A Lebanon Catholic graduate is at the forefront of a move that could block U.S. President Joe Biden from receiving Holy Communion.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who leads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Doctrinal Committee, is in the media spotlight after the committee put forth a proposal to draft guidance on the Eucharist. The proposal, pushed by conservatives, is widely viewed as a rebuke to Biden and other Catholics who support abortion rights.
The proposal to draft “a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church” was approved 73 percent in favor and 24 percent against June 18 at a meeting of the Conference of Bishops after three days of robust debate.
Once the statement is written, it would require a two-thirds vote to pass. An outline, reported by America Magazine, would “include the theological foundation for the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion and a special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness the faith.”
Some bishops are outspoken in their belief that Biden and other pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, one of Christianity’s most sacred rituals.
The Vatican had warned the bishops in a letter in May that addressing the issue now could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”
In interviews, Rhoades insisted the intent is not to weaponize the Eucharist by singling out political leaders who favor abortion rights.
He told Our Sunday Visitor, “This document will be addressed to all Catholics. All of us are called to continual conversion and to Eucharistic consistency.”
A question-and-answer page on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website said, “There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.”
Lebanon roots go deep
Born in Mahanoy City, Rhoades was raised in Lebanon and attended St. Mary’s School before graduating from Lebanon Catholic.
He was a member of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, where he was confirmed and received his first Holy Communion. Rhoades was also ordained there in 1983 by then Auxiliary Bishop William Keeler, the future archbishop of Baltimore, a fellow Lebanon Catholic alumnus.
His most recent visit to his home church was June 19, for the 5:30 p.m. Mass vigil.
One of three children, he is the son of Charles and Mary Rhoades. In August 2012, Rhoades returned to his childhood parish on the Feast of the Assumption to celebrate the closing Mass for the congregation’s bicentennial.
In an interview with The Catholic Witness, he reflected on his upbringing.
“Some of my earliest memories are of being with my mom, who was a woman of deep faith,” Rhoades said. “We would never walk downtown without stopping in at beautiful St. Mary’s Church.”
“St. Mary’s really was my spiritual home,” he said. “I learned here to have Mary as a part of my life. I learned that Mary holds us by the hand and guides us on our pilgrimage of faith. I feel that every day, and I think that began here at this parish.”
After high school, Rhoades enrolled at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. He studied there for two years before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, earning a bachelor’s in philosophy. From 1979 to 1983, he did theological studies in Rome.
Rhoades’ first assignment was as parochial vicar at St. Patrick parish in York.
Twenty-one years later, in 2004, after serving in a variety of church positions, he was appointed by Pope John Paul II as bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg on Oct. 14, 2004. At 46, he was the youngest bishop in the country.
Rhoades, who is multilingual, was appointed the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend on Nov. 14, 2009, by Pope Benedict XVI, and installed Jan. 13, 2010.
At the time, Today’s Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, published an issue welcoming the new bishop. In one article, Rhoades’ sister, Robin McCracken, offered glimpses of their youth.
Rhoades is five years older than she, McCracken told Today’s Catholic. “I’m close with Kevin. I look up to him,” she said. The only time she remembered his getting into trouble is when he ate his favorite apple pie dessert too fast.
McCracken said her brother would organize family vacations. “He loves history so he always added a historical spot to see on the way,” she said.
In the 1970s, they turned their TV room into a disco. “We learned some of the dances. John Travolta would have been proud!” McCracken said.
Rhoades’ first cousin, Mary Earnest, who was also interviewed by Today’s Catholic, added: “We still tease him that he always got the Bible questions correct when we played or watched ‘Jeopardy!’”
She said it was no surprise that Rhoades felt the call to the priesthood, because there were early signs. “He was a dedicated altar server,” Earnest said. “He was interested in the lives of the saints, too.”
When he made the decision to enter the seminary while in college, McCracken told the newspaper, “an incredible peace came and he felt the Holy Spirit in him.”
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