A top U.S. archbishop gave a speech in which he suggested the devil was behind the LGBTQ+ movement, claiming in particular that “the trans movement is doing great damage to society.”
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City made his comments while addressing a Napa Institute-sponsored “Catholic CEO men’s group” in late November. The Napa Institute is an organization of wealthy Catholics pushing a far right wing agenda for which Coakley serves as ecclesiastical adviser. According to John Gehring’s report on the meeting for
the National Catholic Reporter:
“Before delivering his 45-minute remarks, titled ‘Transgenderism and the Eclipse of Truth,’ Coakley had opened a bottle of Trinitas sparkling wine from [Napa Institute founder Tim] Busch’s winery with a sword.
“‘We see the plague of relativism in nearly every aspect of life,’ the archbishop said. ‘In politics, we speak of alternative facts, in education this emphasis on equally valid perspectives, and sadly sometimes even in the church with its push to change her moral teaching, especially her sexual ethic. There is no starker proof that we live in a culture where experience and a desire eclipse the truth than the transgender movement.'”
Coakley, who was recently elected as Secretary for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), as well as the Chairman for their Committee on Priorities and Plans, decried the standard list of “sexual revolution” ills cited by conservative bishops, like birth control and abortion rights, which he claimed allowed the LGBTQ+ movement to grow. In particular, he lamented the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to delist homosexuality as a mental illness and instead make “sexual orientation into an individual’s choice based solely on desire.” The archbishop continued:
“‘Gender is now determined simply by how one feels and how one identifies,’ he continued. ‘In order to avoid being labeled transphobic, these feelings must be accepted as the true indicators of gender and these feelings must be supported even to the point of inalterable gender affirmation surgeries. … Nonbinary identities have mushroomed and their spread has gone mainstream. This transgender ideology, this transgender philosophy, is based on a false and defective and totally inadequate anthropology.'”
The archbishop seemingly defended conversion therapy, which has been debunked and labeled a harmful practice by the psychological community, calling opposition to it “well-intentioned madness.” He criticized supporting transgender children and allowing trans athletes to participate in sports according to their gender. He claimed the church was threatened by non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, and made the false claim that healthcare providers would be forced to provide gender-affirming surgeries. Coakley concluded:
“‘In the face of all these dangers from the trans movement, we are called to love and accompany every person struggling with gender dysphoria, especially because they are typically in immense pain,’ the archbishop said.
“But he ended with a stark observation. ‘If the devil can confuse society about sex and gender, he obscures our understanding of God’s plan for humanity at its very roots.'”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, told NCR the archbishop had engaged in “shameful pandering” and said church leaders “helping to make transgender and nonbinary people the target of elevated discrimination, social scorn and even violence is sin.” The report highlighted DignityUSA’s new campaign, “Beloved by God: A Catholic Commitment to Trans-Affirmation” that pushes back against the bishops’ anti-transgender initiatives. New Ways Ministry is a co-sponsor of this Dignity campaign.
Archbishop Coakley’s strident opposition to transgender people being able to live openly and safely is not surprising. In his previous USCCB roles, he joined fellow bishops in opposing the Equality Act and President Biden’s efforts to implement LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections. During the Trump administration, he applauded the president’s rules allowing social service agencies and homeless shelters to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.
Yet, even with such a record, the archbishop’s latest comments at a Napa Institute event hit a new and dangerous low. Comparing transgender equality to something demonic is not only theologically wrong, but extremely harmful. Catholic LGBTQ+ advocates have pointed out that such charged rhetoric contributes to anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and violence, like the recent mass shooting at Club Q which killed five people in Colorado Springs. It is plainly irresponsible for bishops to use such “demonic” rhetoric at any time, but to do so soon after a dramatic violent attack shows a disturbing lack of awareness of LGBTQ+ issues.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, December 14, 2022