SAN DIEGO (AP) – A history scholar selected by Pope Francis to be the new Roman Catholic bishop of San Diego said Tuesday that he will be a "friend" to the Latino community and called for comprehensive immigration reform.
Monsignor Robert McElroy made the comments during a news conference in San Diego hours after the Vatican announced his appointment. He called immigration "the vitality of our nation."
"The border is a reminder to us of what we are called to do in our greatness as Americans and that we sometimes fall short of in how we deal with immigrants and how we must really confront the issues of immigration and resolve them with justice and have a comprehensive immigration reform that will do that," he said.
The 61-year-old native Californian has been serving as an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco since 2010. He will be formally installed as the sixth bishop of San Diego during a Mass at St. Therese of Carmel Parish on April 15. San Diego's Bishop Cirilo Flores died of cancer last year.
McElroy, speaking briefly in Spanish, vowed to be a "friend" to the Latino community and called Hispanics the foundation of the church.
He also called on the need to support Native Americans. The impending sainthood of the 18th-century Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra has generated protests from Native Americans, who say the priest spread disease, wiped out native populations and enslaved converts as he built a Catholic mission system throughout what is now California.
It is important the church be one of inclusion, McElroy said.
After earning history degrees at Harvard University and Stanford University, McElroy studied at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. He later obtained doctorates in moral theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and in political science at Stanford.
He will be spending his first year mostly listening and learning, McElroy said.
Joelle Casteix, the western regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said McElroy has not done enough to speak out against priests accused of abuse.
McElroy said the church has come a long way in improving the way abuse cases are handled. But "we need to constantly reform our environments so that they maximize safety and security for children," he said.
"We can never think we've done enough or that we have put it in the past," McElroy said, adding later that "a constant notion of vigilance going forward needs to be in place."