Connecticut Archbishop Calls for Female Deacons, Moving Vatican Out of Rome

Archbishop Coyne also said that he sees more church closings in the future for the archdiocese.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, VT.
Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, VT. (photo: Courtesy photo)

A recently appointed coadjutor archbishop in Connecticut said he would, if asked, advise Pope Francis to “get [the Church] out of Rome” and move its headquarters elsewhere, and consider allowing women to serve as deacons.

Pope Francis appointed Bishop Christopher Coyne as coadjutor archbishop of Hartford in June of this year. As coadjutor, Archbishop Coyne will assist Archbishop Leonard Blair in the administration of the Hartford archdiocese and should succeed him as archbishop upon the latter’s retirement, expected once Blair turns 75 next year.

In an interview with local news station WTNH News8 this week, Archbishop Coyne told network anchor Dennis House that, if asked by Pope Francis for advice on how to improve the Catholic Church, he would tell the Holy Father: "Get it out of Italy. Get it out of Rome.” 

“We need to put it someplace [else]. It’s too Roman,” Archbishop Coyne said. 

“I just think because it’s Roman, it’s inbred in terms of the culture of Rome, it’s inbred in terms of the culture of the community there,” he said. “[Francis] tried and tried and tried to change the Roman ways, but you hit the Roman ways that have been part of the tradition of the Church for years.” 

“That would be the first thing I’d say,” he continued. “Is there any way we can move out of Rome and just kind of start over with a different bureaucracy?”

The prelate in the interview discussed his childhood growing up in the Catholic faith in a “very large Irish Catholic family,” where he was the middle child of seven.

“[O]ur church had a great community and priests were always in and out of our house,” he said. “We were all altar servers. My mother and father would volunteer. I was very familiar with a lot of the priests and deacons.”

The archbishop said his goal for the archdiocese is “to evangelize.”

“[H]ere in the United States, especially in the Northeast, we’re no longer a church of the culture, we’re no longer a church of the community in the sense [that] we have an automatic entree into different walks of life,” Archbishop Coyne said. 

“We’re a missionary church now,” he said. “People don’t come to our church, they just don’t walk through the doors. In fact, most people are walking out of the doors.”

The prelate pointed out that many Catholics who leave the Church say that they end up at “megachurches.” 

“And when you ask them why did you join a megachurch, they say, ‘Because I felt welcome’,” the archbishop said. 

Archbishop Coyne said that he sees more church closings in the future for the archdiocese. 

“The problem is not that the Church has abandoned, that the priests have abandoned, or that the archdiocese has abandoned [the churches],” he said. “The people who used to be in the church have left the church.” 

“Now, part of it is that we were complacent and weren’t kind of concerned about that until, obviously, it became a problem,” he said. “But I think in many instances, when a church is closed it’s because nobody’s there. So who walked away?” 

He pointed out that he didn’t “want to make it look like I’m blaming the laity,” but that “if the numbers aren’t there you can’t sustain it.”

Archbishop Coyne further said he hopes at some point to have the chance to ordain women deacons. 

“Women’s ordination, at this point, in terms of the diaconate, is kind of being discussed,” he said. “In terms of the priesthood, it’s not open for discussion. We’ve been told it’s ‘case closed.’ But hopefully, there will be some opportunity down the road [to] ordain or name some deaconesses.” 

Pope Francis said in a recent book interview that “holy orders is reserved for men,” though the Synod on Synodality’s final document last month included a request for continued theological study of the possibility of women deacons.

Before coming to Hartford this year, the prelate led the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, from 2015. The 65-year-old bishop served as the auxiliary bishop of Indianapolis from 2011 to 2015.

Asked during the interview what he would say to Catholics who have left the Church and are thinking of coming back, Archbishop Coyne said he would tell them: “We have a place for you. You’re always welcome.” 

“When you come here, it’s a non-judgmental zone,” he said. “Yes, sometimes our message is hard to hear because it’s challenging. But we’re all on the way to salvation, and we want to accompany each other on that way, growing in a life of holiness.” 

“We don’t want you to stay where you are,” he continued. “I don’t want to stay where I am. I want to grow more towards God. But I want to walk with you. And all are welcome.” 

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