top of page

Francis sends U.S. hierarchy a message: Be shepherds, not pharisees

The future Cardinal Robert McElroy

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!


… elevates Bishop McElroy to cardinal, a veritable slap at Gomez and Cordileone

Pope Francis sent the Italian media humming by traveling to a church that a previous pope who had resigned had visited. I have a message for them and for the right-wing American Catholics: Francis is not going anywhere.

In fact, he made clear that he is alive and well by denigrating two of the highest-ranking archbishops, one a member of Opus Dei, in California last week. Instead of selecting the archbishop of Los Angeles, who happens to be the president of the right-wing organization of American bishops, for cardinal, or the Covid and communion-denying archbishop of San Francisco, as cardinals, he took the unusual step of elevating a bishop directly to cardinal.

Not only was it unusual, but it was a move intended to send a very distinct message to the American hierarchy.

Listen to my message of being a shepherd and become part of the church that relies upon the words of Jesus Christ.

Who were those two archbishops? Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the member of Opus Dei, and the notorious leader of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone.

Bishop McElroy

Seldom does a Catholic bishop become elevated directly to a cardinal. Usually, archbishops are the ones who receive those prestigious appointments, but with the controversial hierarchy in the U.S., the pope has indicated that indeed, elevating a bishop over some of the archbishops has become the norm.

Ask Charles Chaput, the former archbishop of Philadelphia whom the pope send to the hinterlands as quickly as he reached 75 — after his predecessors had all received the red hat.

In addition, he is sending a message that those who do not follow the precepts of the Catholic Church shall not be rewarded.

Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter made clear what progressives think of the move, calling him a leading intellectual voice of Catholicism who strongly supports Vatican II,

The news that Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has been named a cardinal is thrilling. The first American to be named a cardinal who was not already an archbishop or a top Vatican official, McElroy has long been recognized as the leading intellectual among the U.S. bishops. He is America's Newman.

St. John Henry Newman was the Anglican clergyman and Oxford don turned Catholic priest, who emerged as the leading 19th Century theologian of the English-speaking world. He earned many enemies along the way, but Pope Leo XIII recognized his wisdom and named him a cardinal in 1879. His writings were seen as a precursor to the Second Vatican Council just as McElroy's writings are seen by some as among the finest applications of the teachings of that same council.

Michael Sean Winters, “Francis' choice of new Cardinal McElroy an unmistakable

sign for US church,” National Catholic Reporter, May 29, 2022

Francis has sent messages like this before to the American hierarchy. In essence, he is rebuking those who act like they are God, instead of just his emissaries on earch, that they will be overlooked in going any higher, regardless of their beliefs.

The pope elevated 19 new cardinals, which means that if he were to pass away today, 62 percent of those who would elect the next pope would be cardinals whom he appointed. The likelihood of another JPII or Benedict sneaking into the Vatican are indeed remote.

Indeed, the only two cardinals in the U.S. right now who have not been appointed by Francis are Timothy Dolan of New York and Daniel DiNardo of Galveston/Houston, both of whom are coming to the end of their service.

The message?

Winters emphasizes what the move means for the American church,

I wonder, too, what Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, the current president of the conference, thinks of the news. The Holy Father has sent an unmistakable sign: Gomez leads the largest archdiocese in the country, he is the president of the conference, and he is McElroy's Metropolitan Archbishop. Instead of leading the conference in a new direction of unified leadership behind Pope Francis, he joined up with the Napa Institute crowd. By naming one of Gomez's suffragans as cardinal, and not Gomez himself, the pope has rendered an unmistakable sign of the kind of episcopal leadership he is seeking. An unmistakable sign …

What we can say is this: Cardinal-designate McElroy has long been seen as the intellectual leader of those bishops most closely aligned with Francis, and the pope has confirmed that assessment. Like Newman, he knows the Catholic tradition in detail and applies it with dexterity and fidelity, and he is unafraid of new challenges. It is a thrilling day for the church in the United States. Thrilling.

Michael Sean Winters, “Francis' choice of new Cardinal McElroy an unmistakable

sign for US church,” National Catholic Reporter, May 29, 2022

This means that the pope, who is hearing that right-wingers in the U.S. are praying for him to retire, has some more juice left in his engine.

As such, I see no retirement on the horizon.

And it means that he intends to clean house of the American hierarchy who believe that they are God, not messengers of his.

46 views0 comments


bottom of page