Bishop John Stowe of Lexington has broken with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) by supporting the Equality Act, saying “How can we take a position against equality?”
In a letter to Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, respectively the chair and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Stowe argued for the legislation that would codify non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people into federal law. America quoted Stowe as writing:
“‘LGBTQ people reflect the image of likeness of God, just as anyone else, and so it is our duty to love and defend them. . .As a Catholic bishop, I hate to see any form of harmful discrimination protected by law and it is consistent with our teaching to ensure that LGBTQ people have the protection they need. . .
“‘[I am] grateful for many LGBTQ Catholics who serve and lead their communities with distinction. Their perseverance, their grace, and devotion to the common good has made Catholic communities holier and has edified our nation. . .
“‘It is deplorable that, while LGBTQ persons contribute to our society in many ways, they can be denied basic protections in housing, employment, and in many other areas of life.'”
Against critics of the Equality Act, including the USCCB, who claim it would infringe on religious liberty or expand abortion access, Stowe wrote, “I do not believe that the Equality Act would compromise our beliefs on this matter.”
America reported further from an interview it had with Stowe:
“Bishop Stowe said, ‘it’s a difficult thing to take a stance against what the U.S.C.C.B. published,’ but he said that after consulting with a number of theologians, ethicists and other church leaders, the question for him came down to: ‘How can we take a position against equality?’
“Bishop Stowe said he understands the fears about how the bill could infringe on religious liberty should it become law. But he was uncomfortable with what message was being sent to L.G.B.T. Catholics by bishops working to block the Equality Act, especially in light of church teaching that prohibits ‘unjust discrimination’ against gay and lesbian people.
“‘I wish we could influence the writing of the law in ways that would better protect everybody’s interest,’ he said. ‘In this circumstance, I do believe that the provision of equal justice under law is more important.'”
The USCCB has actively opposed the Equality Act for years. Most recently, in February five committee chairs issued a statement suggesting the legislation would “discriminate against people of faith.” In 2019, the bishops’ conference issued statements saying the Equality Act would be a “detriment to society as a whole,” and when it passed the House of Representatives, committee chairs said they were “gravely disappointed.”
The bishops conference’s opposition is supported by the Catholic Health Association, which has also used alarmist rhetoric about the Equality Act’s supposed harms to religious freedom, particularly when it comes to healthcare for transgender patients. Despite their claims otherwise, the legislation does include religious exemptions.
New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo said of Stowe’s letter:
“It takes a great deal of courage for a bishop to stand against the rest of the conference. Bishop Stowe’s witness is a testament not only to his personal conviction, fueled by a deep prayer life and study of Scripture, but to his open heart which he has expanded by listening to and responding to the pleas of LGBTQ people. We hope that the crack in the conference that he has made on this policy issue–not a doctrinal issue–will lead to other bishops following his example and issuing similar pleas for equality in law for LGBTQ people–a very Catholic value.”
Bishop Stowe has been remarkable in his support for LGBTQ people since being appointed by Pope Francis in 2015, including speaking at New Ways Ministry’s National Symposium in 2017 and writing a reflection for Bondings 2.0 on Pentecost last year about the need to be a welcoming church. To learn more about Bishop Stowe’s record on LGBTQ issues, click here.
Bishop Stowe is to be commended now for taking a prophetic stance for the Equality Act, particularly when it means breaking with the U.S. bishops’ conference. It is a courageous act, and one that is very welcomed after weeks of bad news for LGBTQ Catholics.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 25, 2021