Pope Francis is getting criticism for speaking out against the idea that gender can be chosen.
“Today, in schools they are teaching this to children — to children! — that everyone can choose their gender,” the pope said in a meeting with Catholic bishops in Poland last week, the Associated Press reports. The Vatican released a transcript of his remarks today.
He quoted his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who retired in 2013 but still lives at the Vatican: “Speaking with Pope Benedict, who is well and has a clear mind, he was telling me: ‘Holiness, this is the epoch of sin against God the Creator, he’s intelligent! God created man and woman, God created the world this way, this way, this way, and we are doing the opposite.’”
Pope Francis has previously denounced the idea of gender mutability, saying that “gender theory … does not recognize the order of creation” and calling for “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity,” as “it is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference.” Yet Francis met in 2015 with a Spanish transgender man who said he found the pope “kindness personified.”
Most transgender people would likely say their gender isn’t chosen — that they know they are innately male or female, even if their body leads others to perceive them as the other gender. (Some, of course, do not identify with a binary gender.) However, many in the nontrans world, including the pope, would probably say that undergoing hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery, or simply living as a different gender than the one assigned at birth, amounts to choosing gender.
Criticism of the pope came from Kelsey Louie, CEO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, who said he was “saddened and disturbed” by the remarks. In an emailed statement, Louie continued, “Our children deserve to know that of course they have the right to choose, and GMHC applauds all schools that teach students not to oppress who they are, but instead live the life as the gender they most identify with.” He noted that in light of the mass shooting at the Pulse LGBT nightclub in Orlando, “what we need now is for our world leaders to spread messages of tolerance and acceptance.”
In a more progressive move, Pope Francis today announced the appointment of a 13-member commission to study the possibility of women serving as deacons, a rank one step below priest, Agence France-Presse reports. Women cannot currently hold any clergy rank in the Roman Catholic Church. Some advocates of an expanded role for women say there were female deacons in the early Christian church.
Francis, like his predecessors, has opposed the idea of women priests, but in May he promised members of women’s religious orders that he would study the matter of female deacons. He did not set dates for the commission to begin or finish its work.