Bishop Brings Message of Hope on LGBT Issues to Religious Men’s Meeting

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which is the association of the leaders of vowed men’s religious communities in the U.S., met in Assembly last week in Columbus, Ohio, to listen to speakers and to discuss common issues of concern.  During the prayer times at the four-day meeting, Scriptural reflections were offered by Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., the bishop of Lexington, Kentucky.  Stowe’s reflections focused around the theme of God’s mercy, as the conference title was “Consecrated Life:  Rich in Mercy.”   Bondings 2.0 obtained a copy of the bishop’s first reflection remarks.

Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.

In these opening remarks, Stowe mentioned LGBT issues several times in his remarks, a sign that these topics are becoming much more a part of the mainstream conversation in the church.  The fact that his comments on these topics were all positive is a sign of the greater acceptance that LGBT people and issues are receiving in the Church these days.

Recalling St. Francis of Assisi’s mission to bring the Gospel to outcasts, Stowe made the following comments about modern-day outcasts:

“Saint Francis found Christ by serving the outcast lepers.  Risking contamination and isolation he was healed interiorly through his encounter with the suffering Christ and overjoyed by the relief he brought the lepers by merely drawing close.  How fitting that religious brothers and priests should be found among the lepers of our times: gang-infested barrios in the inner-city; AIDS clinics and drug rehabilitation centers, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and places of safety for migrants and refugees.  Providing oases of prayer and reflection in the midst of a bustling and competitive world that does not pause for reflection, modeling lives of interdependence – and providing a willing ear are fruitful ways of being in the midst of sinners.  And genuinely living our religious calling as prophetic also aligns us with the marginalized within the church: GLBT persons, our sisters in religious life who insist that the interior life is more important than the external signs and who fall under suspicion when they attempt to listen and give voice to other women, those who have failed at marriage and tried again, and so many others who long to have Jesus stand next to them as they wait in line to be cleansed.”

Recalling Pope Francis’ famous July 2013 comment referring to gay priests, Stowe suggested that this lesson be applied to all:

“Pope Francis caused quite a controversy, and simultaneously aroused hope in some circles, with his famous phrase, ‘who am I to judge?’  Was it not an echo of what we heard in this gospel verse [Luke 6:36-37] immediately after the charge to be merciful like our Father: ‘Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.’  How can we communicate the richness of our Catholic tradition and its relevance for life today if everything that is pronounced is received as judgmental?”

He answered this last question by recalling Pope Francis’s comment to U.S. bishops during his apostolic visit to Washington, DC, in September 2015: “Let everything the Church says and does be seen as merciful.”  And then he challenged the Assembly of vowed religious men to take up that call:

“I think bishops need some help to know how—and I think I am in the midst of a group who has the capacity to model this.  For every blunt statement of doctrine and categorical condemnation uttered by the church, may religious men be willing to stand with the sinners and gently walk with them on the path of conversion.  For every pronouncement about intrinsic evils and disordered sexuality, may religious men be ready to wipe tears and heal wounds and help to rediscover goodness and dignity. For every insensitive reaction to circumstances or perceived threats, may religious men bring the fruit of contemplation and discernment of the Spirit’s movement.”

His reference to intrinsic evils and disordered sexuality can only be a reference to the magisterium’s use of “intrinsic evil” to describe gay and lesbian sexual activity and committed relationships, and also to “objective disorder” to describe a homosexual orientation.  At the 2015 synod on the family in Rome, we heard many bishops call to eliminate this pastorally harmful language.  It is good to see that that call is being echoed on pastoral levels in the U.S. church.

Bishop Stowe, only 50 years old, was appointed by Pope Francis as Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, in 2015. Stowe’s comments may sound very much like the message of Pope Francis, and that is surely intentional on the bishop’s part. Indeed, he set his comments in the context of Pope Francis framework of evangelization:

“As evidenced in his first Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis observes far too much of the legalism that Jesus rejected to be at work in the Church today.  When the Law of God is handed down in ways that become burdensome instead of as a path to freedom and a joyful relationship with God, something is wrong.  Like Judaism trying to preserve itself in the midst of a hostile empire, Christians in an age of secularism should definitely be concerned about not disappearing and not being absorbed.  But the way of Jesus is always a way of invitation, a call to conversion and Christianity should be a joyful response to that vision of an all-inclusive kingdom and the teaching of the Church should be the guidepost along the way, always pointing to Jesus.  Pope Francis has described a “logic of the Gospel” which acknowledges that God’s judgement is real and celebrates that God’s judgement (unlike so much of human judgement) is merciful. “

These reflections by a relatively new bishop signal a new direction for the Church.  They offer hope for people concerned with LGBT equality, but they also offer hope for the whole Church.  The fact that they were spoken at a gathering of the leaders of men’s religious communities means that Stowe’s–and Pope Francis’–messsage is being spread to the “middle managers” of the church, the people who can make policy and pastoral practice changes.   His words indicate that a message of tenderness is beginning to flower in our Church.

(To read the entire text of Bishop Stowe’s remarks, click here.)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




21 replies
  1. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Highly encouraging. Perhaps the most significant sentence in the entire piece is this “Bishop Stowe, only 50 years old, was appointed by Pope Francis as Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, in 2015. ”
    As more bishops are appointed by Francis, sentiments such as these will become increasingly common – and the homophobes pushed out to the margins.

  2. lynne1946
    lynne1946 says:

    It’s a relief to hear from this kind, loving man. Perhaps this will help answer the question of Sister Jeannine Grammick – “Where are the priests of Vatican II?”

  3. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    I want MORE priests of Vatican II in leadership positions! This article made my despair ease a little bit. Thank you for posting it. Bishop Stowe needs the vocal and active support of parishioners. We all need to be involved in supporting and celebrating love.

    • lynne1946
      lynne1946 says:

      I couldn’t agree more! When I hear a priest or bishop say things like this I begin to feel there’s hope! Pope Francis made it better, and each of these new postings is another gift!

  4. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    The words of Bishop Stowe are lovely and kind. But tell me, what thinking person find his words meaningful when he represents a church that tags people with doctrinal judgements such as gravely evil and intrinsically disordered. The Roman Catholic Church that Bishop Stowe works for continues to allow discrimination by many of its clergy and bishops around the world and the suffering continues because of it. We must all call on the Church to completely eliminate its harmful written language first before any apology or consoling can make safe the pathway of Christian love.

  5. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Excuse me but I find little comfort having my sexuality be the subject of prayers and comfort for conversion or being compared to a leper because I have a disease the world sees as a curse from bad readings of the Bible. If I was a male, blonde and blue eyed, owned a mansion, had a wife and six children, am I any more loved by God? I have a God given minority sexual nature and a disease no better or worse than any other. Bishop Stowe is not so hateful as most of the hierarchy, However the time for being nice is over. Christ’s radical call was to welcome all with no special qualifiers. I understand the bishop has to walk a tightrope or such a young career could end in Milwaukee (location intended). But isn’t that why he dresses in martyr’s red?

  6. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    Tom Bower makes a good point. As positive as Bishop Stowe is, comparing groups of people as lepers or sinners, is not helpful. Language and metaphor carry weight and we must all be careful what we say about others. Words can wound and words can lift the spirit. May all of us keep this in mind.

    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      The way I understood Bishop Stowe’s use of “lepers of our times” is not that he was calling these people unclean or diseased, but saying that the mainstream society treated them as lepers by marginalizing and ostracizing them. My reading of it was that he used the term sympathetically, not derogatorily.

  7. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    I struggle with the church over LGBT issues. It is different than the despair over women in the church, about which I also despair. LGBT people are being bullied, discriminated against, fired, imprisoned, and have been put to death. The bullying has become a part of terrorism, when LGBT people are gunned down in Orlando. My question is, when will the church act like a church? I think this question was also recently posed by the Occupy groups. For many Catholics, the discrimination of LGBT people is a crucible moment. We have all the information we need–bullying, discriminating, firing, imprisoning, and killing LGBT people are wrong actions. I have, of course, thought about leaving the church. One metaphor that helps me is to think of us as our faith requires–as the Mystical Body of Christ. We are one, all of the same family. Some of the bully bishops are like authoritarian fathers in their old age. They cling to what they have believed and have imposed on us from the time we were young children. Often they are unaware of the great harm they have done, thinking, “It is for their own good.” Yet it is our job as lifelong Catholics to grow and mature. We must continue to examine our consciences, to constantly ask, “Is this the most loving act?” For some of these bishops, they would answer, “Yes.” But for many Catholics, we know the truth. We have been informed by the Holy Spirit. We know better, so we will do better (thank you, Maya Angelou)–we will refuse to bully, discriminate, fire, imprison or kill LGBT people. We will embrace them as brothers and sisters, full and equal participants in our faith. We will stand up to the injustices instead of remaining silent. What do we do with the old fashioned out of date father who treats us like we are still toddlers? We give him space and dignity, but we know we must live our own lives, informed by prayer and our examined consciences. We no longer blindly follow this father because we know we cannot. We try to be loving but firm. If we have to, we endure the father’s disdain. When all the Catholics who know in their hearts that discrimination is wrong begin to speak out and act accordingly, we will change the world. We must have faith that this will be the case.

  8. Kenneth Disponett
    Kenneth Disponett says:

    As a fairly new Catholic, this message by a Bishop encourages and excites my to the utmost. Most proud to live in his diocese.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Worth noting, too, is that another Conventual Franciscan bishop appointed by Pope Francis recently made positive comments about LGBT issues. Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky offered the reflections at this year’s conference for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and in the first of these remarks he addressed LGBT issues in a positive light. You can find out more about his remarks by clicking here. […]

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