By a vote of 168 to 55, with six abstentions, the bishops went forward with plans for a report on the meaning of the Eucharist in the church. The vote is part of a longer process, and a rebuke of Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights is not assured. The report will be developed over the summer and presented for amendments and approval in November.
The Vatican would have to approve any action on behalf of the bishops, and would likely delay that approval if a pointed report is issued.
Biden, an abortion rights advocate who is the first Catholic US president in nearly 60 years, is the most openly religious president since Jimmy Carter. This movement is driven by the extremely conservative wing of the Catholic Church.
Some bishops want the report to be a broader teaching tool for all Catholics about the importance of the sacrament of communion and they have been reminding their fellows of the Pope’s exhortation to avoid divisiveness.
Asked at the end of remarks at the White House Friday afternoon about the vote, Biden replied, “That’s a private matter and I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Catholics for Choice, a liberal Catholic group that advocates for abortion rights, said it was “profoundly saddened” by Friday’s vote and condemned using the Eucharist “as a weapon of punishment.”
“In a country and church already riven with tension and division, today the bishops chose to be partisan instead of pastoral, cruel rather than Christ-like,” the group said. “They have chosen to disobey Jesus’s command to ‘feed one another,’ but everyday U.S. Catholics — 67 percent of whom oppose withholding Communion and other Sacraments from supporters of abortion rights — will continue to know better and do better.”
He added: “I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women, that they can’t control their bodies. That’s a decision between them and their doctor, in my view, and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that.”
CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to better reflect the potential outcome of the report the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved producing.
CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf, Eric Bradner, Arlette Saenz, Allie Malloy, Jasmine Wright, Chandelis Duster and Rachel Janfaza contributed to this report.