Contra Cardinal McElroy’s Moral Muddle

In January, Cardinal Robert McElroy, one of the most recent Bishops elevated to the cardinalate by Pope Francis, published quite a controversial article in the Jesuit-run America magazine, which quickly inflamed ecclesiastical circles. After receiving countless criticisms, he decided to publish his respondeo, which was supposed to bring some clarification. No need to say, that the arrow did not hit the target… or maybe it did, and maybe too well. Indeed, if Cardinal McElroy fails to clarify his dubious doctrinal and moral positions, it is now clear that he is well-aware of the meaning and weight of his words and is not afraid to proclaim them.

Below, I share and comment some insights of this respondeo, hoping that the readers will be able to make their own mind. This would possibly lead to an outcome where the sensus fidei fidelium of the readers will show itself more solidly grounded than Cardinal McElroy’s quite distorted sensus fidei fidelis

I will quote from Cardinal McElroy in italic, and respond accordingly.

For every member of the church, it is conscience to which we have the ultimate responsibility and by which we will be judged. For that reason, while Catholic teaching has an essential role in moral decision-making, it is conscience that has the privileged place. As Pope Francis has stated, the church’s role is to form consciences, not replace them. Categorical exclusions of the divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. persons from the Eucharist do not give due respect to the inner conversations of conscience that people have with their God in discerning moral choice in complex circumstances.”

If Catholics should choose things in conformity with their conscience, they still have to align it to basic moral and doctrinal principles. One cannot simply follow his quite damaged (by original and personal sins) capacity to discern truth and good by choosing lies over truth; death over life; the devil over Christ, and ask to be admitted to the Eucharist since his conscience does not – apparently – accuse him.

Finally, I proposed that the Eucharist is given to us as a profound grace in our conversion to discipleship. As Pope Francis reminds us, the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” To bar disciples from that grace blocks one of the principal pathways Christ has given to them to reform their lives and accept the Gospel ever more fully. For all of these reasons, I proposed that divorced and remarried or L.G.B.T. Catholics who are ardently seeking the grace of God in their lives should not be categorically barred from the Eucharist.

Yes, the Eucharist increases sanctifying grace in a soul, but one must already be in a state of grace to receive this increase in habitual grace, along with the sacramental grace of the Eucharist. If the Church cannot judge the interior state of life of a faithful, she still can look at exterior acts. An active homosexual person engaging in deliberate homosexual acts is hardly in a state where sanctifying grace can increase.

Also, one good way to make sure one is able to have an increase in sanctifying grace and to be assured of the sacramental grace of the Eucharist is to go to Confession and be assured of the validity of this sacrament. However, Cardinal McElroy seems to consider the sacrament of Penance only as a possible surplus to sacramental life, which life seems to be solely the Eucharist.

This having been said, I don’t see any problem in giving Holy Communion to contrite homosexuals who validly received sacramental absolution, but according to Cardinal McElroy, we should not divide the « LGBT community » between active and unrepentant homosexuals and those striving for a virtuous life…

Categorical exclusions of the divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. persons from the Eucharist do not give due respect to the inner conversations of conscience that people have with their God in discerning moral choice in complex circumstances.

So, according to Cardinal McElroy, one cannot have a conversation with God and a fruitful examination of conscience without a prior reception of the Eucharist? If Catholics are required to attend Mass every Sunday and day of obligation of the year, they are only obliged to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist once a year. Does it mean that a Catholic attending Mass every Sunday but receiving Communion once a year cannot pray or examine his conscience?

Also, such a statement undermines the very essence of the Eucharist. If the Eucharist is only a friendly banquet where all are welcome to share the ‘bread and wine’ offered by the guest master, indeed, all should attend and eat.

If, however, the Eucharist is the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Calvary, it is indeed fitting to eat of the sacrificed Lamb, but Pius X, in his catechism, recalled that the ends of the Eucharist are still the same, whether you eat it or not. Also, one can still participate in the latreutic, Eucharistic. and propitiatory aspects of the Mass without receiving Communion and still receive graces associated with the Mass (impetratory aspect). The entire Church shares in the fruits of the Eucharist, not just those receiving Communion.

It is important to note that the criticisms of my article did not seek to demonstrate that the tradition classifying all sexual sins as objective mortal sin is in fact correct, or that it yields a moral teaching that is consonant with the wider universe of Catholic moral teaching. Instead, critics focused upon the repeated assertion that the exclusion of divorced/remarried and L.G.B.T. Catholics from the Eucharist is a doctrinal, not a pastoral question.

Here, many things are implied by Cardinal McElroy, things presented more thoroughly above in his article. Without entering in the broad topic of morality (or immorality) of sexual acts outside of marriage, I would only say that a sexual sin between a man and a woman can somehow be re-ordered toward the good that it should have been ordered to earlier. Homosexual acts, on the other hand, can never be re-ordered toward the unitive and procreative dimension of marriage and sexual act. Comparing active homosexuals to sexually active divorced heterosexuals is another proof of the disordered intellectual and spiritual nature of Cardinal McElroy’s thesis.

The pastoral theology of Pope Francis requires that the liturgical and sacramental life of the church be formed in compassionate embrace with the often overwhelming life challenges that prevent men and women at some periods in their life from conforming fully with important Gospel challenges. And the pastoral theology of Pope Francis rejects a notion of law that can be blind to the uniqueness of concrete human situations, human suffering and human limitation.

In the final part of his respondeo to his critics, Cardinal McElroy argues that the doctrinal aspect of the Church should be submitted to the pastoral aspect, that laws, faith and morals should follow a development based on the evolution of the society. Yet, even if certain canons or liturgical laws can change, dogmas and revealed matters of faith and morals cannot.

What Cardinal McElroy is advocating for is, in the words of Saint Vincent of Lerins, a «wicked novelty, while the institutions of former ages are being set at naught, while the decrees of our fathers are being rescinded, while the determinations of our ancestors are being torn in pieces, the lust of profane and novel curiosity refuses to restrict itself within the most chaste limits of hallowed and uncorrupt antiquity »…  (Commonitorium, chapter 4, paragraph 11)