San Diego Bishop Defends Voting for Pro-Abortion Politicians

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Public support for abortion does not make a politician a bad Catholic, argued the progressive bishop of San Diego, Robert McElroy, in an online address this week.

“I feel compelled to address one very sad dimension of the election cycle we are witnessing — the public denial of candidates’ identity as Catholics because of a specific policy position they have taken,” Bishop McElroy said in an Oct. 13 Zoom address titled “Voting in Faith, Rebuilding in Hope.”

“Such denials are injurious because they reduce Catholic social teaching to a single issue,” the bishop continued, in clear reference to Joe Biden. “But they are offensive because they constitute an assault on the meaning of what it is to be Catholic.”

“In the end, it is the candidate who is on the ballot, not a specific issue,” he stated. “The faith-filled voter is asked to make the complex judgment: Which candidate will be likely to best advance the common good through his office in the particular political context he will face?”

In his address, Bishop McElroy said that there are three pressing issues defining the upcoming elections, each of which lays legitimate claim to being the preeminent concern for Catholic voters, namely, abortion, climate change, and healing a culture of exclusion and racism.

“Frequently in discussions of the application of Catholic social teaching to voting, the question is raised whether one specific issue is singularly determinative for voting in the current election cycle,” McElroy said. “Some have categorized abortion in that way. Others, climate change. Still other Americans see the central issue in the 2020 election as the ability to heal our culture of exclusion and racism so that we can truly become a unified nation with a coherent political community.”

“Each of these issues has a powerful moral claim upon the conscience of a faith-filled Catholic voter,” he added.

“How should a Catholic voter evaluate the claims put forth by many Catholic leaders that Church teaching demands that abortion, or climate change or rejecting racism is singularly determinative for faithful voting in the election of 2020?” he asks, before suggesting that none of these has an absolute claim of precedence over the others.

“There is no single issue which in Catholic teaching constitutes a magic bullet that determines a unitary option for faith-filled voting in 2020,” he stated and “voting for candidates ultimately involves choosing a candidate for public office, not a stance, nor a specific teaching of the Church.”

While insisting that a Catholic’s defense of the innocent unborn “needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” Bishop McElroy suggested that this does not rule out voting for a pro-abortion candidate even if the other is pro-life.

In his address, the bishop rejected arguments by certain theologians that Catholics should not vote for candidates who promote “intrinsic evils” such as abortion or euthanasia.

The framing of legislation “is inescapably the realm of prudential judgment, not intrinsic evil,” he contended in an act of intellectual legerdemain. “Thus, while a specific act of abortion is intrinsically evil, the formulation of individual laws regarding abortion is not.”

By the bishop’s logic, beating one’s wife would be evil, but pushing for the legalization of wife-beating would not.

“Like the issues of fighting poverty and addressing climate change, the issue of abortion in law and public policy is a realm where prudential judgment is essential and determinative,” he declared.

“Thus the assertion so frequently heard in many Catholic political conversations that the public policy dimensions of poverty and climate change are questions of prudential judgment, while the public policy dimensions of abortion and marriage are not, is simply false,” he proposed.

Because of this, despite Joe Biden’s full-bore support for taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, it is “morally legitimate for a Catholic, having integrated into his decision the teaching of the Church in its integrity and made his decision prayerfully out of a desire to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to conclude in conscience that he should vote to elect Vice President Biden,” McElroy concludes.

This week’s address was not the first time that Bishop McElroy has sought to downplay the importance of abortion.

Last February, the bishop asserted that while abortion is a great evil, “the long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity.”

Both abortion and climate change are “core life issues in the Catholic Church,” the bishop said during a public lecture at the University of San Diego. But neither should be identified as preeminent in 2020 since that would “inevitably be hijacked by partisan forces to propose that Catholics have an overriding duty to vote for candidates who espouse that position,” he said.

Bishop McElroy has never tried to conceal his odium toward President Donald Trump, and just one month after Trump’s inauguration, he called for resistance to the administration.

In an address to a Meeting of Popular Movements in February 2017, McElroy said that “President Trump was the candidate of disruption. He was the disrupter.”

“Well, now we must all become disrupters,” he said.

In November 2019, Bishop McElroy resisted efforts by the U.S. bishops to declare abortion to be the “preeminent” moral issue for Catholic voters.

At the annual bishops’ meeting, McElroy said he disagreed with language singling out abortion as the “preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself,” saying it was contrary to the teaching of Pope Francis.

Bishop McElroy said the text was “discordant with the Pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent” despite the pope’s frequent condemnations of abortion.

“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not,” McElroy declared.

Then-Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput offered a rebuttal to Bishop McElroy, insisting that calling abortion the “preeminent priority” was not just correct but necessary, adding that this position represented no breach with Pope Francis.

“I am against anyone saying that our stating that [abortion] is preeminent is contrary to the teaching of the Pope because that isn’t true,” he said. “It sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father, which isn’t true.”

“I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used because it isn’t true,” he added, eliciting a round of applause from the bishops in the hall.

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