Pope Francis declares war on conservative Catholics

I don't know what else you'd call this -- Pope Francis naming the Church's strongest and most outspoken progressive, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy a Cardinal -- other than a war on conservative Catholics, with whom the Holy Father already takes a very dim view.

Here's the news:

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, one of Pope Francis' ideological allies who has often sparred with more conservative U.S. bishops, was named by the pope on Sunday as one of 21 new cardinals.

The San Diego diocese said McElroy will be installed by Pope Francis on August 27 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Winning a cardinal's hat doesn't outrank the archbishop's mitre but it does make one a prince of the Church -- one of the few people with the power to elect the next pope until the age of 80. Given that McElroy is only 68, he may be in a position to do that. 

The maneuver conspicuously bounces McElroy over the heads of two higher-ranking archbishops in potential contention for a cardinal's hat -- Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of the San Francisco archdiocese, who's generally recognized as a conservative, and Archbishop José Gomez, of the Los Angeles archdiocese, who's generally recognized as a moderate, and one who is believed to have wanted to become a cardinal. McElroy, on the other hand, is very progressive. He's all in for illegal immigration to the states, global warming taxation, the LGBTQ agenda, women deacons, and giving out communion to elected officials who promote abortion through the power of lawmaking as well as cash shoveling to the abortion industrial complex. What a sad, sad rebuke to those Catholic leaders and their parishioners who try to follow Church law and doctrine.

Why did he do it? Well, speculation is rife -- and on the Catholic left, there's a lot of cheering.

Nobody's telling them to cool it.

The first thing that springs to mind is that the appointment stands as a rebuke of sorts to Archbishop Cordileone who barred House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from communion in the San Francisco archdiocese until she can reconsider her hard position on promoting and advancing abortion until the moment of birth in both the U.S. and worldwide, a position that stands diametrically opposed to Church teaching. There had been strongly drawn lines on this, a bishop statement that skirted around the matter given the sharply opposing viewpoints, but the San Francisco archbishop acted according to his conscience about the matter, which is clear and reasonable enough to practicing Catholics. McElroy, on the other hand, came out against any barring of communion, claiming that receiving the Eucharist should be entirely divorced from politics, effectively saying that it has nothing to do with what one does in real life to live one's faith. Pelosi is known to have her tentacles into the Vatican embassies and political scene in Rome, so the other thing that comes to mind is whether she had a hand in this as some kind of payback.

War on conservative Catholics? Sure seems like it. We already know that the pope can't stand them -- he barred the Heartland Institute's sound researchers on the topic of global warming from a Vatican conference while welcoming committed anti-Catholic Marxists who detest the U.S. and free markets, such as Naomi Kline, instead. He's also shut down Latin masses as if reducing the choice of worship styles is the best way to widen the reach of the Church. It does seem like a punch in the gut to conservatives given the gotcha tone of the lefty celebrations.  

The second thing that comes to mind is that Francis is interested in sealing his progressive legacy, even after his death.

According to The Wall Street Journal:

Upon his elevation of the new cardinals in August, Pope Francis will have named 83 of the 132 cardinal electors, or 63% of the body eligible to choose his successor. Ten of the electors, or 7.6%, will be U.S. cardinals. According to Vatican statistics, the U.S. accounts for 5.5% of the world’s 1.36 billion Catholics.

The naming of McElroy to the spot of cardinal inflates the Church's cardinal count to 132, 12 over the by-precedent limit of 120, meaning, few new cardinals are going to be named until at least after 2023. 

While the naming of McElroy is disturbing to conservatives, effectively telling us to disappear, forcing us to listen to fraudy science about global warming, and pick-and-choose rule-of-law in the states, and for that matter, the Church, along with increasing intertwining of Church and the administrative state, we also have to consider what the pope was trying at least nominally to do -- to widen the appeal of the Church to people who've always been against Catholicism and who want, as Pelosi puts it, "to do what they do." With so much of society secularized, maybe this could be a way to bring more people in, even as it alienates conservatives. After all, who doesn't want hate-filled lefties finally going to some kind of church? And the Church hierarchy already knows that conservatives among them are not going to leave, so it's easy to take them for granted and just tell them to shut up, much the way the Democrats tell their black and Hispanic constituents that they've got no other place to go.

It may or may not work. Right now, it looks like a warlike action intended to repress faithful Catholic conservatives and give them nothing but a diet of secular wokesterism wrapped up in religious teaching.

All the same, as a conservative Catholic myself in the San Diego diocese, I am not keen to be in constant battle with this guy. It's better not to jump to conclusions or despair just yet. It helps to leave the door open to other possibilities and not judge McElroy too harshly before he has had a chance to say or do anything outrageous.

It's natural to have a sense of dread, but it might not be as bad as expected.

As a person, and a pastor, McElroy's not horrible. I listened to his Zoom masses during the first COVID lockdowns when the whole Church and its masses were reduced to Zoom sessions, and far from finding him distant and opaque, found him warm and engaging. He spoke from the heart, he spoke of his everyday experiences, he gave of himself to the parishioners as if he liked them, and hewed closely to the Gospel readings as if he were interested in them and thought and read about them a lot, offering unusual and interesting insights, and not once did he touch on battling-bishop politics. He seemed uniquely talented, and better still he made it a habit of visiting the many parishes in the diocese, including my own, where he was just as warm and engaging. He does have a talent for communicating and inspiring, which might be what the pope was thinking of as he seeks to advance his big-tent agenda. Like Volodymyr Zelensky, he has communication skills that add up to more than his numbers would suggest.

If he sticks to that and avoids electric third-rail politics until he can understand why they are electric third rails, he could be a fine cardinal who may even be able to draw the Church together.

And we know he's heard this from us -- I was a participant in the diocesan Synod in San Diego last March, where parishioners gather in small groups in their churches and deliver their candid thoughts about what is going on in the Church. The general sentiment I heard is that they want McElroy to keep out of politics and stick to Church doctrine, especially on abortion, and on conscience exceptions to COVID vaccines. 

He probably won't entirely, but if he keeps the politics at a minimum on an everyday level, he won't be a source of conflict, even if he has one vote for some even crazier wokester lefty to elevate to the Chair of St. Peter. 

On the other hand, if he throws his weight around and pushes junk science, family disintegration, cafeteria Catholicism, anti-Americanism, statism-uber-alles, and the rest of the wokester agenda onto us as the activists' and maybe Nancy Pelosi's obedient puppet, he will be one of the most divisive cardinals out there. The conservatives will ignore him and listen only to recognizable and credible archbishops such as Cordileone, fragmenting the Church into camps of sorts, which can only open the door to schisms and power struggles.

Conservative Catholics can pray for him the same way they pray for a conversion of the heart of Vladimir Putin, which ought to be a message of sorts to him.  If things get really bad, they can withhold money from church collections, given that the main reason American Catholics are overrepresented in the Vatican hierarchy seems to be that they donate the most money. The rest of us can cross our fingers because it seems unmistakable that Pope Francis views conservative Catholics as his biggest problem.

 Image: U.S. Institute of Peace, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

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