Pope Francis Says Jesus Would Not Abandon Transgender People

Pope Francis

The pope again angered LGBT Catholics with talk about “gender theory” this weekend, only to clarify what he meant during another impromptu plane ride news conference.

What he meant, though, won't exactly be cheered by transgender people, either.

Catholic News reports that Pope Francis was asked while aboard a flight from Azerbaijan to Rome about his critique of “gender theory,” which he claims gives children a choice of genders. The pope often comments indirectly about transgender people by talking about this "theory," and his comments on October 1 during a visit to the country of Georgia were the latest to be widely blasted by transgender-supportive faith leaders. The pope had said "gender theory" was a weapon in a "war" on marriage.

Then in the plane ride back to Rome, the pope told reporters that he had intended only to be critical of teaching children in school about what it means to be transgender. He reportedly used the word “transgender,” and he compared it to being gay. The church acknowledges people are gay but claims it’s a sin to act on same-sex attraction.

"It is one thing for a person to have this tendency, this option and even to have a sex change, but it is another thing to teach this in schools in order to change mentalities,” said the pope on the plane, according to Catholic News. “This I call ideological colonization.” The pope described teaching kids about being transgender as “indoctrination.” And the pope told two stories about trans people he knew.

First, a father told him about having a 10-year-old trans daughter, and the father had claimed the child learned about being trans in school text books — which the pope said “is against natural things.” Second, the pope commented for the first time on a widely circulated story about visiting a trans man and his wife. The pope praised a bishop who had spent time with the man as “a good bishop” while condemning a new bishop who “would shout at him from the sidewalk, ‘You will got to hell!’”

The pope appears to have used the correct pronouns during most of the story. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the pope made sure reporters understood who was being talking about by describing the trans man as, “He that was her but is he."

The pope noted the man had “suffered much” and praised the first bishop for taking the man’s confession.

“Do you understand?” the pope asked journalists after recounting the stories, according to NCR. "Life is life and you must take things as they come.”

He added, "We must be attentive, not saying all are the same. Every case: Welcome it, accompany it, study it, discerning and integrating."

"This is what Jesus would do today," said the pope.

The pope is often caught in a dance of saying one thing publicly, then amending it slightly when talking with individuals, sometimes followed by official spokespeople assuring Catholic leaders his comments aren’t an official change in church dogma. The pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” line about gay priests was also delivered during a conversation with reporters on an airplane. The pope seemed aware of the history. 

"Please," the pope told reporters, according to Catholic News, "Don't say, 'The pope will bless transgender people,' OK?"

"I want to be clear,” he added. “It is a moral problem. It is a problem. A human problem. And it must be resolved the best one can — always with the mercy of God, with the truth" and "always with an open heart."

The pope also used himself as an example of how to respond to LGBT parishioners. 

“I accompanied them; I helped them draw closer to the Lord, although some couldn’t,” said the pope, according to Catholic News. “But I never abandoned them."

"People must be accompanied like Jesus would accompany them," he said. "When a person who has this situation arrives before Jesus, Jesus certainly will not say, 'Go away because you are homosexual.' No."

The pope had been condemned by the leaders of Dignity USA, for example, after his October 1 comments. The pope had reportedly said “gender theory” is “the great enemy of marriage.” He described it as “an idea” being used as a weapon and “the whole world is at war trying to destroy marriage.”

LGBT-supportive faith leaders called that an unacceptable us-versus-them foundation.

“Pope Francis sets up a false dichotomy in pitting people’s basic human right to be who they are against marriage,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group for LGBT Catholics. “We know marriage to be a sacred and beautiful thing. We believe marriage, and all of society, will be strengthened when people are no longer pressured to bring false selves into a marriage, and can make this profound commitment honestly. Too many lives have been ruined by gay people trying to live in heterosexual marriages, or by people being forced to live in a gender that is not authentic for them.”

Others called on the pope to “educate himself” after the October 1 comments.

“When Pope Francis made his now famous ‘who am I to judge’ remarks, LGBTQ people of faith were hopeful of real change in the Roman Catholic church. Now millions of people are deeply hurt by what Pope Francis has said about transgender and gender non-conforming people, which reveals a profound lack of knowledge and empathy,” said Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr. of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “We urge the pontiff to educate himself about the realities of transgender people’s lives and to welcome and affirm transgender and gender non-conforming people rather than reject and dehumanize them.”

Reaction to the pope’s latest clarification is a mix of continual disappointment and yet welcoming of what is a slight change in rhetoric about transgender people.

“The pope’s call for more sensitive pastoral care is a bold step forward for the Catholic Church,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director for New Ways Ministry, “but his comments about gender and education show his misunderstanding of what LGBT advocates actually propose.”

DeBernardo called out the pope for an unsubstantiated belief. “He thinks children are being encouraged to choose their genders in a frivolous way. That simply is not the case, DeBarnardo said in a lengthy statement issued today.

Still, DeBernardo said it’s important the pope called on bishops to welcome conversation with transgender people.

“This model is one that should be adopted by bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers around the globe,” he said in a statement today. “It is a model that New Ways Ministry and many Catholic advocates for LGBT people have been proposing for decades, so it is refreshing to see that such ideas are now being shared at the highest levels of church authority. This model of ministry values the Church’s teachings on the primacy of conscience, and that recognizes all people as uniquely and wonderfully created by God.”

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