A leading U.S. bishop has included his support for LGBTQ couples receiving legal protections in a wider call for social justice.
Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. of Lexington, Kenucky, made his comments in an interview with John Gehring published by Commonweal, in which he spoke about a number of concerns related to climate change and systemic racism. Asked about his noted support for LGBTQ people, and specifically whether he supported formal recognition of same-gender couples in the church, Stowe responded, in part:
“I don’t advocate for a change in the sacrament of marriage nor deny the place of the complementarity of the sexes in the divine plan, but I do believe that we can support LGBTQ persons who need the same legal protection and rights for their committed relationships as marriage provides.”
Stowe also spoke to the impact LGBTQ Catholics have had in his life, saying they had made a “profound impression” on him. He continued:
“I have spoken to too many individuals who have questioned their self-worth, questioned whether or not they are loved by God, questioned why they are alive at all, or questioned why they are uncomfortable in their own flesh to believe that sexual orientation is a choice or that God has somehow excluded them from his love. Of course I would advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQ persons and promote their dignity because they are made in the image and likeness of God. I struggle to understand why treating such persons with respect and taking their stories and struggles, along with their joys and accomplishments, seriously is such a threat to straight Christians.”
Stowe added that Christian critics of his advocacy sometimes sound like they “believe that all heterosexual persons in the Church are living perfectly chaste lives!”
The bishop also commented on the upcoming meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during which a controversial document on the Eucharist rooted in denying Communion to President Joe Biden will be discussed. Stowe explained his vision:
“My hopes for the USCCB meeting are probably unrealistic, but I would love to see us as a conference modeling the synodal path that the Church has embarked upon. I would like to see real discernment, serious discussion, and prayerful listening before publishing a letter as important as a teaching document on the Eucharist. . .
“I am not sure that those bishops who fail to understand Pope Francis would be able to capture what St. Francis was really saying. . .He would sound an awful lot like his namesake on the Chair of Peter.”
Bishop Stowe is perhaps the leading U.S. bishop when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion today. Earlier this year, together with Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, he signed a letter calling for an end to anti-transgender violence and telling the trans community, “God loves you.” He also broke with the U.S. bishops’ conference this year to endorse the Equality Act. And, in the wake of the Vatican ban on blessing same-gender couples, he participated in Pride blessing for LGBTQ Catholics this past June. In 2020, Stowe wrote a reflection for Bondings 2.0 on Pentecost 2020. In 2017, he addressed New Ways Ministry’s National Symposium. To learn more about Bishop Stowe’s full record on LGBTQ issues, click here.
While Pope Francis himself has endorsed civil unions for LGBTQ couples, as have a number of other church leaders in recent years, Bishop Stowe is the first U.S. prelate in office today to call for such legal protections. Some may consider his support a moot point now that marriage equality is legal in the U.S., but his support remains significant. His words can influence the church’s internal debates about how to recognize and protect LGBTQ couples. And his words could have an impact later if a more conservative Supreme Court decides to overturn Obergefell, re-opening the question of LGBTQ couples’ legal rights.
What is perhaps most significant, however, is the lens through which Bishop Stowe views LGBTQ issues. His comments on legal protections for same-gender couples are not isolated; they are part of his larger social justice message that stems from Jesus’ ministry. If more church leaders adopted this approach, that would be real change in the church.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 11, 2021