What Does It Mean to Be a “Welcoming” Church?

Contra Cardinal McElroy, genuine ecclesial inclusion goes through the path of acknowledging and renouncing one’s sinfulness.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

On my way home in the city where I currently live, I pass by three Protestant churches. All proclaim, to varying degrees, their “welcoming inclusivity,” with emphasis on the sexual, particularly through their curbside signs.

The first, where progeny of John and Charles Wesley meet and still pretend to be “united” (although half their denomination is walking out on them), declares “All Are Welcome Here!” above a rainbow logo. Next comes the loyal subjects of Henry VIII, who continue his deconstruction of sexual ethics to proclaim “inclusivity” with rainbow and BLM symbols painted on their sign.  

Finally, across the street from my bedroom window, the alleged heirs of John Knox outdo all their fellows, advertising “All Are Welcome Here!” capped with a Pride flag blowing in the wind and four 6 by 3 foot signs announcing, “Jesus,” “Lord,” “Black Lives Are” “Sacred.” (Presbyterians are hardly so Christologically committed to unborn lives). 

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

About once a month, on Saturdays from noon to one, they stand on that street corner with placards encouraging you to blow your horns as you drive down main street to affirm solidarity with their inclusivity. It might be their effort to demonstrate their social justice commitments in a town whose size and zoning effectively ensure those sacred black lives mostly cannot afford to live alongside their zealots.

My parish church simply says “Saint X Catholic Church” and tells us when Masses are celebrated and Confessions available. I fear that Cardinal Robert McElroy may undoubtedly be wounded by such lack of “inclusivity,” perhaps even thinking its absence “demonic.” He penned an entire essay in the new Denzinger, America, to have us reconceive “inclusivity.”  

McElroy’s musings undermine received Catholic teaching and let the cat out of the bag, admitting (note my emphasis) “it is very likely that discussions of all of these doctrinal questions will take place at the synodal meetings this fall and next year in Rome.” (Since when was the synod supposed to be about settled doctrine?) He asserts Catholic sexual ethics exclude people from the Church, make them feel unwelcome, almost unjustly abridges access to the Eucharist, and is unworthy of “disciples” grounded in “a relationship with God the Father, Son, and Spirit rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The last time I checked, the doors of my church open about 6:15 a.m. and stay open until 9:00 p.m. I’d say they’re pretty “open and inclusive.”

As a Catholic—and, therefore, “universal”—parish, mine doesn’t parcel people into tribes and affinity groups. It doesn’t sacralize the lives of one group—except, perhaps, in the memorial in a corner of the parish lawn to the 64 million Americans (clearly no “preeminent issue” there) slaughtered over 50 years in the name of a specious “right.” All are welcome here! As a Catholic—and, therefore, “universal”—parish, mine doesn’t parcel people into tribes and affinity groups. Tweet This

All sinners, that is.

Now, the parish pastor—who’s a good writer—apparently doesn’t feel the compulsion to inscribe on the sign “all sinners welcome here.” I am guessing it’s because, well, his potential cohort doesn’t include anybody else, given that the Blessed Virgin Mary is, to the best of my knowledge, not in search of an earthly parish from which to receive envelopes.  

All sinners—sexual and otherwise—welcome.

It’s telling that the parish sign, rather than proclaiming open doors to particular groups, tells us the times for Masses and Confessions. Because in a parish where all sinners are welcome, the latter is going to be important.

Pace Cardinal McElroy, genuine ecclesial inclusion goes through the path of acknowledging and renouncing one’s sinfulness. The door to Christianity—period—is Baptism. Baptism presupposes everyman’s acknowledgement he is a sinner, beset by the warping of original sin and sometimes personal sins as well. Not only does Baptism presuppose that acknowledgement, it also expects its renunciation. Baptism is a turning from sin to God, and there’s no other way of doing the latter than the former.  

As the Church’s history has shown, Christians can fall, even mortally, after Baptism. That’s why the Church speaks of Penance as a “second plank of rescue” after post-baptismal spiritual shipwreck. And that is why the Church has always taught that in that case Penance is necessary to restore the grace and following of Christ prior to approaching the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is medicine. But the role of the Eucharist is not first and foremost healing: there are other sacraments for that. The Eucharist is “the source and summit” of the Christian life. Reaching that summit presupposes a particular spiritual orientation, i.e., one without mortal sin, one in which that reality is faced, acknowledged, and renounced. Doing that is not the role of the Eucharist: if it was, as McElroy seems to suggest, then far from being an indispensable prerequisite to Eucharistic admission, why couldn’t even Baptism be replaced by the Eucharist?

Communion presupposes communio with Christ and His Church, whose mission it is to teach definitively what that communio entails. The Church’s role is not to propose (usually taken as wrong) ideas that some autonomous “conscience” can then “discern” to be unnecessary to the path of the disciple.  

My parish doesn’t need to proclaim its inclusivity because it recognizes—like Catholic churches have for centuries—that folks with moral challenges big and small are the only people it’ll encounter. And it’ll want to encounter them—of whatever race, sex, or sexual orientation—welcoming them with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

That Good News enjoins the Church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20). “Disciples” follow a discipline. There are no autonomous “disciples.” Discipleship as the Church has understood it, in contrast to McElroy “disciples,” presupposes that what changes is the disciple, not the Church’s teaching about discipleship.

Jesus commands the Church to “baptize” those disciples it’s making, an act which we’ve seen entails confrontation with and renunciation of everyman’s identity as a sinner. He also tells that Church, with which He promises to be present until the end, to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

It seems to be that teaching which the Cardinal Bishop of San Diego wants to prune.


  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...