Bishop McElroy: Abortion and climate change both crucial, voters must be prudent

San Diego, Calif., Feb 7, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego made a speech Thursday that attempted to explain his criticism of the elevation of abortion over other political issues.

The speech, titled “Conscience, Candidates and Discipleship in Voting,” discussed the “moral nature and structure of the act of voting for specific candidates,” at the University of San Diego on Feb. 6.

Catholics, McElroy said, have to consider a multitude of social issues and the Church’s teachings on these issues when deciding who to vote for. These issues include abortion, euthanasia, immigration, poverty, and a whole host of other concerns.

McElroy said the idea that one social issue in particular has “a unique priority” among others in regard to voting in an election is something that “deserves deeper scrutiny.”

As an example of two issues that many American Catholics consider to be “preeminent political imperative,” McElroy put forward abortion and climate change.

Abortion, he said, has led the United States “moving toward becoming a nation split in two,” and climate change has the potential of “stealing the future from coming generations.”

“Against the backdrop of these two monumental threats to human life, how can one evaluate the competing claims that either abortion or climate change should be uniquely preeminent in Catholic social teaching regarding the formation of Americans as citizens or believers,” asked McElroy.

“The designation of either of these issues as the preeminent question in Catholic social teaching at this time in the United States will inevitably be hijacked by partisan forces to propose that Catholics have an overriding duty to vote for candidates that espouse that position. Recent electoral history shows this to be a certainty,” the bishop said.

“The death toll from abortion is more immediate, but the long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity,” he added.

Noting the competing claims of those and other issues, he said that “the drive to label a single issue preeminent distorts the call to authentic discipleship in voting rather than advancing it.”

In November, McElroy sparked controversy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall General Assembly when he objected to language in a letter that was to be published as a supplement to the 2015 document  “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

McElroy said he was opposed to a line which said “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”

McElroy called that line “at least discordant” with what Pope Francis had taught, but he did not explain as to what particular teaching he thought this violated.

“So either we should get rid of ‘preeminent,’ or, if we’re going to keep ‘preeminent’ in there, let’s at least give the pope a fighting chance with his view, to keep that whole paragraph in there, because that’s where he articulates his vision of this very controversial question,” said McElroy in November.

“It is not Catholic that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not. For us to say that, particularly when we omit the pope’s articulation of this question, I think is a grave disservice of our people…so either we shouldn’t have preeminent in there, or we should have the pope’s full paragraph where he lays out his vision of this same question, delicately balancing all of it in the words he does,” McElroy said at the assembly.

In January, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas said that when he relayed this story to Pope Francis during his ad limina visit, the pontiff was confused and reiterated that abortion was indeed the preeminent political issue faced in the United States. Similarly, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis, who was on the same ad limina delegation, said that Pope Francis had labeled two issues as particularly important in the United States: abortion and transgender ideology.

Francis “certainly talked about abortion as a preeminent issue, at the same time he said there’s another significant issue and that would be ‘transgender,’” said Carlson.

During his speech Thursday, McElroy also discussed character.

“Much focus is placed on individual policy issues and their moral implications in Catholic social teaching,” said McElroy. “If the primary role of citizens were to vote on specific issues, this might be sufficient.”

However, McElroy continued, that is not how voting works. A vote for a candidate, he said, “inevitably encapsulates a wide range of policy options,” including differing abilities to actually bring these policies into fruition.

McElroy seemed to allude to President Donald Trump when he stressed that a politician’s character “represents a particularly compelling criterion for faithful voting in 2020.”

Character is “even more essential element in effective faith-filled voting at the present moment, and another reason why faith-filled voting cannot be simply reduced to a series of competing social justice teachings.”

The San Diego bishop also claimed that Catholic voters have to discern the difference between something that is intrinsically evil and morally grave matters, and that these are not always the same thing.

“It is a far greater moral evil for our country to abandon the Paris Climate Accord than to provide contraceptives in federal health centers,” said McElroy, even though the use contraceptives in the nuptial act is considered by the Church to be intrinsically evil.

To navigate the competing moral issues voters face, the bishop called for the virtue of prudence.

“Prudential judgment is not a secondary or deficient mode of discernment in the Christian conscience,” he said. “It is the primary code.”

Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America and the executive director of the Institute for Human ecology, told CNA that he agreed in part with some of McElroy’s opinions.

“I agree with Bishop Mcelroy that we should not pit social justice teachings against each other: The Catholic view of morality is a coherent whole,” said Capizzi.

“Opposition to abortion and care for the environment are both aspects of our obligations towards God’s creation. I agree as well that the character of politicians is an important concern in considering whom to support.”

Capizzi said that while McElroy’s points about character are important, they “cannot be placed above a candidate’s advocacy for positions opposed by consistent Church teaching,” as a metric for deciding whether to support a candidate.

And Capizzi said that while he understood McElroy’s argument regarding gravity and intrinsic natures of evil, “we also have to factor the voter’s relationship to the wrong committed” in addition to considering the specific issue.

“Regardless of its gravity, settled moral teaching reminds us we cannot cooperate in another’s commission of an intrinsic evil,” he said. This would include supporting policies that provide federally-funded contraceptives, or expand legal protection or funding mechanisms for abortion.

“To be clear, I’d love to vote for a candidate who agrees we must protect the environment and humans at every stage of life,” Capizzi  said.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


  1. Bishop McElroy squandered his moral credibility in 2016 when he endorsed Communion for those divorced and remarried (absent a declaration of nullity) and the “LGBT” slogan with its oxymoronic neologism “LGBT families.” Yes, a point is to be made that while abortion is a preeminent sin of direct commission (killing!), it should not distract from likely sins of more problematic omission—-if fatal eco-disasters are on the horizon and can be avoided, for vulnerable residents of spaceship earth.

    Future generations should not be unwittingly cornered into triage situations whose unlikely rescue will be at the hands of either a new-world-order anthill or, alternatively, globalized profit-maximizing myopia. Or, something else more muddled. Complex subjects. Non-politicized insight is needed on where we are, and prudential judgment on possible trajectory corrections (plural).

    Bishop McElroy seems too much of a “discordant” junk collector on even direct and immediate moral issues to now offer advice on future events and now how to vote. Yes, the well has been poisoned and the hour is late…but, as for both preeminence and distractions, why is there not much bishop-talk lately about the sanctified personal life and eternal salvation (or not) beyond the grave?

  2. “PREEMINENT”? Said the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in 1998 and in step with the (obsolesced?) St. John Paul II:

    “[….] We pray that Catholics will be advocates for the weak and the marginalized in all these areas. ‘But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community’ (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 23)”.

    NOW, boys and girls and those in red hats, use “preeminent” in a sentence: . . . The preeminent principle of the Catholic Social Teaching is the “transcendent dignity of the human person.”

    OR maybe this: Rather than a single thread in an enlarged seamless garment (the “integral ecology”), the irreducible right to life of the most innocent and most vulnerable is the preeminent DNA of the Catholic Social Teaching.

    OR, maybe with Christ: “He who is faithful in a very little [preeminent] thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10).

  3. That there are abortions is an undeniable fact, and thousands upon thousands of babies are being killed.

    Climate change caused by man is a theory; there are many scientists who provide evidence that it is not true.

    To put an actual evil on par with something that is debatable (and no, saying “the science is settled” while ignoring contrary evidence doesn’t end debate) is absurd.

  4. A declarative sentence understood logically that is actually a declaration for Catholics to pay greater head to environment than the killing in infants in the womb. How’s that? If the audience Catholics are presumed contra abortion then the proposition is Be careful not to overemphasize one moral issue over another [overriding] suggesting vote Democrat rather than Republican. Absurd? If abortion is intrinsic evil there is no equivalent. None. The suggestion there is opens the door of conscience to the new presumed wider environmental issues promoted by Pope Francis on ecological concern for the planet. After all Nancy Pelosi declared ‘right’ to late term abortion “sacred ground”. After all Pope Francis recently payed homage to the ecological goddess Pachamama, and that priests must be ecologically converted. Bishop Robert McElroy is a progressive prelate in lock step with the new paradigmatic policy. A prime example of Pontifical dual messaging that implies truth is interrealtional mutually affirming as Dr Eduardo Echeverria so aptly demonstrated. American bishops have largely assumed the legacy of Chicago socialist Saul Alinsky Chicago Cardinal Bernadin and Chicago community organizer Barack Obama who thrice, the only person who vetoed a bill before the Illinois State legislature to provide saving care for infants who survived botched abortions. Yet our USCCB align themselves with the Democrat Party and its platform. Presbyters are intimidated by their bishops they must regardless speak out their conscience. Laity have an immensely powerful voice in all of this dark nefarious interrelatedness. Dr. Joseph Capizzi is one. Their vote their outspoken appeal to their bishops and their financial support.

    • Lest I’m cited by the language police corrections are: first sentence heed not head. And “implies truth is interrelational” not interrealtional.

    • Am I wrong to suggest

      • Yes, you are correct! There is very little of our Bishop’s administrations that have anything to do with the Holy Ghost! He is on his knees, tearing his way , to what he believes to be a red hat.

  5. Abortion is an abomination, and climate change is a farce, the climate has been and will continue to change withe or without us. Not polluting is a good thing for all, and that is about it, and we don’t need to tax more, export our jobs, give away our prosperity, send money or collect money to not pollute.

    • Well if we got rid of trump we might be able to reverse some of the damage he has done. Your comments are naive given the science.

      • What is naive is failing to see the Bishop’s obvious efforts to support a party that is consistently opposed to life itself, Judaeo-Christian (and natural) morality, and freedom of religion and speech, while advocating “open borders,” socialism, and pagan sexual practices. Bishop McElroy ignores Mr. Trump’s accomplishments in returning God to the public discourse and classrooms, publicly supporting life and freedom of religion, and returning the country to the prosperity it had lost. But
        he judges the President on past personal failures that have been shared by other presidents. I think a more objective view, one not harmful to the future of the Church and country,
        should be taken by the USCCB in guidance to pastors and Catholic voters in all dioceses.

        • If your Democratic “science” is gender theory, slaughter of the unborn, and trillion dollar investments to eliminate air travel and cows, build millions of windmills, and assure everyone has everything they need/want even if they decide not to work, I would much prefer the Bishops promote “ideology”, based on common sense and sound Judaeo-Christian morality. Unfortunately, they seem unlikely to do so unless enough of the laity speak up.

  6. When has “climate change” been a preeminent preoccupation and cause for the Catholic Church in 2,000 years? NEVER. EVER. When have “transgender issues” been a preeminent preoccupation and cause for the Catholic Church in 2,000 years? NEVER. EVER. When have abortion issues been a preeminent preoccupation and cause for the Catholic Church in 2,000 years? ALWAYS. ALWAYS. ALWAYS. Indeed, abortion was an issue fought against by all godly people in the Old Testament where, in the pagan world, abortion was a common practice, with infanticide committed by abandoning the just born in the wilderness to be eaten alive by wild beasts.

    Pagans close to the ancient Jews offered live babies to be burned alive to worship the demon god Moloch. The godly fight against the monstrosity of abortion is extremely old and must continue until Jesus returns. That fight is the MOST HARDCORE faithfulness and obedience to God that gave us that very life since conception in the womb. When the most sacred ecology of the womb is desecrated and murdered, all other ecologies suffer and not the other way around. Saving animals will not save unborn babies, but saving unborn babies will save animals and all of nature. If we do not respect our most innocent self, how can we TRULY respect other non-human creatures? How? have you ever seen animals advocating for other animals’ health and safety?

    Environmentalism is total hypocrisy and an excuse for despicable murder, which pays worship to all evil, all so popular tyranny and Satan, and that’s why it’s made so absolutely essential to the deceived and the deceiving or both. It’s based on J.B.I.S.S. (Just Because I Say So- demonic self-sanctification) culture, science, spirituality and sociology.

    Likewise, our traitorous Catholic prelates use J.B.I.S.S Theology and Pastoral Practice. These monstrous and VERY RECENT INVENTED beliefs are nothing but the lustful dreams of a very dark demon put into practice and we must fight them and resist them with all our Faith and Life, even unto total humiliation, torture and death like our holy ancestors did and our descendants must do, for the Glory of God in our very fragile but infinitely precious, God-given lives!!

    Psalm 139:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Environmentalism, transgenderism, etc. are nothing but VOLUNTARY SELF-HATRED that is then PROJECTED unto “political enemies” that have the audacity to love themselves in Jesus Christ’s Love since conception in the womb!

    • We read: “Environmentalism, transgenderism, etc. are nothing but VOLUNTARY SELF-HATRED [….]”

      For purposes of argument—-and maybe even curious inquiry—-we might do as Aquinas did, and that is to notice intelligent DISTINCTIONS that matter. This is how he dealt with Muslim-distorted versions of Aristotle (human Reason) while also retaining the revealed Faith. The solidarity of ecological responsibility might not be cut from the same cloth as pseudo-religious environmental-ISM and transgenderism.

      Instead, might it be that ecological responsibility is more akin, now globally, to not violating even inadvertently, the future generation’s GLOBAL AMNIOTIC SACK—our global natural systems?

      Just sayin’, the Dustbowl actually happened. (And this was partly due to human soil exhaustion practices.) The potato famine actually happened. And happening today, the Sahara is enlarging and migrating south, for whatever reason. Natural systems are actually very resilient, but only within outer boundaries.

      What and when are these possible inflection points? Ocean acidification, global temperature, earth cycles unrelated to human activity, etc.? So, QUESTIONS for real science (not well-understood by imperfect and even flawed computer models), and with moral implications not to be blended with any ISM or even pagan slogans (your valid point).

      Like Aquinas, the clear-thinking St. John Paul II “distinguished” between the “human ecology” and the (related but different) “natural ecology” (Centesimus Annus, 1991).

      But the cut-and-paste verbiage of the moment, instead, lapses too much into SMOGGY WORD INVENTIONS, like “integral ecology”—-which does make a point, but in practice gives birth to Pachamama, and to the “pluralist” specter that natural religions are equivalent to divine revelation, and to seamless-garment bishops who in their bleached verbiage refuse to distinguish or see anything as “preeminent.”

  7. McElroy is one of McCarrick’s boys (appointed thanks to the perverted former Cardinal’s influence, without whom his meteoric rise to power would have been impossible), who rejects the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church in favour of a mushy SJW activism. His moral credibility is therefore less than zero.

    The number of deaths caused by abortion has been verified to be millions worldwide; by contrast, not a single death has ever been attributed to climate change (unless you count Woke Lefties having a heart attack while going on ballistic fits of impotent rage).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.