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Bishop Robert McElroy during a Feb. 1, 2021, Georgetown University online public dialogue.Global Georgetown / Youtube screen grab

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SAN DIEGO, California, February 2, (LifeSiteNews) – San Diego based Bishop Robert McElroy has criticized the issue of abortion being used by some bishops as “the de facto litmus test” in determining whether a Catholic politician is a “faithful Catholic,” with reference to Joe Biden. He said that the pro-abortion U.S. President should not be banned from receiving Holy Communion, even though such a position appears to contradict Church law. 

McElroy made his comments when speaking as part of a discussion on “President Biden, U.S. Bishops, and Pope Francis: How to Promote Catholic Principles in a Divided Church and Nation,” hosted by Jesuit-run Georgetown University. Amongst other guests, McElroy was joined by NBC News chief environmental affairs correspondent, Anne Thompson, as well as John Carr who for two decades was director of Justice, Peace, and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The San Diego bishop expressed his concern at the priority which “some bishops” in the USCCB were giving to abortion. Responding to a query about the future relationship between the Biden regime and the USCCB, McElroy stated: “Some bishops want to re-cast the presence and tone of the conference in the public order. They argue that abortion is not merely a pre-eminent issue in Catholic social teaching, but rather constitutes the de facto litmus test for determining whether a Catholic public official is a faithful catholic, and for determining whether the overall policy stances of non-Catholic officials, can be considered morally legitimate.”

This position, McElroy said, presented a danger due to being too narrow-minded in its focus. “Such a position will reduce the common good to a single issue,” he claimed, before attacking his fellow bishops for holding a spirit of opposition to Biden. “Those proposing this approach in the conference [USCCB], assert that given the centrality of abortion, the conference must adopt an overall stance of confrontation with the president and his administration.”

“There can be cooperation on many issues, but only within the fundamental ethos of opposition,” was how he described the position of such bishops.

He next turned his attention to Biden’s reception of Holy Communion, noting how some bishops had called for the politician to be banned from doing so, but implying that this would cause problems. “Furthermore, many bishops are proposing that the conference takes steps to publicly deprive President Biden of his ability to receive the Eucharist.”

In contrast, McElroy turned to the actions of Pope Francis, holding the pontiff as an example that the pro-life U.S. bishops should follow. He praised Francis for what he saw as a dialogue-centered approach. “In contrast to the direction advocated by this flock of bishops, we have a pope who has placed encounter, dialogue, honesty and collaboration at the heart of his approach to public conversation, and who is unlikely to endorse the deprivation of the Eucharist from the president.”

Biden has previously stated that, despite his public support for abortion as well as gender ideology, he has received Holy Communion even from Pope Francis. The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is always wrong, because it kills an innocent human being, thus violating the Church’s prohibition on murder, and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “under no circumstances can they be approved” (CCC 2270-2272; CCC 2357). Additionally, Canon 915 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law says that those who “obstinately” persevere “in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” According to a 2004 memo issued to the U.S. bishops by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who is now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a Catholic politician who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” manifests “formal cooperation” with grave sin and must be “denied” the Eucharist.

McElroy said that he did not see “how depriving the president or other political leaders of the Eucharist based on their public policy stance can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist.”

To do so would be “destructive,” he claimed. “The conference has no right role in this,” he added.

McElroy’s comments come in the wake of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Jan. 20 statement — penned by conference president Archbishop José Gomez — warning about Biden’s pledge to pursue anti-life and anti-family policies that would advance “moral evils” in the areas of “abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” While Cardinal Blasé Cupich criticized the statement as “ill-considered,” more than a dozen bishops publicly came out in support of it.

McElroy’s shying away from the pre-eminence of the importance of abortion, is in opposition to the USCCB document ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship’ which states that “Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed.”

The opening letter of that same document expresses the position of the Catholic Church clearly: “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”

Yet, McElroy waived this aside, and referred instead to the pre-eminence of “unity and healing” which he called the “most important mission.” He even hinted at internal division within the USCCB over the stance on abortion, saying that in order to effect unity and healing in society, “we have to signal unity on those same things ourselves.”

However, McElroy’s words come as no surprise, as the San Diego bishop has a history of disagreeing with the Church’s teaching on moral issues. In the 2019 fall assembly of the USCCB, he used Pope Francis’ words to support his objection to the consensus on abortion as being the chief issue, saying “it is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the pre-eminent issue that we face as the world in Catholic social teaching. It is not.”

Then in February 2020, while speaking at San Diego University, McElroy equated climate change with abortion as the “core life issues in Catholic teaching.” This theme he continued in Georgetown’s recent online forum, referring to “protections for the unborn,” alongside actions regarding caring for the planet and against racism.

Shortly after the U.S. presidential election, he expressed his wish that Catholics would be “proud collaborators” with the pro-abortion politician, particularly in addressing issues of “racial justice and division which have been so exacerbated in the last four years” and responding to the coronavirus situation.