CHICAGO, Illinois, April 23, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy called last week for the U.S. bishops to shift from focusing on Catholic principles and moral issues in the political arena to a “deep-level conscience formation” inspired by Pope Francis.
“As bishops, we tend to teach from principles and moral norms,” McElroy said. “Our approach is cognitive and exhortational, not affective and inspiring.”
“There are, of course, moments and purposes for which cognitive and exhortational treatments are essential in expressing the Church's legacy of teaching that spring from Revelation and the tradition of reason,” he said. “But breaking through the hyper-partisan divide of American political culture at the present day is not such a purpose.”
McElroy, who has regularly voiced support for the idea of moral equivalency between the Church’s teaching on life and other subjects, gave the second “Cardinal Bernardin Common Cause Lecture” at Loyola University in Chicago Wednesday.
His address titled, Forming a Catholic Political Imagination, was the subject of a National Catholic Reporter op-ed, which said the bishop’s full talk would be subsequently published in Commonweal.
McElroy was part of an open clash at the November 2015 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) General Assembly over the conference’s voting guide. McElroy argued the revision of the bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship voting guide document was a failure because it was out of step with Pope Francis’ priorities – specifically, in placing too much emphasis on abortion and euthanasia, while not enough on poverty and the environment.
“Specifically, I believe that the pope is telling us that alongside the issues of abortion and euthanasia which are central aspects of our commitment to transform this world, poverty and the degradation of the earth are also central,” he stated at the time.
McElroy cited the pope’s 2015 appearance before the U.S. Congress in his Loyola audience this week.
“In Francis' message the core of the vocation of public service, and of all politics, is to promote the integral development of every human person and of society as a whole,” he said. “It is a vocation which requires special and self-sacrificial concern for the poor, the unborn, the vulnerable and the marginalized. It is a commitment to pursue the common good over that of interest groups or parties or self-aggrandizement. It is a profoundly spiritual and moral undertaking.”
McElroy said the difference between the message of the pope and the reality of politics is “heartbreaking.”
The bishops must follow the example of what Pope Francis stated to Congress in style and content, according to the Reporter piece.
In the address, the pontiff was conducting “deep-level conscience formation,” McElroy said. “He was proposing that the common good is best served when leaders and citizens operate from a political virtue ethic that is prior to individual policy issues.”
McElroy named Pope Francis’ address before Congress when he questioned the pre-eminence of any issue or set of issues in a February 2016 America article as well.
Catholics and other pro-life supporters were eager to hear a strong statement from Pope Francis on abortion as he spoke to on Capitol Hill the same day in 2015 as the U.S. Senate was scheduled to vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. Instead, they got passing reference to protecting life when the pope stated his support for abolishing the death penalty.
Pro-life advocates warn of the “seamless garment” mentality – formulated by Bernardin as a “consistent life” ethic – for blurring the distinction between intrinsic evils and societal ills.
McElroy advocated for the seamless garment concept in a 2013 interview with Inside the Vatican magazine.
“I still am a believer in the underlying logic of Cardinal Bernardin’s seamless garment approach that saw all life issues as part of a continuum linked by the Catholic notions of compassion and justice,” he said.
He referred to poverty as preeminent, calling in the interview for the U.S. Bishops to declare “the alleviation of poverty both within the United States and globally constitutes a preeminent claim upon government in the Catholic vision of the common good.”
“In recent years, the conference of bishops has labeled abortion and euthanasia as the preeminent issues in the political order, but not poverty. This has had the effect of downgrading the perceived importance of poverty as a central focus for the Church’s witness.”
McElroy has made a number of confrontational statements about homosexuality since his 2015 appointment by Pope Francis, along with denouncing President Donald Trump.
McElroy said recently there is “repugnant” and “corrosive” bigotry toward individuals identifying as LGBT on the part of “a group of people across all religious views” in the context of pro-homosexual Jesuit Father James Martin having been disinvited from a speaking engagement.
McElroy said last fall after another of Martin’s speaking invitations had been rescinded that opposition to Martin’s controversial message was a “campaign of distortion” and a “cancer of vilification” that is “seeping into the institutional life of the Church.”
And McElroy rebuked Trump at a Vatican-convened social action conference last February in Modest, CA.
“President Trump was the candidate of disruption,” McElroy told the World Meeting of Popular Movements gathering. “He was ‘the disruptor,’ he said. Well now we must all become disruptors.”