Archbishop: It Costs Nothing to Accept a Person as They Present Themselves; More News

New Ways Ministry [Mount Rainier MD]

April 22, 2024

By Robert Shine

It has been two weeks since the Vatican released Dignitas Infinita, its declaration on human dignity that included negative sections on gender identity and transitions. In that time, commentaries about what the document means for the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender and nonbinary people, have abounded. Posts today and tomorrow feature some of these commentaries. For all of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of the declaration and its reception, click here.

Archbishop Christopher Coyne, coadjutor of Hartford, emphasized in an interview both the church’s broad welcome, but also its teachings on gender. Connecticut Public Radio:

“[Coyne said,] Biology is biology. You’re either XX or XY. That’s a scientific fact. You can’t un-prove that fact.’ . . .

“‘You don’t have to pass a test to belong,’ Coyne said. ‘We walk with each other. We accompany each other. We don’t leave each other; we try to grow together.’ . . .

“Coyne said it’s important for the Catholic church to continue having conversations regarding the LGBTQ+ community.

“‘It does move each of us, I hope, in different directions,’ he said. ‘It’s pulled me more into a place of understanding and care.’

“Coyne continued: ‘It doesn’t cost me anything to accept you as you want to present yourself to me. I’m not going to get off on my high mighty horse, and all of a sudden say, “Well, I won’t accept that.” I accept you as a person.’

“Coyne added that “people who have gender dysphoria can choose to live that out in different ways,” and you “could have a biological man who presents himself as a woman, but he’s still biologically a man.”

George White, a transgender teacher at Catholic schools in England, published a statement that affirmed much good in the declaration but criticized its sections on gender. White lamented the “lack of appropriate language” for trans people, which “forget the human and therefore the dignity” defended in the declaration. He continues, in part:

“It’s also problematic to suggest that transitioning is a concession to the age old temptation to make oneself God. It relates this to the idea of removing sexual difference for procreation which I have challenged above, but many aspects of life challenge how we were born including seeking surgeries for illness or interventions for sight impairment. Recognising such interventions is necessary for including all in the Body of Christ, the universal Church.

“The Church should enter into dialogue with trans people. We cannot truly promote ontological dignity by excluding the voices and lived experiences of all. By comparing trans people, who often feel they can have some control over their transition, with those who have no control of their situation when engaged in experiences of war and/or poverty, we may be at risk of conflating moral choices with ontological dignity. . .I fear this will simply lead to more exclusion and it is something I have seen in practice.”

Yunuen Trujillo, author of LGBT Catholics: A Guide for Inclusive Ministry and member of New Ways Ministry’s Advisory Board, as well as Bondings 2.0 contributor, examined the declaration for U.S. Catholic. Trujillo argues Dignitas Infinita “inadvertently highlights both the areas where the church has historically succeeded in respecting people’s dignity—and where it has historically failed to adequately defend human dignity in the public square.” While the declaration’s treatment of victims of war, people in poverty, and migrants are positive, she counters its sections on women and trans people “are clearly underdeveloped,” writing:

“Only a single five-sentence paragraph is dedicated to the topic of sexual abuse. Throughout history, women have been the primary targets of sexual abuse, yet the document’s treatment of this issue feels insufficient. . .

“By lumping all LGBTQ+ people under the umbrella of sexual orientation, the document fails to recognize even the mere existence of transgender people. Purposely making a person invisible is the worst way to undermine their dignity because it dehumanizes them. In this regard, Dignitas Infinita demonstrates what many of us already know: The church’s understanding of gender identity is underdeveloped and lacking. . .Dignitas Infinita never makes a specific call to respect these individuals’ dignity or even to acknowledge their existence. By focusing on disembodied casuistries, this section fails to integrate the lived experiences of trans people—their sufferings, their glory, their needs, and the beauty of their souls.”

Stephen McNulty, a student at Yale University who is a gay Catholic, wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that the declaration “doesn’t fit our neat, almost cliché narratives about Pope Francis or his leadership style.” He explains:

“It seems obvious to me that His Holiness cares deeply about finding a new approach to LGBTQ+ people beyond the doctrinaire and uncompassionate stance which has often dictated the Vatican’s treatment of us. The pope genuinely wants to hear the voices of queer and trans Catholics.

“The difficulty, however, is that there’s a big difference between hearing and listening. Too often, the new ‘pastoral approaches’ to LGBTQ+ people are one-way streets, and you can see this in how the media talks about them. When Pope Francis meets with transgender people, it is the radical kindness of a loving leader. He is brave. But the reverse is almost never pondered: What of the bravery and witness of a trans person who looks a pope in the eye? Who is the actor here, and who is acted upon? Who is leading, and who is learning? What did the church learn from this new ‘pastoral approach’?”

Francis John Sullivan, chair of Concerned Catholics Canberra Goulburn, Australia, wrote that Pope Francis abandoned trans Catholics with this declaration. He writes:

“Transgenderism [sic] has become the new Rubicon for the Catholic Church. Holding this oppositional line is now an ‘article of faith’ in a confected cultural war where the victims are innocent lives cast aside in the interests of ideology. The risk for the Church is that blanket moral bans become counter productive and alienating. They undermine genuine attempts to plumb the depths of complex human experience. They pass judgment without listening. The ethics becomes selective and discriminatory, partisan and arrogant. . .

“Here was the opportunity for Pope Francis to acknowledge, as the medical profession across the world already does, that gender dysphoria is real. Rather than casting the challenge of transgenderism into some faux cultural war, the Pope could have opened his mind and heart to the realities for some Catholics. That is, some people feel that they are born in the wrong body. That these people can be treated to live more dignified lives than to feel trapped in an undignified existence. Yet the Declaration provides no hope. Instead, the Declaration, and in turn the Pope, implies that any suggestion of alleviating suffering for people in these circumstances was ‘playing God’ and needed to be quashed.”

In a letter to the National Catholic ReporterCharles A Le Guern linked the church’s failures to address sexual abuse with discrimination against trans people and providers of care for them:

“The church has received criticism for its opaque reaction to the abuse scandal which seems to never be resolved. Our prelates need to spend less time criticizing the faithful whose medical and psychological needs are just as opaque to them. They would find themselves more respected and credible if they showed by their embrace of all our faithful, regardless of differences, and spent less time trying to separate one group or another from the mainstream. If the bishops demonstrated they were true to their advocacy for all our people then the deviance of some clerics would be seen, even by the cynics, as a grievous aberration not as an all too common occurrence.”