The Path for the Head of San Diego’s Catholic Church – NBC 7 San Diego

Hear more from Bishop Robert McElroy, who was been appointed by the Pope to become a Cardinal.

While Bishop Robert McElroy was shocked to hear the news he had been appointed as a Cardinal by Pope Francis, McElroy says he is now “delighted and looking forward to it.”

McElroy is hopeful his new role won’t come with much change after being installed as a Cardinal by Pope Francis later this month.

“I’m hoping my life won’t change too much, frankly. I feared I might be assigned to a job in Rome and I would have found that very difficult. I didn’t want to leave San Diego,” McElroy tells NBC 7 in an interview prior to his departure leading up to his installation. “The fact that I was made a cardinal here, was very pleasing to me because I can stay here.”

McElroy will be the 16th Cardinal from the United States and the first to be from San Diego.

His assignment as a Cardinal, for now, will remain in his current role as Bishop of San Diego — the religious head of the San Diego Catholic Diocese — which maintains a population of nearly 1.4 million Catholics across San Diego and Imperial Counties.

McElroy says that in this new role, he is hopeful that he will “have an ability to speak with greater effect on certain questions that are rooted here in the life of San Diego, but that also reflect wider realities including climate change, migrants and refugees, homelessness as well as the unborn.”

NBC 7 sat down with McElroy, prior to his installation, to ask him about various topics relating to San Diego and the Catholic church.

Q&A with Bishop Robert McElroy

Question: What is your emphasis and the importance here of San Diego and bringing together our diocese and across the border?

Answer: “San Diego has the largest land port of entry in the world. More people cross the border each day here coming both ways actually than any other place on the planet for land entry. It’s a huge migration of people for all different reasons. Some do it every day. When I first got here, I was surprised to find out that our parish schools have about 1000 students that come every day from Mexico here and some in the [Imperial] valley to Calexico and El Centro too, come across every single day commute for the schools here. Many people live here and work in Mexico and many people work here and live in Mexico and that all points to the migration here in general.

Our Catholic charities have taken on a very substantial role in assisting now, particularly those who are seeking declarations as refugees or asylum, for those who are coming from very difficult situations. So, we have a center for those that are let into the country on a temporary basis until there can have a hearing held, which actually takes a while. Our Catholic charities help them come here and then move them toward families that they usually have in the United States and then get their jurisdiction changed so the court hearing could be held where they’re living and so forth.

Predominantly, we have had refugees who are Central American and Mexican. Now, we have different flows of migrants, who are, again, allowed in the country as legally as refugees and those seeking asylum, but from Afghanistan and Ukraine. The difference is that those who come from Mexico and Latin America almost all have family here, so when as soon as they get here, their notion is that we’re going to go settle with specific people and it’s a very helpful system that they have a place to go to and that’s a nurturing place and somewhat familiar. For those who are in Ukraine and from Afghanistan, that’s not the case. So, it’s a more difficult challenge we have, to help them get settled and adjusted here for the period of time until they have their court hearing on asylum.”

Question: How do you feel being Cardinal will either put more attention to our border situation or to migration in general and how also Pope Francis views migrants and refugees all over the world?

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Answer: “Well, the Pope looks on it as an issue for the whole of the world. In fact, we’re witnessing around the world the greatest migration of people in the history of humanity. In so many countries, populations are moving part of it’s related to climate change that people are being displaced. Part of it’s related to violence in their homes and villages and towns and so people are displaced by that. Part of its economic displacement. For all these reasons and virtually every part of the globe, people are on the move seeking refuge, seeking new lives economically, seeking to survive frankly and survive with safety and security, so the Pope has made that a key priority.

I have tried to attend to that here in terms of raising the issue as a public issue for people to think about as a religious mission. And also through the services we provide through Catholic charities and a variety of other agencies, many of them run by the nuns and women religious, who carry out work. Some of them do legal work on behalf of societies and refugees. So, in all those ways, there’s both networking in terms of support for immigrants and also to try to be a public voice for the rights of migrants and the situation that people are facing.

In Central America, the situation for many people is very dire and just on the human level, the response we have to have to that kind of suffering is one of generosity. It doesn’t mean open borders, but it does mean that our refugee policy should be characterized at this moment by the generosity and compassion that they have for most of our history in the recent periods of time.

Sometimes we don’t understand the implications of our own faith for treating with compassion migrants and refugees and this is a region where we just need to do that. We’re lucky here in California, the state provides a lot of assistance for this. In other parts of the border, they don’t. In Texas, the state does not provide much, so the Church has to do a lot more and its resource constraints are very serious there, whereas here we put resources into it, but the state is very helpful putting resources into these resettlement questions to.

Bishop Robert McElroy is the only new cardinal appointed from North America. NBC 7’s Rory Devine has more.

Question: Catholic charities have been working to help the homeless community here in San Diego. And how is it that we’re addressing that and your message?

Answer: The homeless situation can seem overwhelming if we consider it just as an abstraction. It’s so important for us to consider, person by person, the dilemmas people are facing, because it’s quite varied within homelessness. Father Joe Carroll, who found Father Joe’s Villages, used to say the primary challenge is conversion to helping people understand these are our neighbors, rather than something, you know, we in society, we often tend to create the other who’s different from us in some way and so that we were abstracted from them. [Carroll] said once we understand and really feel inside that the homeless are neighbors, then we can really not only relate but also move to assist and be compassionate with and for homeless population; but it’s one step at a time. That’s why the shelter last week was part of a broader theme of homelessness, that the city, the county and in this case the church and Catholic charities, we’re cooperating on.

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We take these steps to help a certain number in this case of women out or in difficult circumstances and then move them to semi-permanent housing and then to replace the hopelessness there and the patterns of dysfunction that it cannot be there and truly help people, but treating them always with respect, you know, and not classifying them in particular ways. I’d say the challenge to us is to always have a vision, and yet understand that we will accomplish that vision only with small steps that add up over time.

Question: The Catholic church here did make a statement on Roe v Wade. As we’re moving forward with that, California has one stance, whereas the rest of other states in the United States feel a certain way. What is the opinion here with the Catholic church?

Answer: In the Church, we’re much in favor of the repeal of Roe, because Roe froze us in time. In many of the countries in Europe, for example, they had a more natural discourse on how to solve this problem of abortion that kept in mind both women who find themselves in very difficult pregnancies often or are young and also the unborn child and tried to balance those out. In Europe, there was a greater effort to balance that. It was starting in this country, but it was short-circuited by Roe v. Wade, so this allows that conversation to occur. The problem is it was occurring in the ’60s and ’70s then.

Now we’re in a much more polarized political environment and so the challenge to us has really come to policies which incorporate a deep concern for the unborn child and for women in the often difficult situations that find themselves in a pregnancy. It’s so hard to find people with voices of power in society who integrate those two things and it’s very challenging to us because of the polarization that has occurred now. So I fear what’s going to happen is that in our country, we’re going to be two nations on this question of abortion policy.

Question: In the past, you have spoken about possibly restoring the Ministry of Women and advocating about different changes that I guess one wouldn’t even consider seeing.

Answer: I attended the Synod on the Amazon, so well predominantly it was focused on the issues of the Amazon region. Most of the bishops there were from the amazon region, and so and there were only few from other countries. Cardinal Molly, the Archbishop of Boston, and I were the only two ones from the United States. What was fascinating to me was the degree to which the role of women was an issue that the Latin American bishops were strongly pushing and both within the church and within society.

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Part of it is they have real problems in terms of ordaining enough priests, but it was more than that. It was that in the communities of Latin America and many of our own parish communities here, women contribute the bulk of the leadership and the volunteer and professional contributions that make parishes work and make our diocese work. And so in that context in that synod, more than two-thirds in my estimation were in favor of ordaining women as deacons.

Now they didn’t actually pass that, and the reason is – and I agree with this reason – they didn’t want to take a doctrinal position for the Universal Church at a regional synod, but clearly, they asserted they felt this was something whose time has come. Recently, there was a synod in Australia meeting of the leaders of the Australian church and they similarly said that if the church moves toward women deacons, they would wish to do that in Australia. My own view is that women should be included in any ministry that’s not doctrinally precluded and that’s the vast majority of the life of the church, and deacons are one of those roles.

Question: What do you hope to see change in the church?

Answer: I think that the question of inclusion is a very important one. Another is that hopefully we can have greater success in attracting young people and young adults into the life of the church, that’s a real crisis for us. The third is the challenge of helping people to forge a personal relationship with Christ and that’s critically important in the life of the church that often in people’s experience, that isn’t accented as much they feel the relationship with the Church, but the relationship should be with God, that that’s what we should be pointing to in the relationship with Jesus Christ, to take on humanity. And so it’s those three things I would love to see changed and or accelerate in the life of the Church.

McElroy says that for as long as he can remember, since he was about seven or so, he had always wanted to be a priest.

“That’s a long time and I never wanted to do anything else,” McElroy said.

“Part of it is, you know, family. My parents were people of faith. The pastor of the parish where I grew up was very fine, and that had an effect on it. The teachers I had in the Catholic school, the nuns and the lay teachers had a big impact on it. So there wouldn’t be any single moment, but from my earliest life, I felt drawn to this life of priesthood,” McElroy added.

McElroy will be installed as a Cardinal by Pope Francis on August 27th at St. Peters Basilica in Vatican City in Rome.

NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 will have live coverage from Rome during the weekend of McElroy’s installation as a Cardinal, August 26-30, 2022.

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