Bishop Robert McElroy, the leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, has announced his support of married priests in remote areas and the addition of female deacons.
Bishop McElroy originally announced his support late in October during the Pan-Amazon Synod in Rome. There, after hearing of a priest shortage in remote parts of South America and an overall shortage of clergy worldwide, he made his recommendations that the church expand to include two groups that are not allowed inter higher levels of the church. Currently, married men cannot hold a position in the church while women can only serve as nuns in official capacities.
Pope Francis agreed to look into the recommendations, a decision of which is already sparking controversy in the Catholic Church, which has held these rules for around 2000 years.
“We are handing this off to the Pope,” said Bishop McElroy after returning to San Diego earlier this week. “I am in favor of opening every office and position to women, unless it is doctrinally prohibited.”
Politically, McElroy’s announcement has thrown an early wrench in the San Diego Mayoral race.
San Diego’s Diocese and San Diego’s large Catholic composition has had an effect on elections before. While the Catholic church cannot endorse a candidate or issues, they can issue voting guides during each election which gives their view. Some churches within a diocese can also give their view in a more succinct way, such as in 2016 when a church in the San Diego Diocese proclaimed that voting for Democrats is a ‘sin’.
With Bishop McElroy suddenly supporting a radical move, the Catholic voters may not be as unified and may see this as the main issue of contention. Catholics number over 1 million in all of San Diego County and comprise of 32% of the total population in the city itself. Based on those numbers it may turn out to be a deciding issue among Catholics.
For Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and City Councillor Barbara Bry, as well as any other candidate who decides to join the 2020 San Diego mayoral race, the write up in the Catholic voting guide may make or break them. And with a controversial Bishop with a solid position on a polarizing issue, that makes a large, usually dependable voting bloc suddenly be up in the air.
“Catholics are usually a dependable group to count on,” said Arthur Hilliard, who researches religion in the United States. “In San Diego, Catholics are following the trend of Catholics across the U.S. with a slight Democratic lean. But they’re unusual because while other largely Catholic areas started off as very blue in the mid 20th century, policies over issues such as abortion and stem cells have made many areas more and more red. But in San Diego, thanks to immigrants largely being against Republicans and California’s liberal swing, it’s gone from red to more blue.
“What the Bishop did is just going to fraction it even further. A controversial bishop splitting votes among churchgoers has happened before, and 2020 in San Diego it looks like it will happen. Especially with the Church projecting an announcement for next year on some of those issues. It will remain fresh.”
With more traditional Catholics upset and more reform minded Catholics in support of Bishop McElroy’s views, the Catholic Church, especially in the San Diego Diocese, is in for a challenging time.
The Church is expected to rule on married priests in remote areas next year with word on female deacons expected sometime afterwards.