Cardinal McElroy Denounces the ‘Haters’

“It is essential to safeguard the deposit of faith,” Cardinal Robert McElroy affirmed in his recent address to the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Religious Education Congress. Yet he next posed this question:

But how do the doctrinal tradition and history of the church restrict the church’s ability to refine its teaching when confronted with a world where life itself is evolving in critical ways, and it is becoming clear that on some issues the understanding of human nature and moral reality upon which previous declarations of doctrine were made were in fact limited or defective?

He, therefore, claims that the Deposit of Faith – Divine Revelation – is poorly served “on some issues” by the Church’s “previous” doctrinal declarations that were conditioned by history. (No mention here of the Holy Spirit’s role in protecting the Church from teaching error.) This tradition and history have produced an unsatisfactory result: the Church is restricted in her ability to refine Catholic teaching in an evolving world.

Refinement is an obvious euphemism for alteration. Cardinal McElroy claims that “it is becoming clear” (to whom?) that the anthropological and moral foundations of Catholic doctrine “on some issues” were “in fact limited or defective.”

What issues? Primarily, homosexuality; secondarily, divorce and remarriage. Cardinal McElroy takes for granted the existence of what he calls the “exclusion of the divorced and the remarried and LGBT+ Catholics” in the Church. He praises the 2023 Synod’s Synthesis report, which “recognizes and condemns powerfully the structures in society and the church that grind people down with unceasing exclusion.” The Synthesis “condemns all of these barriers as sinful.”

Leaving aside, for the moment, whether the Synthesis actually says that: Why does he think that “LGBT+ Catholics” are being ground down and excluded by the Church? He finds “in our own country. . .[a]n enduring animus toward LGBT+ persons.” Animus is defined as “a usually prejudiced and often spiteful or malevolent ill will” or a “feeling of hate or anger toward someone or something.”

So, it all comes down to persistent “hatred.” Cardinal McElroy is pleased that the Synthesis “condemns all of these evils with the humble recognition that they have existed within the life of the church and are a repudiation of Jesus Christ.”

How does Cardinal McElroy justify this severe judgment? He uses a “whataboutism” argument: Those who reject the blessing of homosexual couples are most likely acting with malevolence because they expend little energy in condemning the blessing of adulterous unions:

It is wholly legitimate for a priest to decline to perform the blessings outlined in Fiducia [supplicans] because he believes that to do so would undermine the strength of marriage.  But it is particularly distressing that the opposition to Fiducia in our own country focuses overwhelmingly on blessing those in same-sex relationships rather than those many more men and women who are in heterosexual relationships that are not ecclesially valid.  If the reason for opposing such blessings is really that this practice will blur and undermine the commitment to marriage, then the opposition should, one thinks, be focusing at least equally on blessings for heterosexual relationships.

Go and sin no more . . . The Woman Taken in Adultery by Sebastiano Ricci, c. 1724 [Royal Collection Trust, London]

Cardinal McElroy seems to believe that critics of Fiducia’s blessing of homosexual couples can only refute the charge of having a hateful animus against homosexuals if they equally criticize the blessing of adulterous relationships. Absent that, they are presumed to act not out of love for the Church’s teaching, but rather out of angry and malevolent ill will.

This stigmatizing characterization of the supposedly uncharitable motives of the “overwhelming” majority of opponents of Fiducia is a discussion-ending tactic. Cardinal McElroy certainly would not want us to pay any attention to what haters actually say. A sincere defense of Catholic doctrine and practice need not be addressed by Cardinal McElroy; it’s simply to be dismissed as a smokescreen that hides “hatred.”

In any event, supposing that the critics of Fiducia were not in fact haters, why would Cardinal McElroy feel the need to enter into discussion with them about “previous declarations of doctrine” that are considered by him to be based upon a “limited or defective. . .understanding of human nature and moral reality?”

Cardinal McElroy does not notice at all the existence of a decades-long, tireless campaign to convince the Church to bless homosexual unions. No equally vehement campaign has been noted regarding the blessing of people who are euphemistically identified as being in “heterosexual relationships that are not ecclesially valid.” Perhaps Fr. James Martin, S.J. needs to invite a New York Times reporter and photographer to witness him blessing an adulterous couple lest he too be stigmatized as “focusing overwhelmingly on blessing those in same-sex relationships.”

Is it an act of hatred to consider that a relationship founded upon the commitment to engage in intrinsically immoral acts cannot receive God’s favor through a priestly blessing? Is Catholic moral teaching that categorizes sodomy as an act of grave moral turpitude an expression of animus against those who engage in such sins? Is it not rather an act of charity to teach two people who engage in sodomy that God is displeased with their behavior, and thus no blessing can be given to their relationship?

Cardinal McElroy proclaims, “the rigorous obligation of every local church in justice and solidarity to protect LGBT+ persons in their lives and equal dignity” and “the obligation of the church in every land to offer genuine accompaniment to LGBT+ men and women in their lives of faith and pilgrimage.”

Equal dignity, protection, and accompaniment of all persons are worthy goals for the Church. But these goals cannot be realized when those who reject the blessing of homosexual relationships are harshly judged and dismissed as “haters.” Those who refuse to embrace the notion that Church must evolve away from “previous declarations of doctrine” are not haters but, rather, faithful disciples of Christ the Teacher.


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PODCAST: Will the Church now bless same-sex ‘couples’? (Robert Royal and Fr. Gerald Murray)

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza Fiducia Supplicans’ Geography of Sin

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.