Last October, Bishop Robert McElroy held his own diocesan synod as a response to two global synods on the family called by Francis that took place in Rome in 2014 and 2015.

One year later, he described it to Crux as a “stunning success,” as it both united the 100 parishes that make up the diocese and also reflected the diversity of its many communities.

While the original hope was to develop a blueprint for new programming that could be tested in twelve pilot parishes, McElroy noted that “it became clear after three months or so there was going to be no model, because the reality from parish to parish is so different.”

Such a realization is perhaps reflective of one of the major messages of Amoris Laetitia, that particular situations need particular responses.

“The parishes each took the principles and cast it against the background of their experiences and realities and needs in radically different ways,” said McElroy.

Law and Order Americans Meet a Mercy-Driven Pope

Perhaps no document has divided American Catholics more than Amoris Laetitia, with its cautious opening to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Yet McElroy, who has become one of the strongest and most vocal champions of Francis in the United States, says the heart of the document contains the necessary tools for giving the Church a much-needed boost.

“We Americans, on a variety of issues, tend to take a black-and-white view on a number of things,” McElroy told Crux.

For example, I’ve talked to people in different parts of the world about the way we look at the immigration question and the way the rest of the world does. My impression is that for the many Americans who are sympathetic to the president’s approach to immigration, it’s not from an anti-immigrant perspective as much as it is a black-and-white, law-and-order thing.”

Yet McElroy believes that a Church with nothing but a “law and order” reputation won’t be one capable of being a field hospital.

“One of the things that came out of this synod that we had is that virtually across the board, across the ages, across the cultural backgrounds, and the economic strata, there was a strong sense of crisis vis-à-vis the young people and that if the Church appears to be fundamentally judgmental then they will simply not listen, they will go elsewhere. And that’s a very serious problem.”

“My own view is that when we look at what Christ did in the gospels, yes he called people to reform their lives. However, look at what he did first,” said McElroy. “First, he embraced them. Secondly, he tries to see what’s wrong and tries to heal them. And then, he says reform your lives.”

“All three are important, but the order is important too,” he added. “What I think Pope Francis is saying is approach these things in that order.”

The Poison of Partisanship

McElroy – like many Americans, both inside and outside of the Church – is trying to make sense of the severe polarization that has come to define our times.

In a much-discussed essay published in July of this year, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro and Presbyterian pastor Miguel Figueroa – both of whom are close with Francis – argued that the relationship between conservative U.S. Catholics and evangelicals was based on “an ecumenism of hate” rooted in political alliances, further contributing to the polarization of both the Church and the country.

“They certainly had their finger on something,” said McElroy, while adding a few qualifiers.

“There is a group of actors in our society and within the life of the Church who utilize methods of confrontation at time that is a way not in keeping with the Gospel. That’s one group. Then there’s a group of actors who are antagonistic toward the changes that the pope has brought but are not using tactics like that  -that’s a different group,” he said.

“It’s important to engage with that group, and understand what are the realities behind it…Then there’s a group of people in the life of the Church who have question marks or who are uneasy, but those are three different groups.”

“I think it’s the first group the article was aiming at,” said McElroy, “but what happened is that in the structure of the article itself and the reaction to it, those three groups tended to all get blended into one thing, so it was like an undifferentiated attack upon ecumenical efforts with evangelicals.”

“There is a cancer in the Church,” in his assessment, “but it’s that first group that really uses tactics that are incompatible with the Gospel. With that group, we need to draw a line and say this is not acceptable.”

McElroy believes the election of President Donald Trump has only exacerbated these tensions within the Church – though he believes it has helped unite the Catholic bishops in this country, particularly as they’ve banded together on the issue of protecting immigrants.

“Since January, it really has become a front-burner issue and that will continue to be the case,” McElroy. “And that begins to lessen the stance of those who say the conference is politically aligned with the Republican party and so forth. More and more, it’s clear that the conference is not.”

Full story at Crux.