Cardinal McElroy poses four questions for Catholic health care from synod

June 2024
Cardinal Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, speaks to attendees of the 2024 Catholic Health Assembly about the status of the "Synod on Synodality" and themes and questions that are arising from the synod.



SAN DIEGO – Cardinal Robert McElroy says four central questions for Catholic health care providers to ponder have emerged from the church's current synodal process.

The questions are:

  • How should Catholic health care build a culture of discernment? 
  • How can the ministry contribute to Catholic theology and the renewal of moral theology?
  • How should the ministry bring a consistently Christ-like pastoral stance to Catholic health care institutions?
  • What is the countercultural mission of Catholic health care in the present moment?

"Bringing these questions to the center of your leadership and service will yield moments both of cross and resurrection, but in the end it will reflect the overwhelming grace of our God," said Cardinal McElroy, bishop of San Diego.

During a keynote address at the 2024 Catholic Health Assembly, the cardinal shared his knowledge of how the "Synod on Synodality" is unfolding and how health care is part of the conversation.

The synod is a worldwide three-year dialogue and process of listening. It was initiated by Pope Francis in October 2021. Its goal, according to the Vatican's website, is "to provide an opportunity for the entire people of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal church in the long term."

The cardinal is a member of the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. He is among 400 members of a "universal synodal team" from across the globe who gathered in Rome last October to review the themes raised in the first two years of the process.

Explaining the questions
In his keynote address, Cardinal McElroy elaborated on how the questions related to Catholic health care mesh with the wider synodal discussion that will determine the future direction of the church.

On the need for discernment, he said it must be "rooted in perceiving the presence of God, listening, truly listening, with profound respect to the voices of others, and make all feel included and respected."

On contributing to Catholic theology, he said those involved in the Catholic health care ministry must be involved because "at critical junctures the church's mission to heal the sick raises key elements of emergent realities that must be addressed by the church's theology and teaching."  

On the question of how the ministry can enflesh Jesus, he noted that "Pope Francis has made this pastoral dimension of our faith the foundation of his pontificate." He said Catholic health care providers "must wrestle with how to make this inclusive, loving, compassionate, nonjudgmental healing presence resonate throughout its ministries and institutions in this hypercompetitive environment."

On being a countercultural force in society, he said it in part means "serving most strenuously those in society whom our culture discards and ignores: the destitute, the undocumented, the unborn, the mentally ill."

Issues coming to the fore
Early in his address, Cardinal McElroy gave a rundown of some of the overall issues that have been most prominent in the synodal dialogues that have involved 500,000 American Catholics. He cited, for example, a call for leaders "to recognize the unique charisms and pastoral gifts women bring to the church." Another topic he said has been a recurring theme is "anger with the indefensible way in which bishops knowingly reassigned priests whom they knew to have sexually abused minors in their past."

"One of the most striking realities reflected in our national dialogues was the commonality of the questions and perceptions of the people of God across dioceses, regions and cultures within our country," Cardinal McElroy said. "While sometimes framed in different languages or with different emphases, the major joys, the hopes, the sorrows and the fears of God's people were remarkably similar from place to place."

After the cardinal's address, his audience broke into small-group sessions to experience a synodal-type "spiritual conversation" themselves. Each person was assigned to a round table where they quietly pondered three questions. One was: How can we be a united voice for Catholic health care in society and with the church?

Participants were asked to practice intentional listening and reflective speaking. Every person was given the same amount of time to share their thoughts. At the end, a table host summarized the comments, which are being shared with CHA's mission leaders.


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