The “Message” That Is Cardinal-Elect McElroy

Cardinal-Elect Robert McElroy, Bishop of San Diego

Recently it was announced that Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego would be named a cardinal by Pope Francis in the consistory coming up in August of this year. Many Catholics were upset by this news. Bishop McElroy is viewed as a strong supporter of the LGBT agenda in the Church and a vocal opponent of prohibiting Catholic politicians who support abortion from receiving Holy Communion. Bishop McElroy’s being named a cardinal was widely seen as a message from Pope Francis that the Holy Father is not necessarily pleased with the so-called “conservative” direction in which the bishops of the United States were leaning, and that he appointed Bishop McElroy a cardinal in order to communicate to the United States what sort of episcopal leadership he prefers. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, an advisor to Pope Francis, wrote on social media that Bishop McElroy’s elevation to the College of Cardinals sends, “a strong and clear message to the Church in the United States (along the lines of Vatican II).” I’m honestly not sure what Fr. Spadaro means by “along the lines of Vatican II,” but if there was an intended message about the so-called “conservative” leanings of America’s bishops, let’s just say it’s not the first time the U. S. bishops have been the recipients of such a message. Pope Francis made cardinals of Blaise Cupich, Joseph Tobin, Wilton Gregory, and now Robert McElroy, and skipped over Charles Chaput, Joseph Kurtz, Samuel Aquila, and now Jose Gomez. I would say the message has been unmistakably communicated.

Anyway, many in the secular press and among Catholics saw McElroy’s appointment as a rebuke from Pope Francis to Abp. Salvatore Cordileone of San Franciso, who just prior to the announcement about Bishop McElroy publicly made known that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a pro-abortion Catholic, was banned from receiving Holy Communion in his archdiocese. This is absurd, of course. The decision to elevate Bishop McElroy was certainly made well before Abp. Cordileone’s announcement. If anything, it is a none-to-subtle judgment on the leadership of Abp. Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. Los Angeles is the largest Catholic diocese in the country and has traditionally been led by a Cardinal. Bishop McElroy, being bishop of San Diego, is Abp. Gomez’s subordinate. How strange it will be for Abp. Gomez to have under him in his province a subordinate who is a cardinal of the Church. Methinks it is likely McElroy will be moved, and soon. Perhaps he will be “promoted” to Rome!

In any case, if it was Pope Francis’ notion to send a message to the U. S. bishops that he wants them to be less “conservative” and more “pastoral” and, in particular, a message about banning Catholic politicians from Holy Communion, the bishops didn’t seem to get the memo. On June 7, four bishops of Colorado published an open letter asking those Catholic state legislators who voted in favor of the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA), which codifies the right to abortion in Colorado law for all nine months of pregnancy, to voluntarily choose to refrain from receiving the Eucharist. The letter states: “Voting for RHEA was participating in a gravely sinful action because it facilitates the killing of innocent unborn babies, and those Catholic politicians who have done so have very likely placed themselves outside of the communion of the Church. … Moreover, receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin is sacrilegious because it is a ‘failure to show the reverence due to the sacred Body and Blood of Christ.'” The bishops continued: “Until public repentance takes place and sacramental absolution is received in Confession, we ask that those Catholic legislators who live or worship in Colorado and who have voted for RHEA, to voluntarily refrain from receiving Holy Communion.”

The letter is signed by Samuel J. Aquila, Archbishop of Denver, Jorge H. Rodriguez, Auxiliary Bishop of Denver, Stephen J. Berg, Bishop of Pueblo, and James R. Golka, Bishop of Colorado Springs. Had these bishops been influenced by any supposed “message” Pope Francis was sending to the U. S. bishops to tone down their rhetoric and their actions against pro-abortion Catholic politicians, they would have thought twice about publishing their open letter, especially so soon after Bishop McElroy’s elevation, the purported vehicle of Pope Francis’ “message.”

I’m not doubting Pope Francis’ intention of communicating a preference for a particular style of ecclesiastical leadership. The Holy Father certainly has his own style. I think some Catholics are disappointed or confused about who from the U. S. Church has access to Francis’ ear, and that the advice he is getting from those who have his ear is poor advice. Pope Francis is not dumb, nor is he a dupe. But it’s impossible that he knows all of the bishops of the U. S. personally. Like any leader of a huge organization – and what organization is larger than the Catholic Church? – he relies on the advice he receives from those he trusts. Let’s just say there are many Catholics in the U. S. who wish that he trusted different people.

I have been and will continue to pray for Pope Francis and Cardinal-elect McElroy. They are in need of our prayers, perhaps now more than ever. Cardinal-Elect McElroy’s responsibilities will grow exponentially with his new appointment. Pope Francis is ill and slowing down. Of course, he is. He’s getting older, and his responsibilities are enormous. It’s no secret that he has vocalized the possibility of his abdicating the papacy at some point, as his predecessor did. I had always thought that he would not do so so long as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI still lived. But Benedict seems determined to go on living! Perhaps he is reconsidering his options. In any case, I think that Pope Francis will not step down until after the Synod on Synodality is completed, which is scheduled for next year. That’s his baby, and I doubt he wants to leave it to another to bring it to completion.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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