Francis picks McElroy, known for mercy emphasis, to lead San Diego diocese

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis on Tuesday appointed an auxiliary bishop known for his focus on addressing poverty and stressing the role of mercy in church teaching as the new bishop of San Diego.

Robert McElroy, a San Francisco native who had served as a prelate in his hometown since 2010, is expected to be installed in his new role soon. He succeeds late San Diego Bishop Cirilo Flores, who died last year from cancer after less than a year as head of the diocese.

A prelate who has garnered attention both for his writings and his pastoral approach, McElroy in January said Francis is moving the church away from an ecclesiastical vision of "smaller but purer" to a church that embraces the wounded and frail.

Speaking in a presentation to Dominican women religious in San Rafael, Calif., the new bishop said the church has in the past focused too much on telling people how to live rightly instead of welcoming them and supporting them in their struggles.

"To be judgmental is a cardinal sin for religion," he said then. "It is easy for the church to get lost in the rules, but pastoral theology trumps rules."

McElroy has also attracted national spotlight for articles he has written in Jesuit-run America magazine, including one in 2013 that focused on how Francis' teaching is calling Catholics to care for the economically impoverished.

In that article, the then-auxiliary bishop also called for the U.S. bishops' conference to make advocating for the poor a priority on the same level as pro-life work.

"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," McElroy said in that article.

McElroy's appointment is one of only a few made by Francis to U.S. dioceses in recent months, following appointments of new bishops in Burlington, Vermont; Gary, Indiana; Fairbanks, Alaska; Boise City, Idaho; and Chicago.

McElroy was ordained to the priesthood for the San Francisco archdiocese in 1980. He served as a secretary to then- San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn before becoming the vicar general of the diocese in 1995.

Prior to being named auxiliary bishop by Pope Benedict XVI, McElroy served as pastor of St. Gregory Parish in San Mateo, Calif., for 14 years.

The new bishop has one doctorate in political science from Stanford University and another in moral theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University.

The San Diego diocese has announced a press conference for 10 A.M. Tuesday, when they will likely announce McElroy's appointment and may have the bishop on hand to answer questions about his new posting.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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