In selecting McElroy, Francis passed over the higher-ranking archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone. Earlier this month, Cordileone said he will no longer allow U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to receive Communion because of her support for abortion rights.
McElroy, in a statement, said he was “stunned and deeply surprised” by the news of his appointment.
“My prayer is that in this ministry I might be of additional service to the God who has graced me on so many levels in my life,” he said. “And I pray also that I can assist the Holy Father in his pastoral renewal of the Church.”
Cordileone issued a brief statement noting that McElroy is a native San Franciscan and offering congratulations on the appointment. The statement made no mention of the two clerics’ differences.
Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who has worked with McElroy for many years, also offered congratulations — adding that the new cardinal “will serve the global Church well.”
“By naming Bishop Robert McElroy as a cardinal, Pope Francis has shown his pastoral care for the Church in the United States,” Gomez said in a written statement.
McElroy received a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard in 1975 and a master’s in history from Stanford in 1976.
He studied at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California, and in 1985 received a theology degree at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. He obtained a doctorate in moral theology at the Gregorian University in Rome the following year and a Ph.D in political science at Stanford in 1989.
He was ordained a priest in 1980 and assigned to the San Francisco diocese, where he served in a parish before becoming personal secretary to Archbishop John Quinn. Other California parish assignments included Redwood City and San Mateo.
He became an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco in 2010. In 2015, early in Francis’ pontificate, he was named bishop of San Diego.
Over recent years, McElroy has been among the relatively few U.S. bishops who questioned why the bishops’ conference insisted on identifying abortion as its “preeminent” priority. He has questioned why greater prominence was not given to issues such as racism, poverty, immigration and climate change.
“The death toll from abortion is more immediate, but the long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity,” he said in a speech in 2020.
Last year, he was among a small group of bishops signing a statement expressing support for LGBT youth and denouncing the bullying often directed at them.
The bishops’ statement said LGBT youth attempt suicide at much higher rates, are often homeless because of families who reject them and “are the target of violent acts at alarming rates.”
“We take this opportunity to say to our LGBT friends, especially young people, that we stand with you and oppose any form of violence, bullying or harassment directed at you,” it read. “Most of all, know that God created you, God loves you and God is on your side.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for greater LGBTQ acceptance in the Catholic church, hailed McElroy’s appointment.
“He represents the kind of prelate our church needs, one who will stretch out a hand, not a fist, to the LGBTQ community,” DeBernardo said. “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.”
The Diocese of San Diego runs the length of California’s border with Mexico and serves more than 1.3 million Catholics in San Diego and Imperial counties. It includes 98 parishes, 49 elementary and secondary schools, and, through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of San Diego, various social service and family support organizations throughout the region.
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