What to Know About Bishop Robert McElroy, Who Will Soon Be a Cardinal

San Diego shepherd has decried ‘weaponization of Eucharist.’

Bishop Robert McElroy.
Bishop Robert McElroy. (photo: Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego / CNA file photo)

Pope Francis announced Sunday that he will create 21 new cardinals in August, one of whom is the bishop of San Diego. 

Who is Bishop Robert McElroy? Here are some fast facts:

A San Francisco native, Bishop McElroy has led the San Diego Diocese since 2015. 

Born in San Francisco in 1954, Bishop McElroy grew up in San Mateo County. McElroy was ordained a priest in 1980 and served as an auxiliary bishop to San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone starting in 2010. 

In 2015, Pope Francis tapped him to lead the San Diego Diocese, succeeding Bishop Cirilo Flores, who died of cancer in September 2014, just one year after assuming the position.

Bishop McElroy underwent coronary bypass surgery late last year, which, according to the diocese, was successful. As a cardinal, at age 68, he is well within the maximum age of 80 to be able to vote in a future conclave. 

Bishop McElroy is a frequently heard voice in the “Eucharistic coherence” debate.

Bishop McElroy has strongly asserted his views that the Eucharist ought not be denied to politicians who support the legalization of abortion. 

In a May 5, 2021, essay, Bishop McElroy decried what he called “a theology of unworthiness” to receive the Eucharist, whereby those who practice it focus too strongly, in his view, on discipline. 

Bishop McElroy argued that the logic of denying pro-abortion politicians the Eucharist constitutes an “extremely expansive” litmus test that “applies sanctions very selectively and inconsistently” and that, in his view, abortion is being singled out to the detriment of other evils. 

“The Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare. This must not happen,” he stated.

“The Eucharist must never be instrumentalized for a political end, no matter how important,” Bishop McElroy also asserted in that essay. 

He also said, in a forum: “I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders of Eucharist based on their public policy stance can be interpreted in our society as anything other than the weaponization of Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument and by dialogue and by reason, but, rather, to pummel them into submission on the issue.”

Some observers have noted the contrast between Bishop McElroy’s outspoken opinion that the Eucharist not be denied to that of Archbishop Cordileone, who last week barred U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from Holy Communion until she repents of her obstinate support for abortion. 

In Archbishop Cordileone’s case, he explained that he issued the instruction regarding Pelosi in accordance with Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which states, “Those … obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”  

The Church teaches “formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.”

“After numerous attempts to speak with her to help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking, I have determined that the point has come in which I must make a public declaration that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion unless and until she publicly repudiate her support for abortion ‘rights’ and confess and receive absolution for her cooperation in this evil in the sacrament of Penance,” Archbishop Cordileone wrote in the letter

Bishop McElroy has faced questions about his response to information about the sexual-abuse crisis.

In 2016, clerical abuse researcher Richard Sipe wrote to Bishop McElroy, listing allegations against half a dozen bishops and warning of a broader problem of chastity violations among clergy. In the letter, Sipe listed allegations against several bishops, including reports of misconduct by Archbishop John Neinstedt and Bishop Robert Brom, abuse by Bishop Thomas Lyons and Bishop Raymond Boland, and cover-up by Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Sipe also said that he had interviewed 12 priests and seminarians who described sexual advances and activity on the part of then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

For his part, Bishop McElroy said he did not respond to that letter because the manner in which it was delivered made Sipe untrustworthy. Following Sipe's death, Bishop McElroy said he had raised concerns that some of the Sipe information may be inaccurate.

Bishop McElroy supports female deacons and has outspokenly supported Catholics who identify as “LGBT.”

In 2019, Bishop McElroy told the National Catholic Reporter that he is in favor of ordaining women to the diaconate, saying, “My view on it is [that] women should be invited into every ministry or activity we have that’s not doctrinally precluded.” Pope Francis has asked two commissions to study the question of a female diaconate in the Catholic Church, the second of which was instituted in 2020 following discussion of women deacons during the 2019 Amazon synod.

In February 2021, Bishop McElroy was one of several U.S. Catholic bishops who signed a statement in opposition to “violence, bullying or harassment” directed at those who identify as “LGBT.” The statement reads, in part: “All people of goodwill should help, support, and defend LGBT youth; who attempt suicide at much higher rates than their straight counterparts; who are often homeless because of families who reject them; who are rejected, bullied and harassed; and who are the target of violent acts at alarming rates.”