San Diego Bishop: ‘Death Toll’ from Climate Change Worse Than Abortion

Bishop Robert W. McElroy speaks during a news conference in which he was introduced as the Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in San Diego. McElroy, has been serving as an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco since 2010. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy said Thursday 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 progressive bishop said during a public lecture at the University of San Diego. 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.

According to a report from the San Diego Union-Tribune, McElroy declared that President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Climate Accord “is a far greater moral evil” than federal health centers providing contraception.

While contraception is “intrinsically evil,” he said, “it is a far greater moral evil for our country to abandon the Paris Climate Accord than to provide contraceptives in federal health centers.”

For its part, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

Abortion “is gravely contrary to the moral law,” the Catechism declares, and therefore a person who procures an abortion incurs excommunication from the Church “by the very commission of the offense.”

The Catechism is silent on the matter of “climate change” and climate accords but does state that man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings “is not absolute” but “is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.”

In his 2015 encyclical on environmental stewardship, Laudato Si, Pope Francis called for “forthright and honest debate” on climate change and other ecological questions, declaring that the Church “knows that honest debate must be encouraged” while respecting “divergent views.”

While insisting that climate change has “grave implications” and “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day,” the pope also noted that “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.”

Bishop McElroy has never hidden his hostility 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.

Noting that the United States is living “a pivotal moment as a people and a nation” in which “bitter divisions cleave our country and pollute our actual dialogue,” the bishop urged his hearers to resist the temptation to unite under the president and rather to oppose him at every turn.

“We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families,” McElroy said. “We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies, rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men and women and children as sources of fear rather than as children of God.”

“Let all the world know that this economy kills,” the bishop said at the time, urging his hearers to agitate for an increase in the minimum wage to “at least $15 an hour.”

Curiously, several months earlier, Bishop McElroy had sent a letter to 100 parishes in his diocese insisting that Church leaders must not “engage in partisan political activity of any kind.”

Last November, Bishop McElroy resisted efforts by the U.S. bishops to declare abortion to be the “preeminent” moral issue of our day.

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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