Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., was ordained as the third bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, in May 2015. The following interview was conducted by email.
John Gehring: What would you like to see come out of the upcoming meeting of the U.S. bishops?
Bishop John Stowe: 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. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, which has diminished and even temporarily halted the public celebration of the Eucharist. Now that we have some experience of what many parts of the world experience regularly, a hunger for the Eucharist, and as we have seen the eagerness for gathering in community after a time of absence, the direction of a letter on the Eucharist should be primarily about the Body of Christ gathered in celebration of the Body of Christ, the meaning of the paschal sacrifice of Jesus, and the necessity of his life-giving sacrificial love, which the Church is called to incarnate in the world today.
JG: Some bishops think that President Biden and other Catholic politicians who support a woman’s right to abortion should be denied the Eucharist. How do you see this issue?
Bishop Stowe: As some other U.S. bishops have correctly pointed out, there is no disagreement among the bishops about the immorality of abortion or the desire that the extinction of life in the womb not be protected as a constitutional right. But it is a complex issue for a responsible Catholic officeholder who recognizes the law of the land and must survive within the dynamics of a political party, believing what the Church teaches, but unclear as to how that should relate to the law. That would be true for someone who supports access to legal abortion, or supports capital punishment, or supports the cruel exclusion of refugees and desperate migrants.
I am not alone in the view that the Eucharist should not be weaponized in a political battle, nor should it be received carelessly or as though it has no connection to one’s public stances. The Church calls bishops to be in ongoing dialogue with our members who are politicians and to listen to them before presuming their reasons for supporting policies that are objectively immoral.
JG: Environmental justice is a major priority for your ministry. But a recent study by Creighton University scholars that examined 12,000 written pastoral communications from bishops from mid-2014 to mid-2019 found less than 1 percent even referenced climate issues. Given the pope’s emphasis on the environment, especially in Laudato si’, why do we see such silence from U.S. Church leaders?
Bishop Stowe: I am not sure that a survey of written newspaper columns or pastoral letters is the best way to determine how much the bishops are saying about the importance of climate change and the care of creation. Our own diocesan publication comes out ten times a year, but I hope I am speaking and teaching about the climate far more frequently than that—even if every one of my columns is not on that theme. There are opportunities for preaching, prayer services for the care of creation, promotion of solar panels, and efforts to use green energy and conservation efforts going on as well. But at the same time, I do believe that climate issues are not getting enough attention among the Church’s leadership. Specifically, I think we bishops need to help people connect their personal and communal faith to the importance of reverence for creation and the necessary conversion away from personal comfort to the sacrifices that will need to be made for the survival of the planet and for the common good. The pope has effectively led the way, but I still do not see the urgency of climate matters being discussed at the USCCB gatherings or in enough dioceses.