It has been almost a month since New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” took place in Chicago. Things have finally slowed down enough that we are able to report on it to you. Over the next few days, we will be providing several posts about symposium highlights.
Based on the response of the over 300 participants, one of those highlights was the presence and speaking participation of Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky. Stowe provided two scriptural reflections at the meeting, one at the Friday evening opening prayer service (Matthew 12:1-14) and one at the Saturday morning prayer service (Luke 6:37-45).
The National Catholic Reporter’s Patricia Lefevere interviewed Stowe at the meeting and reported on his talks. She noted that he expressed his respect for LGBT Catholics and supporters for their steadfastness in remaining in the Church:
“Stowe said he is humbled by those who have pursued ‘a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued’ them or their worth. As a shepherd, he needs to hear their voices and take seriously their experience, he said, adding that both the presence and persistence of LGBT Catholics inspired him.
“They’ve shown ‘a valuable expression of mercy’ in calling the church ‘to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,’ he said.”
Stowe also used his reflection time to discuss his approach to moral questions:
“In reflecting on Matthew 12:1-14, the bishop told the LGBT assembly that in his reading of Christian morality, he finds the infinite value of the human person to be ‘the touchstone and foundation for determining the morality of a given act or issue. Christian morality is more concerned with the well-being and dignity of the person than with rules, norms or commandments. Jesus seems to teach this on many occasions,’ Stowe said.”
In his interview with Lefevere, the bishop also explained another motivation for his participation in the symposium:
” ‘New Ways Ministry made me want to come here,’ the bishop told NCR during a 40-minute interview at the gathering. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to LGBT Catholics over several years, he added.”
Stowe also discussed the fact that when it became public that he would speak at New Ways Ministry’s event, some conservative Catholics in his diocese and elsewhere publicly criticized him:
” ‘The flack has been enormous and continues on the blogosphere’ and from ‘self-righteous strangers online and those who subscribe to these feeds,’ Stowe said, calling some of the posts and e-mails ‘vicious.’ . . .
“Among objectors, Stowe believes there are many who are sincere Catholics and are ‘really struggling’ with all the issues around homosexuality. He said he hopes and prays ‘for a culture of encounter’ to ensue so ‘we can become fully engaged with those who want to live the Catholic life and who love the Catholic Church. … Why would we want to turn our backs on them?’ he asked.”
The bishop also commented on his response to young Catholics who are often much more supportive of LGBT equality than older generations. He noted that negative actions towards LGBT people risks alienating “a whole generation” of young Catholics. He explained how he approaches this pastoral issue:
“Stowe said that on his many visits to confirmation classes, teens in his diocese ask: ‘Why can’t gay and lesbian people be themselves? Bishop Stowe, why can’t they love who they want?’
“He said he admires how well young people know that the church believes each person is of value. But they also know that LGBT persons are not always welcomed or treated fairly in the church, he said.
“He tries to acquaint them with church teaching on the dignity of each human being, citing passages in the 1965 Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) and other examples. He indicates how discrimination leads to dehumanization, frequently expressed in bullying, abuse, sometimes violence and even death.
” ‘We have to listen to our young people and pay attention to things like this,’ the bishop insisted.”
In introducing Bishop Stowe to the symposium participants, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained that he had heard the Franciscan bishop speak at a conference and was impressed with his message:
” ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,’ DeBernardo said, comparing Stowe’s words to those of Pope Francis and to St. Francis of Assisi. All three men seemed to be saying that ‘it was the church’s job to take the Gospel to the margins,’ DeBernardo said.”
For a meeting whose title and theme focused on Pope Francis, it was very appropriate to have a bishop speaking who so aptly echoed many of the pontiff’s affirming messages for LGBT people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 22, 2017