Lexington, KY Bishop John Stowe, who has served as Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s (CCA) Episcopal Adviser since 2015, has responded to the controversy surrounding the recent confrontation between several students from Covington Catholic High School and the Indigenous activist and Omaha elder Nathan Phillips following the March for Life in Washington, D.C. last week. The Covington diocese is adjacent to the Diocese of Lexington. Portions of both dioceses fall within the Appalachian region.
Stowe spoke out in an op-ed published today in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Titled “Wearing a Trump hat? That’s not exactly pro-life, says Catholic Bishop John Stowe,” the bishop stated “As the leader of the Catholic Church in the 50 counties of Central and Eastern Kentucky, I join the Diocese of Covington and other Catholic leaders in apologizing in the wake of this incident.”
The statement continues:
I am ashamed that the actions of Kentucky Catholic high school students have become a contradiction of the very reverence for human life that the march is supposed to manifest. As such, I believe that U.S. Catholics must take a look at how our support of the fundamental right to life has become separated from the even more basic truth of the dignity of each human person.
Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.
We cannot uncritically ally ourselves with someone with whom we share the policy goal of ending abortion.
Stowe goes on to explain how the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion emerged from and should be understood in the context of a prior commitment to nonviolence, and then highlights the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ ongoing teaching condemning all expressions of racism.
Stowe’s statement concluded with a strong reminder to the pro-life movement:
The pro-life movement claims that it wants more than the policy change of making abortion illegal, but aims to make it unthinkable. That would require deep changes in society and policies that would support those who find it difficult to afford children. The association of our young people with racist acts and a politics of hate must also become unthinkable.
CCA Co-Coordinator Jeannie Kirkhope described Stowe’s op-ed as “The strongest message I’ve heard from a bishop in a long time.”
CCA Co-Coordinator Michael Iafrate added, “Beyond the incident itself, the ugly response to the Covington controversy among some sectors of the Catholic Church has shined a light on the deep racism that plagues the Body of Christ. We are proud of our episcopal adviser for speaking out so clearly in a time when prophetic words are needed. This is the kind of bishop we need in these times.”
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, a Kentucky archdiocese which also neighbors the Diocese of Covington, made a statement on January 19th condemning the actions of the students but retracted the statement on January 22nd.
Read Bishop Stowe’s op-ed here.