NEW YORK – The Archdiocese of Denver has defended a policy telling archdiocesan school administrators to not enroll or re-enroll transgender students as simply guidance clarifying church teaching, while critics of the policy say it’s “dangerous and harmful” to LGBTQ people.

The policy has made its rounds in secular media this week after it was obtained and published by The Denver Post. Beyond guidance on transgender students, it states that a Catholic school cannot treat gay parents as an “equivalent to the natural family,” and makes it clear that students must act and be treated in accordance with their biological sex.

The archdiocese confirmed to Crux that the document posted online is accurate. In a statement, an archdiocesan spokesperson said that the goal of the policy is to “foster an environment in which children can grow in virtue and be formed” according to Catholic teaching.

“In these times of great confusion on what is true, we rely upon the natural law, a biblical understanding of the human person that truly leads to abundant life,” the statement said. “The church will not refrain from proclaiming Jesus Christ and the truth about who we are as human people and what we have been created for.”

Citing the statement, the archdiocese declined a Crux request for an interview.

The 17-page policy acknowledges that situations of gender identity are “complicated.” It states that each person “deserves to be heard and treated with respect,” and it is the archdiocese’s responsibility to “respond to their concerns with compassion, mercy, and honesty.” The archdiocese emphasized as much in its statement to Crux, saying each individual case will be addressed with the “utmost care and concern for all involved.”

Still, opponents of the policy argue that the policy goes against Pope Francis’ approach to offer a message of welcome to LGBTQ people, and instead tells them to “go away.”

“The policy is dangerous and harmful because it has no basis in scientific fact or lived reality,” Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry – an organization that works to bring together the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ community – told Crux in a statement.

“The policy will accomplish only two things: it will increase the incidents of discrimination and violence toward LGBTQ people; and it will continue to push people away from the church in Denver because it shows that archdiocesan officials have no understanding of ordinary people’s lives, and its exclusionary tone also sends the message that leaders don’t care,” he added.

The policy begins by outlining terms that teachers should not use in the schools, including gender, gender identity, sex, gender dysphoria, and transgender that are “incompatible” with Christian anthropology and can lead to profound confusion. Instead, the archdiocese encourages use of the terms sexual identity, sexual difference, and marriage.

The document – issued in 2019 – poses a series of questions and answers on different scenarios that could arise, one being the decision of whether or not to enroll a transgender student.

“Practically speaking, when parents are relying on secular medical or psychological advice that stresses parental affirmation of the child’s desired identity as the only way to support the child, then the situation will prove unworkable … Accordingly, enrollment or re-enrollment of such a student at a Catholic school would not be appropriate,” the document states.

If an enrolled student begins to “assert an identity at odds with the students biological sex,” the document states that removing the student from the school is possible, outlining that “the school should ensure that both parents and students are aware of the kinds of situations in which the student’s enrollment would become untenable.”

The Archdiocese of Denver is one of many dioceses that have implemented these kinds of policies in recent years. The Archdiocese of Omaha, and Dioceses of Sioux Falls, Green Bay and Lafayette in Louisiana all issued similar policies over the summer.

After the Archdiocese of Omaha issued its policy, Jesuit Father James Martin, an American priest known for his LGBTQ ministry and advocacy, told Crux that on the whole the church needs to do more listening and learning before issuing these kinds of policies.

Martin met with Pope Francis on Nov. 11, where the two spoke about LGBTQ Catholics.

“We still know so little about this phenomenon, so I think this is the time for the church to listen and learn, rather than put out policies, which are often restrictive and even punitive,” Martin told Crux via email. “Before we can be a teaching church we have to be a listening church. And why would we not want to listen to the experiences of the people we’re writing policies about?”

The archdiocese lamented efforts this week to paint its position in a negative light.

“We don’t expect everyone to ascribe to a Catholic worldview, but we strongly reject attempts to paint our position as bigoted or unloving,” its statement said. “It is precisely because of our love and reverence for the nature of the human person that we cannot stay quiet on this matter.”

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