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Vatican has a stance on gender theory, but all are welcome in Catholic church, Hartford leader says

Archbishop Coyne
Aaron Joseph
Archbishop Coyne

The incoming leader of the Hartford Archdiocese spoke Tuesday in the wake of a recent document from the Vatican declaring gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy as grave violations of human dignity.

“Infinite Dignity,” a 20-page declaration issued by the Vatican, repeated its rejection of “gender theory,” or the idea that one’s biological sex can change. It said God created man and woman as biologically different, separate beings, and people must not tinker with that or try to "make oneself God.”

“Biology is biology. You're either XX or XY. That's a scientific fact. You can't un-prove that fact,” said Christopher Coyne, coadjutor archbishop for the Archdiocese of Hartford.

While Coyne said the Vatican’s recent statement on gender identity is “nothing new,” he told Connecticut Public’s “Where We Live” that all are welcome in the Catholic church.

“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.”

In the coming weeks, Coyne is expected to take over as the head of the Hartford archdiocese, which represents about 400,000 Catholics in Connecticut.

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.”

The Vatican document restates well-known Catholic doctrine opposing abortion and euthanasia, and adds to the list some of Pope Francis’ main concerns: the threats to human dignity posed by poverty, war, human trafficking, the death penalty and forced migration.

The document also puts gender-affirming surgery and surrogacy on par with abortion and euthanasia as practices that it said reject God’s plan for human life.

“I don't see this coming out of a place of hatred or bigotry against folks,” Coyne said.

“Male and female were created by God,” Coyne said. “There's a certain dignity in that reality. How it's lived out – and gender – is another thing.”

“People who have gender dysphoria can choose to live that out in different ways,” Coyne said. “You could have a biological man who presents himself as a woman, but he's still biologically a man.”

LGBTQ+ advocates speak out

In comments to the Associated Press, advocates for LGBTQ+ Catholics have criticized the Vatican document as outdated, harmful and contrary to the stated goal of recognizing the “infinite dignity” of all of God's children. They warned it could have effects on trans people, fueling anti-trans violence and discrimination.

“While it lays out a wonderful rationale for why each human being, regardless of condition in life, must be respected, honored, and loved, it does not apply this principle to gender-diverse people,” said Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ+ Catholics.

Nicolete Burbach, lead expert in social and environmental justice at the London Jesuit Centre, said the document shows the Vatican continues to fail to engage with queer and feminist approaches to the body.

“I think the main difficulty faced by the document is that it attempts to affirm the church’s authentic commitment to human dignity in the face of a troubling history on the part of the church itself around attacks on that dignity,” said Burbach, a trans Catholic theologian who researches transness and the Catholic Church.

Connecticut Public Radio’s Catherine Shen, Tess Terrible, Patrick Skahill and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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