Illinois Bishop Accuses Progressive San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy of ‘Heresy’

Newly created Cardinal Robert Walter McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, attends a reception for
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

ROME — The redoubtable bishop of Springfield, IL, has publicly accused San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy of “heresy” for his rejection of the Church’s basic moral teaching.

“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon today to hear Catholic leaders affirm unorthodox views that, not too long ago, would have been espoused only by heretics,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki affirms in an essay Tuesday in First Things.

It is “deeply troubling to consider the possibility that prelates holding the office of diocesan bishop in the Catholic Church may be separated or not in full communion because of heresy,” Bishop Paprocki writes, because they “reject essential truths of the faith.”

While never explicitly mentioning his name, Bishop Paprocki cites Cardinal McElroy (pictured) and takes him to task for the latter’s suggestion that gay sex is not sinful and that any Catholic should be able to receive the Eucharist, even if in a state of grave sin. Both of these opinions stand in stark contrast to the Church’s longstanding teaching, going all the way back to Saint Paul.

Both the cases “in fact involve heresy, since heresy is defined as ‘the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith,’” states Paprocki, who is himself a prominent canon lawyer and chairman-elect of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.

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)

File/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.  (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Moreover, Paprocki declares, according to Canon Law, “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication,” which is a sentence that is automatically incurred “without any canonical process.”

Since a person who espouses heresy has separated himself from the communion of the Church, heretics “inflict the penalty of excommunication upon themselves,” he adds.

Turning to the specific examples cited above, the bishop goes on to cite Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul states: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord . . . For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:27–29).

Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that anyone aware of having sinned mortally “must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance,” he notes.

The Catechism also teaches that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and are “contrary to the natural law” and therefore “under no circumstances can they be approved,” Paprocki observes.

For his part, Cardinal McElroy has insisted that the real problem is with Church teaching as expressed in the Catechism, which should be modified to offer a more positive view of gay sex.

“I’ve said for some years,” McElroy argued last month in an interview with the Jesuit-run America magazine, “that the intrinsically disordered language is a disservice.”

“It’s a terrible word and it should be taken out of the catechism,” he declared.

McElroy also proposed abolishing “the distinction between orientation and activity,” when talking about homosexuality, since “it inevitably suggests dividing the L.G.B.T. community into those who refrain from sexual activity and those who do not.” In this way, the distinction between temptation and sin would be completely washed away.

In his essay Tuesday, Bishop Paprocki writes that if “a cardinal of the Catholic Church, like any other Catholic who denies settled Catholic teaching, embraces heresy,” the result is “automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church.”

“Only the pope can remove a cardinal from office or dismiss him from the clerical state in the case of heresy or other grave crimes,” he adds. But if he does not do so, “the unseemly prospect arises of a cardinal, excommunicated latae sententiae due to heresy, voting in a papal conclave.”

“We must pray that the Holy Spirit will not let this happen, and will inspire anyone who espouses heretical views to renounce them and seek reconciliation with our Lord and his Church,” Paprocki concludes.

Pope Francis elevated Bishop McElroy to the rank of cardinal in 2022, earning him kudos from the leader of a dissident Catholic LGBT advocacy group who proclaimed McElroy “the kind of prelate our church needs.”


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