Archbishop: Minister to trans-identified people while stressing ‘goodness of human creation’

Coyne CNA Archbishop Christopher J. Coyne. | Credit: Diocese of Burlington, Vermont

A New England prelate is urging Catholics to both minister to transgender-identifying individuals in the Catholic Church while still continuously affirming “the goodness of human creation” as male and female.

Coadjutor Archbishop Christopher Coyne of Hartford, Connecticut, told CNA last week that he would make it a point not to challenge a transgender-identifying man or woman when they present as the opposite sex.

Coyne appeared on Connecticut Public Radio earlier this month arguing against the basic claim of gender ideology, which argues that men and women who “identify” as the opposite sex should be treated as such.

“Biology is biology. You’re either XX or XY. That’s a scientific fact. You can’t un-prove that fact,” the bishop told public radio. 

But, he argued, the LGBT debate has “pulled me more into a place of understanding and care,” including regarding transgender-identifying individuals. 

The prelate told CNA he would accept the identity of those men and women as they present themselves to him.

“It doesn’t cost me anything to accept them as they’re presenting themselves, as a brother or a sister, or whatever gender they’re asking me to refer to them as,” the archbishop said. “If they’d like to be referred to by this name or this pronoun, it doesn’t cost me anything to say, ‘Okay,’ and then begin a communication with this person.”

“If I start off just by beginning to define what the conversation will be, I could cut off an opportunity to bring that person more deeply into the Church,” the prelate said. 

“That doesn’t mean I accept what they’re bringing forward,” he pointed out. “It just means I accept what they’re presenting to me as brother or sister.”

Coyne was appointed to the Hartford Archdiocese last year and will succeed as archbishop once current Archbishop Leonard Blair retires. He has in the past offered candid opinions on Church matters, such as arguing that the Holy See should be moved out of Rome and expressing hope that the Church might in the future “ordain or name some deaconesses.”

He stressed to CNA this week that, when ministering to transgender-identified individuals, “the line obviously has to be clearly drawn” on matters such as ordination.

“The line has to be drawn clearly by way of biology,” he said. 

“We’re not intending to hurt this person or shut them off from the community,” he pointed out. “It would have to be clearly defined in terms of what we do. There are certain things that just can’t happen. Now, if that hurts the person and they decide they have to walk away, that’s unfortunate. But we haven’t changed any teachings on this matter.”

“Conversation is very important,” he said further. “When you’re dealing with these issues, especially [with] children — but at this point I’m talking about adults — we need conversation and clear understanding on what Church teaching in this matter is.”

Coyne stressed that, when dealing with children who suffer from gender dysphoria, “we have to be very careful.”

“When the child presents themselves with this issue, we have to first say, ‘We love you, we understand you’re going through these things, we have to be patient and walk with you.’” 

“We have to involve the parent, or parents,” he said. “We walk with the child, we love the child, and we work with the family.”

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The Catholic Church in recent years has moved to address gender ideology. The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith this month released the declaration Dignitas Infinita, which stressed “the promotion of the dignity of every human person.”

The document states that “all attempts to obscure reference to the ineliminable sexual difference between man and woman are to be rejected” and that “only by acknowledging and accepting this difference in reciprocity can each person fully discover themselves, their dignity, and their identity.”

Asked how the Church might minister to transgender-identifying individuals while still affirming the truth about human bodies, Coyne said: “I think we continually talk about how we were made in the image of God, that God created us male and female biologically, and that that’s a good thing, and that’s something we should accept.” 

“How we live it out in terms of gender expression is another question,” he argued. 

But “we can continually affirm the goodness of human creation, and our bodies as male and female, and that it’s not something that needs to be in conflict with our gender, or seen as a mistake.” 

“It’s a given. It’s a beautiful thing,” he added. “It’s God’s graces already operating in that person by virtue of creation. Start with the theology.” 

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