Bishop Robert McElroy says some in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have urged the group “to move toward a more confrontational stance toward Biden and the new administration.” Photo by Ken Stone

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego says he hopes the Roman Catholic Church will be “proud collaborators” with the Joe Biden administration on several issues — despite the president-elect’s support of abortion rights.

Interviewed for the National Catholic Reporter, McElroy told Christopher White that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “needs to be frank and forthright in its sharp disagreement with the president-elect’s [abortion] position and where the administration seems likely to go.”

But a week after the bishops met via Zoom for their semiannual conference, McElroy said other matters demand attention.

He noted climate change, “the searing questions of racial justice and division which have been so exacerbated in the last four years” and economic relief for those affected by COVID-19.

The Reporter said he wants to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines when they become available.

Kevin C. Eckery, vice chancellor for communications and public affairs in the San Diego diocese, said Tuesday that McElroy expressed his blessings and best wishes for Biden as a matter of goodwill, not politics.

“He has not been in touch with the Biden transition team,” Eckery said in response to an email query.

McElroy was motivated to offer his blessings and best wishes not as a matter of politics, but an expression of good citizenship, Eckery added.

“Bishop McElroy was proud to point out President-Elect Biden’s status as only the second Roman Catholic president of the United States,” he said. “Like all Americans, he wishes the president-elect good health and success as he takes up his responsibilities.”

In his interview with the independent publication, McElroy noted “some voices that urge the conference to move toward a more confrontational stance toward Biden and the new administration.”

“I think that’s really contrary to the tradition of our conference and is going to be counterproductive if a move is made in that direction,” the 66-year-old bishop was quoted as saying.

McElroy reacted in the wake of Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez announcing last week that he was forming a working group to examine what Biden’s ascendance would mean for the bishops’ conference.

Gomez is president of the bishops conference.

The National Catholic Reporter said some bishops are concerned that the posture of their group toward Biden could damage possible collaboration on a range of issues where they believe common ground exists.

“The conference has operated on the principle that the church has no political mission in the public order, but it does have a moral mission in the political order,” McElroy said, “namely to point to the moral dimensions of public policy issues so as to help form the consciences of believers.”

A year ago in Baltimore, McElroy took heat for saying at the bishops meeting that “it is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the pre-eminent issue that we face in the world of Catholic social teaching. It is not.”

In June 2019, speaking at Creighton University in Omaha, McElroy argued that climate change should become “a central priority” for the U.S. Catholic Church.

“If we don’t get this issue right, in the end none of the other issues are going to matter,” he said, “because human dignity will have been destroyed as we know it if our planet is destroyed.”

And even before Biden became the Democrats’ pick for president, McElroy told a University of San Diego audience in February that “protecting the lives of unborn children” was only one issue for voters. So was reversal of climate change “that threatens the future of humanity.”

In a talk titled “Conscience, Candidates and Discipleship in Voting,” McElroy said other key views to consider were immigrant and refugee rights, opposition to racism, universal nuclear disarmament, workers’ rights and “efforts to fight poverty and egregious inequalities of wealth.”

“In the end,” he said, “it is the candidate who is on the ballot, not a specific issue. The faith-filled voter is asked to make the complex judgment: Which candidate will be likely to best advance the common good through his office in the particular political context he will face?”

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