The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, on the appointment of Bishop Robert McElroy to the College of Cardinals:
As a national ministry that tries to build bridges of justice and reconciliation between LGBTQ people and the wider church, New Ways Ministry welcomes the appointment of San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy as a cardinal. His new position will help to re-shape the episcopacy of the Catholic Church in the U.S., which has been overwhelmingly and vehemently anti-LGBTQ. He represents the kind of prelate our church needs, one who will stretch out a hand, not a fist, to the LGBTQ community.
With the appointment of McElroy as a cardinal, Pope Francis is making sure that his outreach to LGBTQ people will continue after his papacy ends. As an elector of future popes, McElroy can play a role in making sure that the next papacy will continue in the welcoming spirit of Pope Francis.
I am optimistic that his appointment will have a great influence in further opening up the conversation on LGBTQ issues in the church in a positive way.
As a bishop, Cardinal-elect McElroy has a strong record of standing up for LGBTQ people.
- After the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality, McElroy issued a statement that said the diocese would “continue to honor and embody the uniqueness of marriage between one man and one woman as a gift from God.” But he added:
“We will do so in a manner which profoundly respects at every moment the loving and familial relationships which enrich the lives of so many gay men and women who are our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, and ultimately our fellow pilgrims on this earthly journey of life. And commanded by the Gospel of Jesus Christ we will continue to reach out to families of every kind who are encountering poverty, addictions, violence, emotional stress or the threat of deportation, and to attempt to bring them faith and care, service and solidarity.”
- He was the first bishop (and one of the few) to offer condolences to the LGBTQ community after Orlando’s Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, saying the tragedy was “a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.”
- Like Pope Francis, McElroy envisions a synodal church, where even controversial topics can be discussed openly. When the San Diego bishop held a diocesan synod on family life in 2016, LGBTQ issues were widely discussed and pro-LGBTQ measures were proposed.
- When Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki created a policy denying Communion and funerals to legally married gay and lesbian people, McElroy criticized the decision, something bishops rarely do to one another. He said:
“I think that is the appropriate policy that I would hope the priests would observe, especially in the times of funerals, but more broadly in the sense of regular pastoral action in support of men and women who are in all states of lives and who have all sorts of challenges. Our fundamental stance has to be one of inclusion in the church, especially during a time of burial.”
- McElroy supported Pope Francis’ 2016 apology to gay and lesbian people and called for greater affirmation and welcome for the LGBTQ community, saying:
“When I go out and meet with laypeople. . .so many of them have family members, brother and sisters and sons and daughters, mothers and fathers who are gay or lesbian.
“What we need to project in the life of the church is ‘You are part of us and we are part of you.’ [LGBT Catholics] are part of our families. . .[An apology could] create an understanding and a reality in the life of the church that members of the [LGBT] community are welcome, and genuinely so.”
- In 2017, when Fr. James Martin, SJ, was under attack for his LGBTQ outreach, Bishop McElroy not only defended him, but strongly criticized the right-wing Catholic movement which routinely disparages people in a vicious manner. He said:
“This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed for what it is—not primarily for Father Martin’s sake but because this cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church. . . . “The coordinated attack on [Father Martin] must be a wake-up call for the Catholic community to look inward and purge itself of bigotry against the L.G.B.T. community. If we do not, we will build a gulf between the church and L.G.B.T. men and women and their families. Even more important, we will build an increasing gulf between the church and our God.”
- McElroy publicly refuted the way gay priests were scapegoated for the clergy sexual abuse crisis, saying that such abuse was power, not sexual orientation.
- The bishop supported Aaron Bianco, a gay pastoral worker in his diocese who was threatened with harm by traditionalist churchgoers because of being married to a man.
- He was one of the first bishops to sign the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s statement of encouragement to LGBTQ youth which declared “God is on your side.”
More generally, McElroy typifies the kind of U.S. bishop that Pope Francis would like to see: a person who is decidedly not a culture warrior. He supported the pope’s 2015 rebuke of the U.S. bishops’ culture war agenda, made when the pontiff visited the U.S. Later that same year, at the U.S. bishops conference November meeting, McElroy criticized the U.S. bishops’ proposed voter guide because it did “not take into account the fact that Pope Francis … rapidly transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements. . .”
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 30, 2022