What is the Catholic Communion controversy?
In this image taken from video, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president and Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles confers with staff to alert the next speaker during their virtual assembly on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.(United States Conference of Catholic Bishops via AP)
In this image taken from video, the Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco, rejects an agenda motion during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' virtual assembly on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops via AP)
In this photo taken from video, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington rejects a motion to draft a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' virtual assembly on Thursday, June 17, 2021. Wilton has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops via AP)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 file photo, President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle during Inauguration Day ceremonies in Washington. When U.S. Catholic bishops hold their next national meeting in June 2021, they’ll be deciding whether to send a tougher-than-ever message to President Joe Biden and other Catholic politicians: Don’t partake of Communion if you persist in public advocacy of abortion rights. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021 file photo, President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, listen as Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, delivers the invocation during a COVID-19 memorial at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington. Gregory has made clear that President Biden, who sometimes worships in Washington, is welcome to receive Communion at the archdiocese's churches. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
The Catholic Church doesn't sound like a small business. But based on a special exception the U.S. church helped lobby into the program's rules, its thousands of parishes, schools and other affiliated entities became eligible. Having secured that break they received at least $3 billion from the paycheck program, AP found.
To calculate that tally, reporters hand-checked tens of thousands of records to identify institutions from all major faith groups and major charities in the U.S.
Catholic entities received about as much as the combined total of faith-based recipients from the four religions with the next largest amounts: Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Jewish. Catholic institutions also received many times more than other major U.S. nonprofits with charitable missions, such as the United Way, Goodwill Industries and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Overall, Catholic organizations got nearly twice as much as 40 of the largest, most well-known charities, AP found.
This Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, photo shows the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.
Those large dollar amounts were possible because, from bishops and cardinals on down, the nation's dioceses promoted the paycheck program.
One pastor told AP that leaders at his diocese's headquarters kept pressing him to get what one called "free money" for the church he leads. The pastor declined on what he described as moral grounds — he knew the program was supposed to help employers who, without the money, might close forever.
Although need was a key element of the paycheck program, the money had to circulate quickly. So instead of the usual scrutiny, this time applicants for government aid simply signed that they needed the money. AP found that Catholic dioceses that got the taxpayer-backed aid were sitting on well over $10 billion in cash, short-term investments and other liquid assets heading into the pandemic — an amount that only hints at their total wealth.
The financial resources of some dioceses rivaled or even exceeded those available to companies traded on stock markets, like Shake Shack and Ruth's Chris Steak House, whose early participation in the program triggered outrage. Many corporations returned the funds.
In this Thursday, Dec 24, 2020, file photo, worshippers gather for Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.
When the coronavirus forced parishes to close their doors last spring, losing in-person Sunday collections as a result, church leaders predicted a staggering financial blow.
Instead, AP found mounting evidence that the financial strength of dioceses remained robust — or even improved. That evidence came from audited financial statements that many of the nation's nearly 200 dioceses post online. The financials give a snapshot of each diocese's health as of June, several months into the pandemic.
In all, 38 of the 47 dioceses that already have posted their 2020 financials increased the cash, short-term investments and other funds they and their affiliates could use for general or unanticipated expenses. The pattern held whether a diocese was big or small, urban or rural, East or West, North or South.
At the nine dioceses that recorded declines in the fiscal year ending in June, the drops typically were less than 10% and still left them with millions of dollars on hand.
This Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, photo shows the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh, N.C.
Catholic leaders told AP their parishes and schools suffered financially when they closed to slow the spread of the deadly virus. Without Paycheck Protection Program funds, they said, they would have had to slash jobs and curtail their charitable mission just when demand for food pantries and social services was spiking.
"We experienced a very steep and sudden revenue loss with no sign on the horizon that things would improve," a spokeswoman for the Chicago Archdiocese said in response to questions.
The archdiocese had more than $1 billion in cash and short-term investments in its headquarters and cemetery division as of May — enough to cover about 631 days of operating expenses, according to a review by the independent ratings agency Moody's Investors Service. Chicago's parishes, schools and ministries accumulated at least $77 million in paycheck protection funds.
In Los Angeles, archdiocesan spokeswoman Adrian Marquez Alarcon told AP the pandemic triggered "significant impact," leading to wage cuts and layoffs of parish staff, musicians and wedding coordinators.
Parishes, schools and ministries there collected at least $80 million in paycheck protection aid. That came at a time when the headquarters reported $658 million in available funds in the fiscal year when the coronavirus arrived.
This Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, photo shows the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh, N.C.
A committee of U.S. Catholic bishops is getting to work on a policy document that has stirred controversy among their colleagues before a word of it has even been written.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a document “on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church” that some bishops hope will be a rebuke for politicians who support abortion rights but continue to receive Communion.
The 168-55 vote to proceed, vehemently opposed by a minority of bishops amid impassioned debate during virtual meetings, came despite appeals from the Vatican for a more cautious and collegial approach.
Here’s a look at what has happened and what lies ahead:
IS THIS AIMED AT PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN?
The chairman of the USCCB’s doctrine committee, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, says no decisions have been made on the final contents of the proposed document but that it will not mention Biden or other individuals by name. And it will offer guidelines, not establish a mandatory national policy.
However, multiple bishops on both sides acknowledge the political significance of the document and say it is unavoidably about the president. Supporters say a strong rebuke of Biden is needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access, while opponents warn that in doing so they risk being perceived as a partisan force.
“It’s quite clear that for a lot of the bishops, a lot of the impact is political,” said William Cavanaugh, professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University in Chicago. “You have some of them saying this is not about Joe Biden, but in the comments the bishops made in that Zoom session, a lot of them mentioned Biden and gave the game away.”
Biden is the nation’s second Catholic president and the first to assume office since abortion became a major political issue. He supports the legality of abortion, while Catholic bishops have long made its abolition a foremost policy goal.
The issue is particularly salient with Biden because he has long been very public in his devotion, fluently speaking the language of faith and regularly attending Mass even on busy days like his own inauguration and the recent G-7 summit in Britain.
WHAT DO BIDEN AND OTHER CATHOLIC DEMOCRATS SAY?
“That’s a private matter, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” the president said when asked at the White House on Friday.
Sixty Catholic Democrats in Congress signed a letter to the bishops saying: “We solemnly urge you to not move forward and deny this most holy of all sacraments, the source and the summit of the whole work of the gospel over one issue.”
They said they’re inspired by Catholic social teaching to serve the neediest and to promote alternatives to abortion. They added that the “weaponizing” of Communion for those who support abortion rights is inconsistent, since bishops haven’t targeted Catholic politicians who back other policies that contradict church teachings, such as the death penalty or hard-line immigration and asylum stances.
WHAT IS THE BISHOPS’ POSITION ON THAT?
In a document titled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, last updated in 2019, the U.S. bishops lay out their official teachings on the political responsibilities of Catholics. It cites a wide range of policy concerns — but also prioritizes abortion.
“The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed,” it reads. “At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”
The bishops also deplore the “inhumane treatment” and family separations of immigrants, as well as “gun violence, xenophobia, capital punishment and other issues that affect human life and dignity.”
But it’s much less common for bishops to discuss denying Communion on issues other than abortion.
CAN THE BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE BAR BIDEN FROM COMMUNION?
No. Only the local bishop where he’s going to church can do that. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine will spend the next months preparing a draft document.
At the bishops’ next national meeting in November, expected to be conducted in person in Baltimore, bishops will have a chance to offer amendments. For it to be adopted, the final draft would require approval by two-thirds of bishops, and then by the Vatican itself.
During the debate at this week’s meeting, several bishops suggested meeting regionally in the next few months to thrash out their differences face-to-face.
Rhoades indicted that his committee could start work soon on noncontroversial sections and await input from the regional meetings on the more contentious parts.
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