestant churches on various other issues especially regarding poverty and racism - will strengthen their own (not just in the U.S. but across a lot of other nations coping with the violent Nationalist movements that go against the Catholic Church's more pacifist leanings).
None of this looks like either Biden or Francis are getting out of this matter unscathed.
To refer to Adam L Silverman at Balloon Juice:
Pope Francis’s papacy, however, has been an attempt to reestablish some sense of institutional equilibrium and balance back into Catholicism after the very, very conservative papacy of John Paul II and the reactionary papacy of Benedict XVI. Especially in regard to Catholicism in the US. He has been challenged, however, by a group of traditionalist Catholic leaders whose political, social, and religious views mirror, and are in some cases more extreme than, those of the popes who selected them. Some of these clerics have been weaponized by Steve Bannon in his attempts to either overthrow Pope Francis in pursuit of his neo-fascist national populism or to create a new schism and split the Church...
...Today’s actions are not the end of this dispute and controversy, but just one important step towards advancing it. The next step is for the USCCB to vote on the measure in November, just as the 2022 midterm election cycle is beginning. And even if they do vote to put this into action, it cannot prevent any specific bishop from providing President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, or any other Catholic politician or public figure who tries to separate their faith from public policy from receiving communion. Frankly, denying them communion isn’t really the goal. The goal is to create controversy, because to quote the old professional wrestling adage, controversy creates cash. It also creates attention and political opportunity. The real fight here is not over whether President Biden or Speaker can or cannot take communion. The real fight is whether Pope Francis is legitimate if his papacy is not focused on the exceedingly conservative and revanchist pet issues of the Church’s reactionary episcopate...
None of this is really about faith. It's all about wealth, power, and patriarchy. It's all about achieving those things through the divide-and-conquer strategy of the Far Right that's been going on for decades.
Thing is now, it's moved from the back rooms and into the public forum. It's moved up to the stage where the Far Right divides us all, faith against faith, community against community.
I can't see a sane move here that could save either our nation's religious diversity or the Catholic Church's ability to stay intact. Either way, the goddamn wingnuts are going to win, and they are going to weaponize faith against everyone else who will get in their way.