In a recent address, San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy sharply condemned judgementalism, particularly in the church, and warned of the damage such an attitude inflicts, particularly on the retention of young Catholics. Were his statements strong enough?
McElroy issued his condemnation during the 2019 MacTaggart Lecture hosted by St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Drawing from his time at the Synod on the Amazon, to which Pope Francis appointed him a delegate, the bishop at one point offered this comment:
“If we are to build a more welcoming church in the United States, the searing issue of judgmentalism must be faced. There is no sin that Jesus condemns in the gospels more often than that of judgmentalism. . .The church of Jesus Christ must be a church that proclaims the Catholic moral life in all of its fullness, and calls believers to high standards of faith and conduct. But the church must proclaim that life in the recognition that it is the mercy of God which saves us, not our own merits. Unless we reflect this fundamental principle of our faith in the lived reality of our ecclesial life, we risk legitimate rejection by the very young adults whom we are seeking to invite into the church. It is not that young adults live better lives, or do not fail in being judgmental themselves. But millennials and those who are coming after them have a particularly low threshold for the hypocrisy that lies in professing to follow the Lord Jesus while rejecting his continual condemnation of judgmentalism in our individual and ecclesial lives.”
McElroy could be even more specific. What causes so many people to leave is not just a generalized judgmentalism and hypocrisy; it is quite specific. Data published by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2016 revealed that 39% of people raised Catholic who left the church cited the mistreatment of LGBTQ people as one of their main reasons. This 39% number is 7% higher than the next most-cited cause, the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and is ten points higher than the general population of formerly religious people who cited LGBTQ mistreatment as their main reason.
McElroy frames as a potential risk what is already a damning reality. Young Catholics have and are leaving in droves because the institutional church is judgmental and hypocritical. The sour fruits of church leaders’ decades-long denigration of LGBTQ people in teaching and in practice have ripened. It is not hyperbole in the U.S. to speak of what might already be a lost generation of Catholics among Millennials.
Bishop McElroy is thankfully challenging his brother bishops to be more synodal, more pastoral, and, ultimately, more aligned with Pope Francis vision. But his episcopal peers in the U.S. repeatedly reject this approach, fixating instead on stymieing LGBTQ equality. Until the bishops can name LGBTQ mistreatment as a central, if not the central cause of why young people have left the U.S. church and can claim their role in that mistreatment, they stand no chance at stopping the hemorrhage of young people out of church doors.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 7, 2019