PopeWatch: The Francis Effect and Nancy Pelosi’s Bishop


Father Z has coined a phrase “the Francis Effect” that I fear we will all become quite familiar with:

Six months into this pontificate, and people are starting to go a little crazy.

For example, the Archbishop of Birmingham is talking about intercommunion with Anglicans, based on a document which dates back to 1993 and concerns the conditions necessary for intercommunion with the Eastern Orthodox.   (In other words, that document doesn’t apply.  One is an actual Church with valid sacraments and the other is neither.)

For example, in the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, some minor chancery official usurped authority which was not his in order to outline a “policy” that would allow the divorced and remarried in the diocese to receive Communion.  (In other words, it remains entirely against the law and, whether he did it on his own or with the wink and nod of the diocese’s administrator, someone oughta get their backside paddled, and hard.)

Not helpful.

In some places, the Church’s teaching on doctrine and morals are out the window.

Real colors are being revealed.

We have a prime example of the Francis Effect from Nancy Pelosi’s pet Bishop:  Robert W. McElroy.  Appointed by Pope Benedict for some inexplicable reason as an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco in 2010, McElroy wrote a piece for the Jesuit rag America in 2005 in which he rode to the rescue of pro-abort Catholic politicians facing a potential risk of being denied the Eucharist for voting in favor of child murder in utero:

1. The denial of the Eucharist to political leaders who support abortion legislation will inevitably be perceived by Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, as coercive. The church has presented itself to American society as a witness to the values of the Gospel in the social order, seeking to convert minds and hearts to defend the dignity of the human person. Eucharistic sanctions will be seen as a repudiation of this role in the public square and the adoption of a radically new stance based upon the coercion of minds rather than the conversion of minds. It does not matter that eucharistic sanctions would be fully within the legitimate moral and civil rights of the church to adopt, and that those who have attacked them as a violation of the separation of church and state are totally in error in their understanding of the constitutional tradition of the United States. What does matter enormously is that Americans will in general recoil from the use of the Eucharist as a political weapon, and will reassess their overall opinion of the church’s role in the political order. Not only will sanctions not increase support for pro-life legislation; they will also undermine support for the church’s entire effort to bring Gospel values to the structures and policies of American government and society.

2. Eucharistic sanctions will further identify abortion as a sectarian Catholic issue and thus play into the hands of those who falsely accuse the pro-life movement of imposing specifically religious tenets upon the American people. One of the most damaging and mistaken charges leveled against pro-life political leaders and groups is the assertion that the commitment to protect human life from the moment of conception is a specifically religious principle and should not be enshrined in law in a religiously free society. The pro-life movement has worked arduously to refute this assertion and to build a coalition that crosses religious boundaries, embracing men and women of all religions and no religion. The imposition of eucharistic sanctions will cripple this effort.

3. The use of eucharistic sanctions for political action will inevitably breed a reductionist outlook in defining the church’s social agenda. One of the greatest strengths of the church’s teaching in the social and political orders has been the breadth of vision the Catholic tradition brings to the monumental problems of our times. Repeatedly, the church has refused to countenance any effort to reduce this social teaching to fit categories imposed by particular political systems or structures. In its Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life (November 2002), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith powerfully attested to the full spectrum of these moral imperatives for Catholics. Yet the sanctions movement has already made clear that it advances a two-tier notion of political imperatives for Catholics, one that centers upon life issues and another for all other political and social questions. The life issues will be deemed essential to the fullness of Catholic faith and thus to participation in the Eucharist; all other issues–including war and issues of economic justice, over which the United States exercises unparalleled influence because of its political and economic power—will be relegated to secondary status.

4. The imposition of eucharistic sanctions will cast the church as a partisan actor in the American political system. One of the great tragedies of American politics in the present day is that the Democratic and Republican parties have evolved in a way that makes it virtually impossible for candidates who follow Catholic social teaching in its major elements to win party primaries and thus to be elected to office. In the main, this means that Republican political leaders in the United States are more reflective of the church’s stance on abortion, euthanasia, cloning and marriage, while Democratic political leaders are more likely to reflect Catholic values on issues pertaining to war and peace, the poor, the death penalty and the environment. Such a schism in our political culture places Catholic voters who wish to follow church teaching in a very difficult position. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has handled this dilemma by emphasizing the importance of the wide spectrum of critical social issues, while simultaneously pointing to the particularly critical role that abortion has in the present day. The imposition of eucharistic sanctions solely on candidates who support abortion legislation will inevitably transform the church in the United States, in the minds of many, into a partisan, Republican-oriented institution  and thus sacrifice the role that the church has played almost alone in American society in advocating a moral agenda that transcends the political divide.

Now, as an example of the Francis Effect, he has struck again in America, and citing Pope Francis, he declares that the fight against poverty should be on the same footing as the fight against abortion for the Church in America:

Within the United States, we also turn our eyes away from the growing domestic inequality that ruins lives and breaks spirits. Pope Francis speaks directly to this: “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” The United States, which for so much of its great history has stood for economic mobility and a broad, comfortable middle class, now reflects gross disparities in income and wealth and barriers to mobility. The poor suffer a “benign neglect” in our political conversations, and absorb brutal cuts in governmental aid, especially at the state level.

If the Catholic Church is truly to be a “church for the poor” in the United States, it must elevate the issue of poverty to the very top of its political agenda, establishing poverty alongside abortion as the pre-eminent moral issues the Catholic community pursues at this moment in our nation’s history. Both abortion and poverty countenance the deaths of millions of children in a world where government action could end the slaughter. Both abortion and poverty, each in its own way and to its own degree, constitute an assault on the very core of the dignity of the human person, instrumentalizing life as part of a throwaway culture. The cry of the unborn and the cry of the poor must be at the core of Catholic political conversation in the coming years because these realities dwarf other threats to human life and dignity that confront us today.

So, it is the seamless, and moth-eaten, garment back with a vengeance.  McElroy of course is as transparent as glass.  This is an attempt to neuter the Church in the struggle against abortion and to give political cover to the party of abortion:  the Democrat Party.  Ironically, if Bishop McElroy were truly interested in combating poverty, the very last party he would support is the Democrat Party, with its ossified commitment to a manifestly dying welfare state that traps generation after generation in government dependence an poverty.  Of course this attempt to put poverty and abortion on the same moral footing is directly contrary to Church teaching, or at least that was the opinion of then Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote to Cardinal  McCarrick in 2004:

1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision,  based on a reasoned judgment regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to  the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full  communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a  penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy  Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice  of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a  consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf.  Instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” nos. 81, 83).

2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical  Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that  authorize or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and  clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. […] In the case of  an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it  is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign  in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave  obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if  permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the  moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. […] This  cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of  others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it”  (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.  For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the  application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not  for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy  Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war,  and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may  still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse  to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among  Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with  regard to abortion and euthanasia.

4. Apart from an individual’s judgment about his worthiness to present himself  to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself  in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone,  such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an  obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal  cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician,  as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and  euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the  Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy  Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning  him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

Perhaps Bishop McElroy never has read the letter?  Perhaps he read it and it has slipped his mind?  Perhaps he read it and doesn’t give a d–n?  If nothing else, PopeWatch expects the current papacy to be amusing in watching the antics of born again ultramontanes, who had little but contempt for prior Church teaching when it diverged from their preferred politics.