Pope Francis’ teaching represents a “new theological tradition” that “does not first demand a change of life,” San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy recently told theology graduates.
In a commencement address at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University on May 20, Bishop McElroy referred to Pope Francis’ “pastoral” approach as a distinct new branch of theology that “begins with an embrace of divine love” and recognizes that people who face “overwhelming” challenges are unable to follow the Gospel.
“There has emerged in the last three years a vibrantly transformed branch of Catholic theology which is rightfully claiming its place as a central element of Catholic doctrine and practice” Bishop McElroy stated, “the pastoral theology which is contained in the teachings of Pope Francis.”
And though “there were splendid pastoral teachings in the Catholic theological tradition in every age,” the San Diego bishop said, Pope Francis “points to an understanding of pastoral theology which is far more robust.”
“It demands that moral theology proceed from the actual pastoral action of Jesus Christ, which does not first demand a change of life,” Bishop McElroy said, “but begins with an embrace of divine love, proceeds to the action of healing and only then requires a conversion of action in responsible conscience.”
The bishop acknowledged that some people are confronted with “overwhelming life challenges” that prevent them from following the Gospel, the National Catholic Reporter noted in a report on the speech. “The pastoral theology of Pope Francis rejects a notion of law which can be blind to the uniqueness of concrete human situations, human suffering and human limitation,” he said.
The Catholic Church teaches that salvation can be attained through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, provided one repents of their sin and puts forth their best effort to live according to God’s law. It teaches as well that God’s grace is available to all who avail themselves of it by turning to Him.
Bishop McElroy, a 2015 Pope Francis appointee, told attendees of a February Vatican-sponsored conference in California, “Now we must all become disruptors” in regard to opposing President Trump’s proposed immigration and healthcare policies.
After a diocesan synod last fall, the bishop released a statement on implementation of Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia exhortation in his diocese conveying one of the most liberal interpretations of the document among U.S. prelates. Read Jesuit Extreme Oath of Induction Exposed
In it he encouraged inclusivity and embracing of LGBT families, and indicated that the Church in San Diego was open to allowing divorced and remarried Catholics without an annulment to receive the Eucharist in some instances.
The bishop said last summer in an interview that the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s terminology identifying homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” is “very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally,”
Bishop McElroy’s comments on last June’s terrorist massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub focused on anti-gay bigotry, directed at one point within the Catholic Church, as he termed the terrorist attack “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.”
At the commencement, Bishop McElroy was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree. He had earned a licentiate in sacred theology in 1985 from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, the school a member college of the Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley.
The school’s dean praised Bishop McElroy’s advocacy for immigrants and the poor, saying it “has been vital to our national dialog in a time of great change.”
“With a profound intellect and a pastor’s heart, you embody in many ways how Pope Francis calls us to live our faith thoughtfully and compassionately amid the complex realities of human life,” Jesuit Fr. Kevin O’Brien said.
Bishop McElroy urged faculty at the Jesuit school of theology to focus on Pope Francis’ pastoral theology and put it “at the very center and life of this institution.”
“It will be one of the greatest theological projects of our age to understand how this new theological tradition should be formed,” he said, “how it can bring unity, energy and insight into the intersection of Catholic faith and the modern world.”