By Kathleen Gilbert

SAN FRANCISCO, July 6, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The newly-appointed auxiliary bishop of San Francisco has in the past criticized Catholic Church policy disallowing politicians who promote abortion from receiving Holy Communion, saying that such a move makes the Church appear too "partisan," "Republican" and "coercive."

Msgr. Robert McElroy made the statements in a 2005 column for America magazine, in which he criticized Newark Archbishop John Myers for maintaining the policy against public figures who promote the murder of unborn children. Canon 915 of the Church's Code of Canon Law states that "those who have been excommunicated ... and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."

The Vatican on Tuesday appointed McElroy to the San Francisco diocese, where he currently serves as a priest.

In his column, McElroy began by noting that "the theological starting point for those who advocate eucharistic sanctions is a sound one," inasmuch as the support of Catholic leaders for "abortion rights" represents a scandal and "a major failure in church life." However, he went on to call the notion that Catholics who vote in favor of the legalized killing of the unborn have excommunicated themselves "a novel and open-ended theory," citing Archbishop Myers' statement that such figures are "not objectively in communion with Christ and His Church."

McElroy objected that the notion of automatic excommunication "casts aside all the limitations and admonitions to pastoral solicitude that the church has traditionally demanded" in such cases. Citing the Church's traditionally prudential handling of scandal, the monsignor claimed that the benefits of denying Communion are "heavily outweighed" by other considerations, such as that the move would be "perceived by Americans ... as coercive" and make abortion appear to be a "sectarian Catholic issue."

"The imposition of eucharistic sanctions solely on candidates who support abortion legislation will inevitably transform the church in the United States, in the minds of many, into a partisan, Republican-oriented institution," he wrote.

"It does not matter that eucharistic sanctions would be fully within the legitimate moral and civil rights of the church to adopt, and that those who have attacked them as a violation of the separation of church and state are totally in error in their understanding of the constitutional tradition of the United States," wrote McElroy. "What does matter enormously is that Americans will in general recoil from the use of the Eucharist as a political weapon, and will reassess their overall opinion of the church’s role in the political order."

One prominent bishop in a nearby diocese, however, disagrees with McElroy that the pros outweigh the cons.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, one of the most outspokenly pro-life bishops in the U.S., wrote last month that failing to call pro-abortion Catholic politicians to account when they profess to reconcile their views on abortion with their Catholic faith "inevitably leads to more evil acts in the future."

While the bishop did not mention communion in his latest column, in the past Olmsted has made clear that pro-abort Catholics should not receive, and should even be denied communion.  In a booklet released in 2006, the bishop wrote that such politicians “cannot receive Holy Communion without previously making a good confession.”

In 2005 the Phoenix bishop made himself even clearer, telling IgnatiusInsight: "So anyone who has had an abortion, or has participated in one, or euthanasia, or who would be promoting those things, or have failed to protect human life while in a position where they could protect it – such as a politician or a judge – they should not be receiving Communion. If they persisted in it after [Church teaching] was presented to them, then I think the priest or deacon should not give them Communion in that case."

"Evil acts, in themselves, are the greatest source of scandal," wrote the bishop in last month’s column on scandal. "When the perpetrators are not called to account, then they are emboldened to do even worse deeds."

"Since some scandals are more grievous than others, remaining silent about the scandal given by those with greater influence in the Church or society has far more toxic effects than silence about other scandals," he noted.

Whether or not such a sanction is viewed as cruel or coercive, said Olmsted, such correction "is not an act of presumed superiority" but is "an act of fraternal love that desires our brother see and admit his mistake, to repent and find new life in the rich mercy of God."

Olmsted's opinion is backed by strong and repeated admonitions from Archbishop Raymond Burke, head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Catholic Church's highest court. Burke has confirmed that bishops have "no choice" but to deny Communion to publicly pro-abortion Catholics.