Two bishops and other church officials issued a letter on Transgender Day of Visibility last week that condemned anti-trans discrimination and violence.
The National Catholic Reporter‘s Madeleine Davison, as well as Religion News Service, listed the letter’s signatories as: Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe; Bishop John Stowe of Lexington; Fr. Bob Bonnot and Fr. Louis Arceneaux, the respective executive director and secretary of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests; Fr. Michael Garanzini, SJ, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities; and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
The letter was released in conjunction with the Human Rights Campaign, reported RNS. It opens with these powerful words:
“[W]e, Bishops, religious and lay leaders of the Roman Catholic Church join with the Human Rights Campaign in calling for an end to the epidemic of violence against transgender individuals.”
Davison’s report for NCR continued:
“‘The defense of human dignity is one of our highest callings of our baptism,’ reads the letter, released first to NCR. ‘And we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do all that is necessary to end discrimination and violence.’ . . .
“‘That we might not understand an individual’s experience, does not mean we are to discriminate against them, nor tolerate any form of discrimination they might endure,’ the letter said. ‘We are never commanded, neither in Sacred Scripture nor in Sacred Tradition, to discriminate against anyone, but instead to be stewards of justice and mercy.'”
The church leaders’ letter look for several sources of inspiration, in stark contrast to previous documents from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education and several U.S. bishops which have been quite condemnatory of trans people. NCR reported:
“The letter also quoted Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti, which urged Catholics not to become indifferent to the suffering of other people.
“Instead we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering,” the letter said, quoting Francis. . .
“The letter also quoted St. Bonaventure’s call to ‘contemplate God’ in all of creation. Transgender people are part of this creation, the letter said.
“‘Transgender people have always been members of our local parishes and the witness of their lives … leads us to greater contemplation of God and the mystery of our faith,’ the letter said. ‘To our transgender siblings, may you always know that the Image of God resides in you, and that God loves you.'”
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that right now is a “critical moment” for transgender people, and that the Catholic Church’s role is “critical to the safety of our transgender siblings.”
Bishop Stowe has quickly become a leader not only in the U.S. for LGBTQ inclusion, but a model in the style of Pope Francis for the global church. Beyond this letter, his support is particularly evident in a recent endorsement of the Equality Act, breaking with the U.S. bishops’ conference which has stridently opposed the legislation. He also spoke at New Ways Ministry’s National Symposium in 2017 and wrote 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.
Decrying violence and discrimination that targets transgender people should not be controversial; indeed, every church leader should be able to affirm this new letter. But that is sadly not where Catholic officials are. For that reason, Bishop Stowe, Archbishop Wester, the leaders of AUSCP, and the other church officials involved with the letter should all be commended for taking such a prophetic stance.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 7, 2021