Pope Francis teaches us that theology must “attend to the concrete reality of human life and human suffering,” San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy told theology graduates at a commencement speech May 20.

“There has emerged in the last three years a vibrantly transformed branch of Catholic theology which is rightfully claiming its place as a central element of Catholic doctrine and practice: the pastoral theology which is contained in the teachings of Pope Francis,” he said.

McElroy addressed the 55 graduates earning master’s, doctorate and licentiate degrees from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. The school is a member of the Graduate Theological Union on Berkeley, California’s “Holy Hill.”

At the ceremony, the school awarded McElroy an honorary doctor of divinity degree, although he already has a degree from the Jesuit school: a 1985 licentiate in sacred theology.

In his address, McElroy noted that pastoral theology, a study of the biblical view of the pastor’s role, has only recently been considered a distinct branch of theology, though “there were splendid pastoral teachings in the Catholic theological tradition in every age.”

Pope Francis, he said, “points to an understanding of pastoral theology which is far more robust.”

“It demands that moral theology proceed from the actual pastoral action of Jesus Christ, which does not first demand a change of life, but begins with an embrace of divine love, proceeds to the action of healing and only then requires a conversion of action in responsible conscience.”

Noting that people are confronted with “overwhelming life challenges” that prevent them from following the Gospel, he added, “The pastoral theology of Pope Francis rejects a notion of law which can be blind to the uniqueness of concrete human situations, human suffering and human limitation.”

McElroy encouraged the school’s faculty to focus on the pope’s pastoral theology and to place it “at the very center and life of this institution.”

Full story at The National Catholic Reporter, known for its heterodox views.