ROME — The leader of a dissident Catholic LGBT advocacy group has praised Pope Francis’ choice of San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy to become a cardinal, calling McElroy “the kind of prelate our church needs.”
Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement Monday that the appointment of McElroy as a cardinal “will help to re-shape the episcopacy of the Catholic Church in the U.S., which has been overwhelmingly and vehemently anti-LGBTQ.”
New Ways Ministry “welcomes the appointment of San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy as a cardinal,” DeBernardo said, as one “who will stretch out a hand, not a fist, to the LGBTQ community.”
With this appointment, “Pope Francis is making sure that his outreach to LGBTQ people will continue after his papacy ends,” the statement declares. “As an elector of future popes, McElroy can play a role in making sure that the next papacy will continue in the welcoming spirit of Pope Francis.”
DeBernardo went on to enumerate the many ways in which Bishop McElroy has shown himself to be a faithful ally of the LGBTQ community.
McElroy “was the first bishop (and one of the few) to offer condolences to the LGBTQ community after Orlando’s Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016,” DeBernardo noted, and said the tragedy was “a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.”
When the San Diego bishop held a diocesan synod on family life in 2016, “LGBTQ issues were widely discussed and pro-LGBTQ measures were proposed,” the statement added.
McElroy has called “for greater affirmation and welcome for the LGBTQ community,” DeBernardo said, and supported Pope Francis in apologizing to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people.
Bishop McElroy has been a staunch defender of Jesuit Father James Martin, and when the priest came under criticism in 2017, McElroy “not only defended him, but strongly criticized the right-wing Catholic movement which routinely disparages people in a vicious manner,” DeBernardo said.
The attack on Father Martin “must be a wake-up call for the Catholic community to look inward and purge itself of bigotry against the L.G.B.T. community,” McElroy said at the time. “If we do not, we will build a gulf between the church and L.G.B.T. men and women and their families.”
McElroy was also “one of the first bishops to sign the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s statement of encouragement to LGBTQ youth which declared ‘God is on your side,’” DeBernardo observed.
Without putting too fine a point on it, New Ways Ministry has a “conflicted” history with the United States bishops.
In 2010, Cardinal Francis George, then-president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference (USCCB), issued a statement noting that “from the time of the organization’s founding in 1977, serious questions have been raised about the group’s adherence to Church teaching on homosexuality.”
Moreover, in 1984 the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) permanently barred the two co-founders of New Ways Ministry, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Fr. Robert Nugent from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons because of errors and ambiguities in their pastoral approach, Cardinal George observed.
“No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice,” Cardinal George wrote. “Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination.”
Like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, “New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States,” the cardinal declared.