A U.S. bishop has apologized to a former church worker who was fired over her same-gender marriage, and has criticized some of the nation’s bishops for promoting discriminatory policies and actions against LGBTQ people.
Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., offered his apology to Margie Winters during the College Theology Society’s annual meeting last weekend, held virutally. Winters, a former religious educator, shared her story of being fired from Waldron Mercy Academy in 2015 after parents reported her same-gender marriage to the school and the archdiocese. After Winters spoke, Stowe said, per the National Catholic Reporter:
“‘As part of [the] male hierarchy, I apologize for the pain it has caused you. . .You tell a story that has happened to you and so many others … to be betrayed by an institution that you love.'”
Stowe and Winters were panelists in a session on LGBTQ educators in Catholic schools, which also featured doctoral student Ish Ruiz presenting his research on the topic. Winters spoke repeatedly about an experience of exile and the pain her firing had caused, both to herself and her wife, Andrea Vittori, as well as the larger community. She commented
“I want the church to feel how it is to be fired for who you are, devastating and traumatic. . .
“I want the church to experience the weight of the words scandal and unfit. . .These words strike at the core of your being. They damage a person and inflict shame. They are difficult to recover from. . .
“I want the church to hear the pain of those impacted by these decisions.”
Participants were moved by Winters testimony, words affirmed by Stowe who said, “Just as Jesus cannot be contained by the tomb, neither can Margie be suppressed.”
Stowe also spoke about the trend of LGBTQ church worker firings and some bishops’ efforts to use morality clauses in teaching contracts and the ministerial exception in U.S. law to allow them to discriminate. Affirming the good that a theological deconstruction of such exceptions in law can do, he commented:
“My own catholicity cannot be reduced to a morality cause. It cannot be reduced to a Catholic product, nor to proselytization, nor to a nostalgic longing for a pre-conciliar world. . .I don’t see any good in expanding the definition of minister to the point it is meaningless.”
The College Theology Society’s gathering had several other sessions which included LGBTQ topics from the theologians in attendance. Papers presented included “Blackness, Queerness, and the New Galileo Moment in Magisterial Authority” by Craig Ford and “Burning the Butlerian Effigy: ‘Gender Ideology’ and Catholic Social Thought” by Adam Beyt.
Also notable was that a gay theologian, Brian Flanagan, was named as the Society’s new president, and Cristina Traina, a lesbian woman, gave a keynote address. Both are contributors to Bondings 2.0 and members of New Ways Ministry’s Advisory Board. (To read Flanagan’s reflection on last Sunday’s readings for Corpus Christi, click here.)
Seemingly each month, Bishop Stowe makes headlines for the latest step he has taken in support of LGBTQ people. His comments on the firing of church workers reflect his wider decision to break with the U.S. bishops’ conference and endorse the Equality Act in March in an effort to end discrimination. Beyond advocacy, however, his comments to Margie Winters, highlight another necessary, but previously non-existent path to full inclusion in the church. Pastors need to begin apologize for the harm, historic and present alike, that the church has caused to LGBTQ people. True apologies require adopting a posture of humility and vulnerability, and in his latest LGBTQ-positive act, Bishop Stowe has done just that.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 9, 2021