Last week, Pope Francis reiterated his position that the existence of transgender people—and indeed, any expansive notion of gender identity beyond traditional, assigned-at-birth male and female—is contrary to God’s plan. The comments came during a closed-door meeting with Polish bishops, a transcript of which was released on Tuesday by the Vatican. In his remarks, Francis is said to have railed against gender variance, especially as it relates to children. The Catholic Herald, which saw a copy of the transcript, printed the relevant comments:
The Pope also said he had discussed the subject with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who told his successor: “Your Holiness, we are living in an age of sin against God the Creator.”
Pope Francis said this sin was often given financial backing by “very influential countries”: a form of “ideological colonization,” the Pope said, which is “terrible.”
The Pope said that one example—“I’ll say it clearly with its first and last name—is gender.”
Francis told the Polish bishops: “Today, children are taught this at school: that everyone can choose their own sex. And why do they teach this? Because the books come from those people and institutions who give money,” he said.
“God created man and woman; God created the world like this and we are doing the exact opposite.”
Francis began his tenure on something of a hopeful note for queer followers by asking, in 2013, “who am I to judge?” on the subject of gay Christians, priests in particular. But that glimmer faded when he signaled his particular distaste for gender variance in the May 2015 encyclical Laudato Si—“valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different”—and then, his rejection of gay relationships in the April 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
In other words, though a touch more conspiratorial than Francis’ previous statements, these remarks are more of the same anti-queer—and largely inaccurate—theology church-watchers have come to expect. Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of LGBT Catholic group DignityUSA, explained in a statement what Francis is missing: “What many, including Pope Francis, do not yet understand is that people do not ‘choose’ their genders,” she said.
A gender is assigned at birth, and some people discover that they were incorrectly classified. The narratives of many transgender and gender-nonconforming people show that this often begins long before they go to school. For most, the reality of their identity not matching their assigned gender persists despite incredible social, cultural, familial, and, yes, religious pressures to conform.
Duddy-Burke also pointed out perhaps the most troubling aspect of Francis’ words—namely, that they are dangerous to the lives of trans kids. “It is irresponsible of him to say such things without taking into account the fact that people’s lives are literally at stake,” she said. “We urge the pope and other church leaders to enter into dialogue with transgender people, and to be very cautious in passing judgements that are based on assumptions rather than reality.”