Network, the Catholic social justice lobby known for its popular Nuns on the Bus campaigns, is urging Congress to pass legislation protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ people despite prominent bishops opposing the measure.
H.R. 5, the Equality Act, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. It was introduced March 13.
"This bill is really just about providing protections for people who are discriminated against on a regular basis," Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell, Network's executive director, told Global Sisters Report. "That's not who we are as a nation. That's not what the Gospel is about."
Campbell said the difference of opinion with the bishops is not about opposition or dissent: It is simply about standing up for people's rights.
"It's not my intention to cause trouble," she said. "It's a call to love. It's a no-brainer in my book."
In a letter to Congress, three bishops, each a chairman of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee, wrote that rather than protecting rights, the act would require open-door policies for restrooms and locker rooms; require doctors to perform gender-transition procedures; force adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples or close; remove First Amendment rights to freedom of thought, belief and speech; and even "remove women and girls from protected legal existence."
The letter was signed by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
Campbell said fear-based opposition comes from not knowing the reality of what LGBTQ people face daily.
"If they knew the pain people faced, I don't see how they could let the fear be dominant," she said. "It's their out-of-touch-ness with the lived experience."
It is hard to live the Gospel and see the face of Christ in others from a chancery office, she said.
"It is the role of government to protect all of their people. Therefore, the Equality Act is a necessity," Campbell said in a statement from Network. "Our Christian faith must not be used to deny the inherent dignity of every person. The efforts of some people of faith to do so denies the sacredness of LGBTQ+ people and is an attack on the common good."
"I love being a Catholic sister because we get to go to the margins, the places where Jesus needs to be," Campbell told GSR. "Their approach is the parade of horribles."
Dominican Sr. Quincy Howard, a member of the Network government relations team working to pass the Equality Act, said the bill simply gives basic civil rights to those currently without them.
"Without this legislation, members of the LGBTQ+ community can be fired at will, denied a place to live, and refused medical care based on judgements about a deeply personal and intimate aspect of their identity," Howard said in the statement from Network.
Another sister in the Washington Archdiocese is also in the news: Visitation Sr. Mary Berchmans Hannan, president emerita of Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, recently announced that the school's alumnae magazine would begin including marriage announcements for same-sex couples.
The Washington Post reported the decision came after hundreds of graduates pressured the school on the issue when they learned an alumna's marriage announcement was refused because it was a same-sex union.
Berchmans Hannan wrote in a letter to students, parents and graduates in early May that while the church's teaching on same-sex marriage is clear, so is the Gospel message of love, the Post reported.
"As I have prayed over this contradiction, I keep returning to this choice: we can focus on Church teaching on gay marriage or we can focus on Church teaching on the Gospel commandment of love," the Post quoted her letter. "We know from history — including very recent history — that the Church, in its humanity, makes mistakes. Yet, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it learns and grows. And so, we choose the Gospel commandment of love."
The Washington Archdiocese acknowledged that the school is run by the Visitation Sisters and is therefore independent, but also said the archdiocese is responsible for ensuring that such Catholic schools uphold church teaching, the Post reported.
"In the past, Georgetown Visitation has consulted the archdiocese on matters related to upholding Catholic identity, and therefore, it is especially disappointing that this consultation and collaboration was not followed," the statement said.
[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.]