“The pastoral cannot be eclipsed by doctrine”

Bishop McElroy preaches that pastoral action does not immediately demand a change of life; sinners must first be given love and healing

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego

The following is an excerpt from the keynote address given by Bishop of San Diego Robert McElroy to the United States Association of Priests on June 26, 2018, in Albuquerque, New Mexico:

We are living in a wonderful moment in the life of the Church.

The authentic renewal of the Second Vatican Council remains the foundation and the challenge for those who seek to deepen the theology of the Church and bring it into the life of the world.

In his teachings, Pope Francis points to a robust understanding of pastoral theology. It demands that moral theology proceed from the actual pastoral action of Jesus Christ, which does not first demand a change of life, 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 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 periods of their life from conforming adequately 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.  

There are three fundamental foundations for this pastoral theology.

The first foundation is the assertion that not only the activity, but the very nature of the Church involves at its heart pastoral action to heal the hearts of men and women who are suffering. The Church must always be enmeshed in the real lives and sufferings and challenges and joys of the people of God and the whole of humanity.

The second foundation for the pastoral theology that Pope Francis is pointing to lies in the recognition that the Church should mirror the pastoral action of the Lord himself.  It is the pattern of Jesus Christ who walked the earth which we are to incorporate into every element of ecclesial life. When the Lord encountered Zacchaeus in the tree, he was encountering a man despised for his theft and victimization of others.  But Christ’s piercing compassionate embrace, conveyed in the call to eat at the house of this sinner, was sufficient to transform this hardened sinner.

A second pastoral imperative of the pastoral theology of Pope Francis urges us to model our pastoral action on the three steps that formed Jesus’ encounter with those who were suffering or estranged in the Gospel. First, the Lord embraces the person, then he heals them. Then he calls them to reform. Each of these elements of the saving encounter with the Lord is essential.  But their order is also essential.

As a consequence, the pastoral Church must be a non-judgmental Church.  There is no sin which Jesus mentions more frequently in the Gospels than the sin of judgmentalism.  For it is a sin so easy for all of us in our humanity to fall into. We must banish judgmentalism from the life of the Church, and replace it with the constantly affirming love of Jesus Christ.  And in doing so, we will become the truly inclusive community that the Church, both by its charter and its intrinsic mission, was always called to be.

The final foundation for the pastoral theology that Pope Francis is delineating for the life of the Church is the assertion that the Church’s pastoral identity and action must be rooted in the life situations that men and women actually experience in the world today.  It is impossible to build up a pastoral Church without explicitly investigating the signs of the times and then integrating the results of that investigation into the very core of the Church’s mission today.  Thus it is essential that pastoral theology be explicitly and thoroughly inductive in its method.

It is this commitment to inductive method informed by faith and theological reflection that was at the heart of “Amoris Laetitia” and “Laudato Si.”  The lived reality of men and women and children and families was the starting point for the Church’s reflection on marriage and family life, not merely the application point for pre-made theological reflections.

Similarly, the degradation of the planet that undermines so many elements of human dignity and the future of the Earth itself, was the starting point for a Catholic theology of the environment, not merely an insertion point for the rich Catholic tradition on creation.  

It is frequently said by those who have opposed elements of the pastoral mission of Pope Francis that doctrine cannot be superseded by the pastoral.  It is equally important to recognize that the pastoral cannot be eclipsed by doctrine.  For the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ stands at the heart of any balanced understanding of the Church that we are called to be. And pastoral authenticity is as important as philosophical authenticity or authenticity in law in contouring the life of the Church to the charter that our Lord himself has given to us.

Full address at Diocese of San Diego website.

LifeSiteNews: Association of United States Catholic Priests Conference is run by dissident priest organization:

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is currently hosting a conference run by a dissident priest organization with the full support of Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester. 

Some of the pro-homosexual merchandise available at the AUSCP conference. (image: Michael Hichborn/Lepanto Institute)

The conference, put on by the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP), is in full swing until June 28. It features Archbishop Wester as its Episcopal Moderator.  

AUSCP has advocated for homosexuals to be admitted to the priesthood contrary to Church teaching, championed the ordination of married men, and pressed for the ordination of women to the diaconate. 

The AUSCP is part of  an “international coalition of heretical ‘church reform’ organizations called the International Church Reform Network,” reports Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute, who is at the event. Hichborn says that Wester is “playing host for heretics.”  

“Despite this, we are still astounded to see the brazen support the AUSCP is giving to members of this coalition,” he continued.  “Organizations such as FutureChurch, DignityUSA and New Ways Ministry are currently exhibiting and freely fostering their false ideologies at the AUSCP exhibition hall.”

“Even more disturbing is Archbishop Wester’s explicit support of this conference in his own Archdiocese,” added Hichborn.  “Everything presented here is happening under his watch and with his approval.”  

Full story at LifeSiteNews.


  1. I think a good rule of thumb is that a person’s intelligence and theological erudition are inversely proportional to the frequency with which that person quotes Pope Francis approvingly.

  2. Truth Seeker says:

    Much of what the Bishop says merits thorough consideration. Christ’s ministry was, indeed, meeting the sinner with mercy. But after extending mercy the Lord insisted on a then-and-there change of behavior—call that adherence to “doctrine”, if you like. I may misunderstand the Bishop, but he seems to set up a false dichotomy between objective moral norms and merciful encounter, and then puts the cart before the horse. To me this is both unnecessary and erroneous.

  3. Jesus begs to differ with Bishop McElroy: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15c) Those are Jesus’ first public words. Repentance comes first. That was too easy. I’m not even a bishop. Does he think we people are idiots or don’t read the Bible?

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, it’s a bit more nuanced: “14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

      AFTER John the Baptist was offering a baptism of repentence, he was imprisoned. Why? Because John himself says that the one who comes after him is greater than he, so Jesus says, sure, yes, repent, but I have BETTER NEWS, the Good News. And proceeds to have a public ministry in which he heals first then calls the sinner to repent. Jesus is better than John because John got it precisely backwards.

      • Anonymous says:


      • You think John the Baptist got it backwards? You think Jesus heals first before calling to repentance?

        What is the first thing done at the Mass? The Penitential Act. Because repentance comes first.

        If Healing came first, we’d put Communion at the beginning of Mass and the Penitential Act at the end. But we don’t do that. Why not? Because repentance comes first.

  4. Betsy M. says:

    Unfortunately I have to say, “What a cast of characters!”

  5. “We are living in a wonderful moment in the life of the Church.” Um, did you not read about Cardinal McCarrick?

    This report is very disturbing. No bishop gets any money from me ever again. I don’t trust them, I don’t believe them, I don’t think they love the Church, I think they are in it for themselves and they will say anything to mislead, misdirect, misinform, all for their self-advancement. It’s all coming apart, though, and they’re trying to hold it all together because if it collapses or people revolt they are going to lose their perks.

    • Alix, there are some good bishops and priests. Go to the “Courageous Priests” website and see what some have to say. Of course, at times we are bound to be disappointed, even by some of those, because the only perfect man was Christ himself. We need to pray for the others, do good ourselves and remember God always wins in the end.

    • Even Archbishop Gomez, whom some disagree with,, has written some excellent articles that are on that site. He came out against some very anti family legislation here in California and praised Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for one of his good decisions, but do voters listen?

      As Christ said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Mose’s seat, “Do as they say, but do not do as they do.” In other words follow the right teachings of the bishops, but do not follow some of their sinful actions.Support the good, oppose the bad.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Some good news about bishops would be welcome for a change.

  7. I think it’s the bishops who are eclipsing doctrine with their politics.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m waiting for one bishop — just one — who has the spine to call out his brothers in the episcopate and expose the good ol’ boys network of corruption and collusion.

  9. Archbishop Wester comes from San Francisco.

    • My aunt in San Francisco is praying that when Archbishop Cordelone gets appointed to a senior Canon Law position at the Vatican, Bishop Wester will replace him.

      • C & H,

        I hope your Aunt is wrong! The Bishop Wester of old I would of said yes, he would be a good replacement for AB Cordelone, however; NOT the Bishop Wester of today!

        And yes it is VERY SAD that both Bishop McElroy and Wester were brought up on the San Francisco peninsula!!!

        Pray for them both.

  10. Why change your life when everyone goes to heaven anyway? That’s the message people have received. People don’t view the church as necessary for anything, which is why it’s mostly little old ladies who are left.

  11. Vince Ryan says:

    “… pre-made theological reflections” vs. ” lived reality” ? Hmmm. Maybe starting with the words spoken by Jesus Christ would be a good starter.

  12. St. Christopher says:

    B. McElroy is, perhaps, the worse bishop in America (Cupich being a Cardinal). A mendacious sycophant to Francis, B. McElroy ignores the entirety of Christ’s life on Earth and His teachings. He came to free Mankind from sin, not to encourage everyone to enjoy their own smell, as if it were sacramental.

    Changes in behavior in the Bible were caused, always, by a person’s recognition of sin, and repentance from same. Christ was the bridge to that understanding, not an emcee on the “I’m OK, your OK” show. B. McElroy is laughably wrong. Go ahead, laugh at him and tell him so. And never give him a cent.

  13. Innominato says:

    I attended a Catholic Grammar School and a Catholic High School in San Francisco in the 40’s and 50’s. A total of 6 classmates entered into the Priesthood. Can you believe it that 3 of them spent time in State Prison for child abuse and molestation. One of the priest was a Vicar for all the Archdiocese in San Francisco. One of them fled to Mexico with the police on his trail. One of them was moved around to various parishes and then ended up in a parish of the City of Santa Rosa, a nest for homosexual priests. These facts are documented in the liberal daily San Francisco newspaper, the SF Chronicle. These three priests were effeminate mama’s boys and should never have been admitted to the Priesthood. They were not fit to be…

  14. Dear Bishop McElroy: We will start follow the pope’s teaching on Global Warming, Evils of Capitalism, and Immigration and open borders, as soon as this new pastoral approach works with all the Catholic Politicians like say…Ted Kennedy on abortion, okay? This takes time, and so don’t expect an open border, or mass immigration soon. We have to work our way there, with much pastoral help! It may even take our life time to accept all these new teachings of the pope and all the social justice teachings. After all, the reality of the situation is, there are a whole lot of issues for us to work through. We appreciate you not judging us and allowing us much time to work at accepting all of this!

  15. Doctrine cannot be eclipsed by the pastoral. In church documents one can find what is desired to promote a worldly agenda in the church. Holy Church treats individuals with love and respect, but calls them to interior conversion to Jesus Christ away from sin, so that the clean soul can rise to God and be clothed with a new and immortal body when Jesus comes again. It does not dictate open borders, unlimited Muslim refugees, Holy Communion those in adultery, a certain minimum wage requirement but rather a just wage, LGBTQ sex rights. The U.S. church has become all politics all the time. The faithful will have to find priests who teach Jesus all the time, and speak to a conscience of politics only in election time.

  16. Linda Maria says:

    Abp. Wester and Bp. McElroy both are from San Francisco– and both have the same views on everything. What will be our Church’s future?? So sad! And no ordinations to the priesthood this year, in the Archdiocese of San Francisco!

  17. Chardin says:

    Fine…meet people where they are…but don’t leave them there. Is there a story here?

  18. FFr. John says:

    “The pastoral Church must be a non-judgmental Church.” Agree here in principal, and yet it is a dangerous limb to tread upon without also ackowledging the Church’s three-fold munera to teach, govern, and sanctify. The statement is simply incomplete and misleading. To wit: does not the good bishop logically err by making such a polarizing call to so-called “non-judgmental” pastoral practice, while at the same time sounding the alarm against those that might dare state there are indeed times to judge between evil and good. i.e. confessional matters during which parishioners want and expect a question answered (in truth and in toto), external form matters with priests and people, canon law issues regarding matrimony, flagrant and…

  19. Linda Maria says:

    They call it “tough love,” when a parent, medical professional– or clergyman seeks to help guide and heal those deeply trapped in sinful lives. When I was young, hard work and sacrifice, was naturally understood, as necessary anyway, to achieve anything in life. The work ethic was strong! And with tough problems– you have to work much, much harder!! You cannot be “babied” — or you will fail!!

  20. Deacon Craig Anderson says:

    It is impossible for us to be more pastoral than Jesus Himself. God knows.
    We need to heed His words.

  21. bohemond says:

    Not equally “blessed”

  22. Elizabeth T. says:


    We are to judge people’s ACTIONS!! We never condemn them, that is for the Good Lord to do….

    So don’t let some of your family,friends,co-workers try to ‘trap’ you saying you’re being so judgmental. Some
    people just love to use that ‘line’. Just come back with the truth……we are to judge people’s ACTIONS!!
    i.e. a person robbing a bank, killing etc…..

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