(LifeSiteNews) – Following explosive backlash from fellow bishops and accusations of heresy, Cardinal Robert McElroy doubled down on his call to give the Eucharist to “sexually active” people in mortal sin and escalated his attacks on Catholic sexual ethics.
In a new, error-loaded essay for America magazine on Thursday, the embattled San Diego cardinal and favorite of Pope Francis once again argued that the Church should allow divorced and remarried couples and “L.G.B.T. persons” to receive Communion even if they reject chastity.
McElroy defended a previous article he wrote for America in January in which he disavowed a “theology of eucharistic coherence” and demanded that people who persist in sodomy and adultery be included in “full participation” in the Church.
That article provoked a series of unprecedented public rebukes from other U.S. bishops. On Tuesday, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, went so far as to condemn McElroy’s comments as “heresy” and suggest that he automatically excommunicated himself.
Undeterred, McElroy reiterated in his new essay that serious sin should not determine “exclusion from the Eucharist.” Everyone, he wrote, “commits profound sins of omission or commission. At such moments we should seek the grace of the sacrament of penance. But such failures should not be the basis for categorical ongoing exclusion from the Eucharist,” he insisted.
“Pastoral theology and accompaniment,” the cardinal added, involve “inviting all striving disciples to the eucharistic banquet in this world and the next,” including “divorced and remarried or sexually active members of the L.G.B.T. communities.”
Doubling down on heresy
As before, McElroy flagrantly violates immutable Catholic doctrine. The Church teaches, in accordance with Sacred Scripture, that Catholics may not receive the Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin.
St. Paul warns in the First Letter to the Corinthians:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor 11:27-32).
Citing this passage, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares: “The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church.”
“Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion,” it adds.
The First Letter to the Corinthians specifically lists sexual immorality, adultery, and homosexuality as grave sins that separate one “from the kingdom of God.”
Disregarding St. Paul’s admonition, McElroy argued that prohibiting people from Holy Communion for committing sodomy or adultery unjustly deprives them of grace:
To bar disciples from that grace blocks one of the principal pathways Christ has given to them to reform their lives and accept the Gospel ever more fully. For all of these reasons, I proposed that divorced and remarried or L.G.B.T. Catholics who are ardently seeking the grace of God in their lives should not be categorically barred from the Eucharist.
On the contrary, the Church teaches that a person who receives the Eucharist in mortal sin commits sacrilege and, instead of receiving the grace of the sacrament, further damages his or her soul, as the U.S. bishops acknowledged in their recent teaching document on the Eucharist.
Bishop Paprocki, a canon lawyer who serves as chairman-elect of the Church governance committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said on Tuesday that barriers to the Eucharist “are a matter of divine revelation” and that rejecting them is heresy.
McElroy viciously attacks Catholic sexual ethics
Cardinal McElroy spent much of his latest article deriding Catholic teaching that sexual sins are grave matter, which he claimed originated in the 17th century and suggested does not “make sense.”
“The moral tradition that all sexual sins are grave matter springs from an abstract, deductivist and truncated notion of the Christian moral life that yields a definition of sin jarringly inconsistent with the larger universe of Catholic moral teaching. This is because it proceeds from the intellect alone,” he wrote.
With his vicious, direct attack on Catholic moral tradition, McElroy sets himself against the clear teaching of the Church.
“The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion,” the Catechism states. “Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes,” it continues.
The Magisterium has repeatedly affirmed that sexual activity must be reserved for marriage and be open to life and is intrinsically immoral otherwise, including in Casti Connubii, Humanae Vitae, Persona Humana, and Familiaris Consortio, etc.
Jesus Himself declares the gravity of sexual sin when he equates even lustful looks with adultery:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:27-29).
Sacred Scripture, moreover, consistently enjoins against impurity in the strongest terms:
But immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. … Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Eph 5:3-7).
Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body (1 Cor 6:18)
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous (Heb 13:4).
Centuries-old Catholic teaching on the grave nature of sexual sins stands in the way of admitting “sexually active” people to the Eucharist, Cardinal McElroy lamented. “In understanding the application of this principle to the reception of Communion, it is vital to recognize that it is the level of objective sinfulness that forms the foundation for the present categorical exclusion of sexually active divorced and remarried or L.G.B.T. Catholics from the Eucharist,” he wrote.
Attacking and disobeying Catholic moral teaching is nothing new for McElroy — he has done it for decades. In 2016, he slammed the Church’s recognition of homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” as “very destructive language” that should be discarded in favor of something more “inclusive.” The term “disorder” is “a terrible word and it should be taken out of the catechism” in relation to homosexuality, he said in an interview last month with America magazine.
As a young priest in San Francisco, McElroy disavowed a Vatican letter approved by Pope St. John Paul II against same-sex adoption, describing it as “not binding” on his archdiocese.
McElroy misrepresents critics
McElroy also mischaracterized criticism of his January America article, alleging that his critics did not try to defend Catholic teaching that sexual sins are grave matter.
“It is important to note that the criticisms of my article did not seek to demonstrate that the tradition classifying all sexual sins as objective mortal sin is in fact correct, or that it yields a moral teaching that is consonant with the wider universe of Catholic moral teaching,” he said. “Instead, critics focused upon the repeated assertion that the exclusion of divorced/remarried and L.G.B.T. Catholics from the Eucharist is a doctrinal, not a pastoral question.”
In fact, Bishop Paprocki, in a response to McElroy last week for Catholic World Report, indeed reaffirmed Catholic teaching on the gravity of sins of impurity. Citing Scripture, he stressed that “sexual sin is part of the ‘framework’ found in God’s Word”:
I would prefer to address the idea that the “framework doesn’t fit” by casting sexual sins as grave matter. The Cardinal seems to be calling for the Church to devalue the gravity of sexual sin, but sexual sin is part of the “framework” found in God’s Word: “Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9–10, NAB, emphasis added).
Not inheriting eternal life is indeed “pretty severe,” and the Church rightly treats it so. But why did sexual immorality make St. Paul’s list? Because sexuality affects all aspects of the human person (cf. CCC 2332) and, thus, sexual sins have devastatingly widespread effects.
‘Very dangerous’ errors about conscience
In defending his push to give Communion to grave sinners, McElroy reiterated his belief that conscience has the “privileged place” over doctrine in decision-making and suggested that it can legitimately contradict Catholic teaching. “For every member of the [C]hurch, it is conscience to which we have the ultimate responsibility and by which we will be judged,” he wrote.
The Church, however, teaches that conscience “should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church,” in words of the Catechism, which adds that conscience can make “erroneous judgments” that “are not always free of guilt.” Errors of judgment in moral conduct can proceed from “rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching,” it warns.
McElroy further claimed that “categorical exclusions” of divorced and remarried and “L.G.B.T. persons” from Communion “do not give due respect to the inner conversations of conscience that people have with their God in discerning moral choice in complex circumstances.”
Here, the cardinal seems to suggest that conscience can legitimate gravely sinful acts, including sodomy and adultery, in certain circumstances and that God may approve of such sins in “inner conversations of conscience,” all of which is false.
In Veritatis Splendor, St. John Paul II explicitly condemned the idea that circumstances can allow for “exceptions to the general rule and thus permit one to do in practice and in good conscience what is qualified as intrinsically evil by the moral law.”
“On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called ‘pastoral’ solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a ‘creative’ hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept,” he observed. This line of thinking, the pope warned, “diverges from the teaching of the Church’s tradition and her Magisterium” and challenges “the very identity of the moral conscience.”
And God, in whom “there is no sin” (1 Jn 3:5), “has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and He has not given any one permission to sin” (Sir 15:20), Scripture teaches. God’s will, as St. Paul writes in the First Letter to the Thessalonians, is “your sanctification: that you abstain from immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God” (1 Thess 4:3-5).
In an article responding to McElroy last month, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver condemned his claim that conscience has “primary place” over doctrine as “very dangerous.”
“His Eminence makes the frequent claim that our conscience is our ultimate guide. In a certain sense this is true if, as the Catechism teaches very clearly, we first have a well-formed conscience,” he explained. But appealing to conscience cannot be a “‘get out of jail’ card, and it is very dangerous to imply as much,” he added. “Rather, it is a judgment measured by reality.”
McElroy the Jansenist?
Yet another argument that McElroy used to justify giving Communion to mortal sinners is that “complex circumstances” frequently “prevent” people from avoiding grave sin.
So-called “overwhelming life challenges” at times “prevent men and women at some periods in their life from conforming fully with important Gospel challenges,” he asserted. “Those who are divorced and remarried or sexually active members of the L.G.B.T. communities are among them” and thus should still be included in “the eucharistic banquet,” he suggested.
But the Church teaches that God provides the grace to fulfill His precepts and never commands something impossible.
“No difficulty can arise that justifies the putting aside of the law of God which forbids all acts intrinsically evil,” Pope Pius XI taught in Casti Connubi. He noted that the Council of the Trent declared as a dogma that the commandments of God are not “impossible to keep” and that the Pope Innocent X confirmed this teaching in his condemnation of Jansenist heresies.
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” St. Paul teaches in the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10:13).
McElroy also appeared to blur the line between mortal and venial sin — a common tactic of LGBT activists like Fr. James Martin — failing to note the difference between not “living out” Church teaching by sinning gravely, which “destroys charity in the heart of man,” and sinning venially, which only “wounds” charity and does not prevent reception of the Eucharist.
McElroy: Giving the Eucharist to grave sinners imitates Jesus
Concluding his article, McElroy scandalously suggested that giving Communion to those in mortal sin conforms to the “pastoral action of Jesus,” as Jesus “embraces” people before calling them to conversion.
“First, the Lord embraces the person, then he heals them. Then he calls the person to reform. Each of these elements of the saving encounter with the Lord is essential. But their order is also essential,” McElroy said. “Pastoral theology and accompaniment seek to recapitulate and replicate the saving encounter of Jesus Christ … inviting all striving disciples to the eucharistic banquet in this world and the next.”
This is a plain misreading of the Gospels: Jesus’ first recorded words include “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15).
Like John the Baptist, He begins his public ministry in St. Matthew’s Gospel saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17).
Jesus required the young man in St. Mark’s Gospel to accept radical demands before becoming his disciple and allowed him to refuse (Mk 10:17–22), as Archbishop Aquila noted in his response to McElroy. When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach repentance, He told them to “shake off the dust that is on your feet” as a testimony against those who rejected them (Mt 10:14).
“Jesus never waters down his teaching, nor does he appeal to conscience; he gives testimony to the truth (cf. Jn 18:37),” Archbishop Aquila observed. “The call Jesus gives is radical, and it goes out to everyone, but is not received by everyone because of the cost of discipleship.”
Throughout his latest America essay, McElroy posed a conflict between doctrine and authentic “pastoral theology.” But as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral.”
“Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.”