The Vatican has publicly rebuked conservative American bishops over their efforts to deny Communion to President Joe Biden and other prominent supporters of abortion ahead of a major conference this week where the issue is set to be debated.
What are the details?
In a sermon this month, Pope Francis preached that Communion "is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners." And in May, his top doctrinal official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, penned a stern letter to American bishops, warning them to tread carefully about the subject.
In the letter, Ladaria complicated the bishops' plans by questioning their identification of abortion as "the preeminent" moral issue and pushing for an impossible unanimous vote on the matter. Anything less, he cautioned, could make the administration of church's holiest sacrament "a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States."
Though the letter may sound light and genial to untrained ears, those familiar with the matter assert that the message lays bare an unusual sense of tension.
New York Times Rome bureau chief Jason Horowitz called the Vatican's warning a "remarkably public stop sign from Rome" and evidence of "a rare, open rift between Rome and the American church."
"The concern in the Vatican," according to Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and close ally of Francis, "is not to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon."
It remains to be seen whether the Vatican's exhortation will have any bearing on the communion issue when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops convene for a national meeting on Wednesday.
Certainly a significant number of bishops have become concerned by the open support for abortion among many prominent members of the church, and are determined to resolve the issue by forcing a vote at the meeting to draft a teaching document.
Among those leading the effort is Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB. In January, Gomez issued a strong denunciation of Biden over his stance on abortion, marriage, and gender.
"I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender," Gomez said in a statement. "Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences."
Alongside Gomez is San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the bishop presiding over Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), another prominent Catholic who supports abortion.
In the pastoral letter issued in May, Cordileone slammed prominent pro-abortion Catholics over their promotion of an act that the church holds as one of the gravest sins.
Prominent figures who advocate for abortion "lead others to do evil," he said, adding that "anyone who actively works to promote abortion shares some of the guilt for the abortions performed."
Adding intrigue to the matter, the Vatican is reported to have nixed a meeting between Biden and the pope this week over concerns about the administration of Communion.
According to the Catholic News Agency, "The President's entourage had originally requested for Biden to attend Mass with the pope early in the morning, but the proposal was nixed by the Vatican after considering the impact that Biden receiving Holy Communion from the pope would have on the discussions the USCCB is planning to have during their meeting starting Wednesday, June 16."