Roman Catholic Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond has broken what he called "nine years of silence" and issued a strong endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment.

"I have an obligation in justice to be an advocate in public support of ERA," the activist bishop wrote in his column in the weekly diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Virginian. Nearly everyone supports the principle of equality for men and women, he said, but "the indisputable reality is that in the United States and in Virginia in 1982, women are not equal in dignity and responsibility with men, either in church or in civil society."

Sullivan's endorsement of the amendment places him among only a handful of Catholic bishops who have supported ERA.

The bishop countered the argument of some Catholics that the Equal Rights Amendment is proabortion. "I am convinced that ERA has no intrinsic relationship to legalized abortion and would not add to the present abortion-on-demand mentality," he said.

Noting that much opposition to ERA--including that of his own Diocesan Council of Catholic Women--is based on fear of the "unknown consequences" of how the courts would interpret it, Sullivan wrote: "I do not fear the consequences of ERA so much as I fear for the many women who will continue to suffer blatant injustices and oppression without ERA."

Sullivan argued reasoned that "to say no to ERA" is the equivalent of "saying yes to the status quo of discrimination. Therefore I say YES to ERA because it promotes equality over discrimination, giftedness over maleness, dignity over subservience, personhood over sex."