Thursday, May 4, 2023

Archbishop of Oklahoma City hits home run in his call to respond to gender dysphoria with empathy but without compromising God's reality


Archbishop Coakley: Respond with love to those with gender dysphoria without compromising truth

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City in an interview this week called for responding to those experiencing gender dysphoria with empathy but without compromising on the reality of God’s creation of humanity as male and female. 

“We can show love and compassion and concern as a parent, as a pastor, as a friend, without jettisoning our commitment to the truth,” Coakley told Montse Alvarado of EWTN News In Depth. 

“I think we can show affection and tenderness and compassion without succumbing to the pressure and that parents often feel subjected to by a young person, a child whom they love very much, who is obviously suffering.”

Coakley released a pastoral letter April 30 on the topic titled “On the Unity of the Body and Soul: Accompanying Those Experiencing Gender Dysphoria.” Coakley said the letter, which was in the works for several months, came in response to questions from some Catholic school principals in his diocese who have faced questions about how to respond to, for example, children in Catholic schools wishing to identify as a different gender.

In his interview with EWTN News In Depth, Coakley said his document is “seeking a broader audience [of] parents, teachers, pastors, anyone who’s accompanying, working with young people.”

In the letter, Coakley spoke about the Church’s teaching on sex and gender, which is that God created humans male and female in his image, as composites of body and soul. 

In a section of the letter addressed directly to those experiencing gender dysphoria, Coakley said it is vital not to dismiss the pain experienced by people who feel they are the wrong gender and affirmed that “each person who identifies as transgendered is loved by God and is a person Jesus Christ died to redeem … As a Church, we want to walk alongside you as you struggle with gender dysphoria.”

“We must avoid the extremes: to ignore the pain of the person and dogmatically assert that biological sex is the end of the conversation or to jettison the truth of the body in the false hope of relieving pain,” Coakley wrote in his letter.

“A Catholic response must both affirm God-given sex and recognize the struggle of the person in front of us. It requires listening with empathy as well as extending the invitation to receive God’s gift of the sexed body.”

Addressing parents who are struggling to respond to a child experiencing gender dysphoria, Coakley advised them to be open and listen to their child’s struggles but also to seek counseling and not to adopt pronouns different from the child’s biological sex. 

Coakley encouraged a compassionate approach that does not discount what the child is feeling, saying Catholics must “insist on the doctrinal integrity of our position, but at the same time recognizing the importance of being understanding and listening to a child and where they’re hurting.”

“Don’t shy away from the opportunity to engage [your] sons and daughters on these topics … I think nothing can be lost by taking time to listen and to try to understand,” he said. 

Though he presents some scientific evidence to support the idea that children should not seek medical interventions to change their gender, Coakley said the letter was more focused on the Church’s teaching and how to stay true to it in a loving manner. 

“I think we can benefit by some clarity that science can give about the meaning of sex, biological sex, and where gender comes from and things of that sort. But our focus is really on the doctrinal foundations for a solid pastoral approach that is willing to speak the truth in love, and we can’t separate the two,” he said. 

Speaking on EWTN News In Depth, Coakley advised parents to be prepared to talk to their children about these issues, taking care to discern the timing of when a child might be ready to discuss them. 

“Parents need to be in communication with their sons and daughters, to be engaging them regularly and making time for not just this kind of conversation, but about the things that matter, things that are important. Any conversation, I think I say in here about gender should be just a small subset of conversations that need to be taking place in the family all the time.”

He also said he hopes other bishops will consider releasing similar guidance. 

“I’ve already heard from several bishops in the last 24 hours who have thanked me for this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them will find their own way to disseminate what I’ve tried to articulate in their own dioceses and in their own local settings,” he noted. 

“I think our priests and our parishes need the reassurance that this kind of guidance from a bishop can offer because they’re the ones that are on the front lines in their parishes dealing with this in a much more regular way than I am dealing with it.”

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