When Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” he also gave an interview to Patricia Lefevere of The National Catholic Reporter. During that interview, Lefevere asked the bishop from Lexington, Kentucky, about the contentious issue of LGBT employees being fired from Catholic institutions (which was also the topic of a plenary session and a focus session at the symposium). His answers to her questions provide the strongest statements yet in support of LGBT employees from a U.S. Catholic bishop.
Lefevere reported that the bishop stressed that the firings of LGBT employees amounted to a form of discrimination which was not appropriate for a Catholic institution to exhibit:
“When Stowe was asked how he felt the church should respond to cases of LGBT employees — many of whom had been fired from long-held church positions when their same-sex marriages were publicized or outed — he stressed that the church must be consistent and non-discriminatory in dealing with all its employees.
” ‘We must preserve our tradition and our integrity as a church,’ he said. ‘We risk contradicting ourselves if we want our employees to live by the church’s teaching and if we ourselves as an institution don’t live by our teaching, which has always opposed discrimination of any sort.’ “
While some bishops contend that firing LGBT employees is protected under the church’s religious liberty protections, the Franciscan bishop pointed out that a more creative response was needed. Lefevere reported:
“Stowe thought the church could find a way to ‘defend our religious liberty without violating any one’s human rights.’ “
For Stowe, it seems, the church’s teaching on the dignity of work and workers should be a guiding force when it comes to church employment issues:
“He pointed to its century-long championing of working people, of their rights to a living wage, to humane treatment in the workplace and to collective bargaining. ‘We must be consistent, even though that can be very difficult sometimes.’ “
And the dignity of the human person must be preserved above all, even above institutional ideals:
“The challenge is to ‘articulate Gospel principles consistently and implement them compassionately,’ he said, noting that Catholic social teaching has always upheld the dignity of each human person. ‘We preach that human flourishing is a primary goal,’ he said, ‘much more important than the protection of our institutions.’ “
Stowe’s comments constitute the most comprehensive positive statement from a U.S. bishop on the employment of LGBT people in Catholic institutions. To this date, only one other U.S. bishop, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, who in 2014 told Bondings 2.o that the firings “need to be rectified.”
The bishops of Germany have instituted a policy that protects legally married gay and lesbian workers in Catholic institutions. An America magazine editorial in 2016 called the firings “unjust discrimination.”
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 23, 2017