Pope Francis with his press secretary on the flight from Azerbaijan

Jesus would welcome and walk with transgender people even if they undergo sex-change operations, but ‘gender theory’ is a form of indoctrination that should be resisted, Pope Francis said recently when returning from Azerbaijan.

He was responding to a question by Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter about his remarks on Saturday that gender theory represented “a global war against the family” that seeks to destroy with ideas rather than weapons (see Crux). Pope Francis began his answer by describing how he had always walked with gay people, whether or not they were chaste.

“I have accompanied them and I have brought them close to the Lord, although some can’t,” he said, adding that “we have to walk with people the way Jesus does. When a person with that condition comes to Jesus, He would surely not say, ‘Go away, because you’re homosexual!’.”

He went on to explain that his words on Saturday were directed at the “nastiness that happens these days with the indoctrination of gender theory”.

Gender theory holds that while “sex” is biologically determined, “gender” is a cultural convention which should be a subjective choice; in other words, gender is what the person believes himself or herself to be, rather than what is determined by sex.

Francis illustrated the pervasiveness of this theory by recalling a conversation with a French father who told him that over table he had asked his children what they wanted to be when they grew up. One of his sons had said: “a girl”.

“The father remembered that their school book taught gender theory, and that this goes against nature,” the Pope recalled. “One thing is for a person to have this tendency, and even for that person to change sex; other thing is to teach in school in this way in order to change people’s way of thinking. This is what I call ‘ideological colonizations’.”

The Pope went on to mention receiving a letter from a Spanish transsexual who shared his story of gender dysphoria.

He had suffered a lot because he felt himself to be a man, but was physically a girl. And he told his mother when he was 2o or 22, telling her that he wished to undergo a sex-change operation, and his mother asked him please not to do it while she was alive. The old lady suddenly died, and he had the operation. He is a public employee in a Spanish city, and he went to see the bishop, who had walked a lot with him — a good bishop, who ‘wasted time’ to walk with this man. Later he got married, changed his civil identity and wrote me a letter. It was a consolation for him to come with his wife — he who was she, who is he. I received them and they were happy.

Although he did not name him, Francis appears to have been referring to Diego Neria, whom he received in January last year (see CV Comment). Neria recently published a book, El Despiste de Dios (‘God’s Slip-up’), which was launched last week at a parish inMadrid. In an interview with Religión Digital, Neria said that the meeting with Francis had left him feeling “safe and clean”, and recalled the Pope telling him: “If anyone tries to shun you, believe that the problem is with the one who is doing the shunning.”

On the papal plane, Francis recalled how Neria had told him of two parish priests in the area where he lived — one who was elderly and retired, the other who was young. “Whenever the new parish priest saw him, he would shout from the pavement: ‘You’re going to hell!’ But when he met the old one, he would say: ‘How long is it since you last confessed? Come, come.’”

The Pope went on:

Life is life, and you have to take things as they come. Sin is sin. Tendencies or hormonal imbalances create a lot of problems and we have to be very careful not to say everything is the same. We have to take each case, and welcome him, walk with him, study him, discern and integrate him. This is what Jesus would do today.

Francis added: “Please, do not go around saying: ‘the Pope plans to canonize trans people! I’m already seeing the front pages …. this is a human, moral problem. And you have to solve it as you can, always with the mercy of God, with truth, but always with an open heart.”

Austen Ivereigh is coordinator and co-founder of Catholic Voices in the UK. This article first appeared on its website.

Dr Austen Ivereigh, coordinator and co-founder of Catholic Voices, is an author, journalist and commentator, who is a well-known voice on TV and radio on church affairs. From 2000-2004 he was deputy editor...