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. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

In his office at the Jesuit-run Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, Kevin Gillespie, S.J., keeps a depiction of the Gospel story of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Buffeted by wind and waves, the disciples frantically try to regain control of the boat, while doubting that Jesus even cares about them. Calming the wind and the waves, Jesus urges his followers to have faith, to believe the storms shall pass.

With U.S. bishops preparing a document on the Eucharist that could include a section about Catholic politicians and Communion, a church that counts President Joe Biden among its flock may be in for more choppy seas.

The image was a gift to Father Gillespie from the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory. Last month, Cardinal Gregory attempted to persuade his fellow bishops not to move forward with a proposal to draft a document about “eucharistic coherence” that some bishops said was aimed at President Biden because of his support for legal abortion. The cardinal, who had previously said he does not support Communion bans for pro-choice politicians, was unsuccessful in his plea, with bishops voting overwhelmingly to start the drafting process.

Father Gillespie said he and many of his parishioners were “surprised” that bishops supported the document given Cardinal Gregory’s intervention.

Father Gillespie said he and many of his parishioners were “surprised” that bishops supported the document given Cardinal Gregory’s intervention.

“The archbishop of a diocese has the authority on issues around politicians and the Eucharist, and [Cardinal Gregory] has made it public that this is where he stands pastorally,” Father Gillespie said. “He doesn’t agree with everything the president says around abortion, nor do I, but pastorally, this is his approach. The archbishop and I have spoken about that and I’m in full agreement with him.”

When Father Gillespie, the former president of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, heard from parishioners angered by the vote, he encouraged the parish council to release a statement in support of Cardinal Gregory. He weighed in during the drafting process and when the statement was finished, he invited a member of the elected council to read the statement after Mass. Father Gillespie said a parish council cannot determine who is eligible or ineligible for Communion and that the statement was meant to be a show of support for Cardinal Gregory.

When Father Gillespie heard from parishioners angered by the vote, he encouraged the parish council to release a statement in support of Cardinal Gregory.

“For lay parishioners to hear other laypeople from the altar making this statement, I like to believe it empowers not just the people on the parish council but tells the people in the pews that they have a voice in this controversial issue,” Father Gillespie said. “And their voices are resonating with the voice of our archbishop.”

[Related: Joe Biden’s Jesuit-run DC parish says it ‘will not deny the Eucharist’]

Father Gillespie said he believes church leaders have a unique opportunity to teach about the Eucharist as Catholics begin returning to Mass after months of being away because of the coronavirus pandemic. He has heard from many parishioners who had been eager to return to Mass, who said virtual worship services did not fulfill their spiritual needs. That longing for the Eucharist, combined with data showing many U.S. Catholics either do not understand or do not agree with church teaching about the sacrament, tell him that a teaching document from bishops would be helpful. But the politicization around the document “has thrown us off balance,” he said.

“This is a time to say, ‘Yes, let’s speak about the hunger, let’s speak about the thirst for the presence of God.’ This is the moment, and I think the bishops want to do that,” he said. “But some of our pastoral leaders are making it difficult.”

“This is a time to say, ‘Yes, let’s speak about the hunger...for the presence of God.’ This is the moment, and I think the bishops want to do that. But some of our pastoral leaders are making it difficult.”

As for leading a church that has become the parish of choice for the president when he is in Washington—he spends many weekends at home in Delaware, which is currently awaiting the installation of a newly appointed bishop—Father Gillespie said he has seen Mr. Biden’s reverence for the Eucharist up close. He said the president regularly genuflects toward the tabernacle before entering the pew and that he even stayed behind after Mass a couple of months ago to congratulate a young boy who had just made his first Communion. Once Mr. Biden is in church, said Father Gillespie, he is treated like any other parishioner by both priests and other worshippers.

While Father Gillespie said he does not agree with all the political positions of any politician, he adamantly refuses to “weaponize” the Eucharist.

Asked whether he would give Communion to Mr. Biden should he approach the altar at Holy Trinity, Father Gillespie responded, “Yes.”

“Everyone is welcome,” he continued. “He’s a man of faith, and I would give Communion to him like any other Catholic coming up for the Eucharist.”

It was not lost on Father Gillespie that the Gospel reading on the first Sunday following the controversial vote by the U.S. bishops was the Storm at Sea. He said that story helped him proclaim the message being sent by the parish council: “Archbishop, we’re in the boat with you. And, by the way, the president’s also in this boat.”

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