Pope Francis deftly threaded the needle between denouncing sin and embracing those victimized by transgender ideology in comments on a plane this past Sunday. In no uncertain terms, the pontiff attacked the idea of transgenderism but emphasized the Christian duty to reach out in love to those struggling with such issues.
On Saturday in the Asian country Georgia, Francis denounced transgender theory as a “global war against the family.” He warned about the ideas being taught in schools, but also called on Christians to “welcome” and “accompany” those struggling with such issues, reported Crux’s Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín.
On the plane back to Italy from Georgia, Francis shared the experience of speaking with a French man who was Catholic. The man had asked his 10-year-old son what he wanted to be when he grows up, and the boy answered, “a woman.”
“The dad remembered that in the schoolbooks they taught gender theory. And this is against natural things,” the pontiff explained. “This is what I call ideological colonization.”
Nevertheless, Francis distinguished the ideology — “teaching in school about this, to change mentalities” — from the people struggling with these issues, who have “this tendency, option and even change sex.”
“Life is life, things have to be accepted as they come. Sin is sin,” the pope declared. The Catholic Church cannot accept transgender ideas, but individual Catholics can and should empathize with those who are struggling. “Tendencies, hormonal imbalance, have and cause so many problems… we must be attentive.”
“In each case, welcome, accompany, study, discern and integrate,” Francis explained. “That is what Jesus would do today.”
The pope made it absolutely clear, however, that he was not sanctifying transgenderism. “Please don’t say that the pope will sanctify trans [transgenderism], because I read the headlines in the newspapers,” he said. “I want to be clear, this is a problem of morals. It’s a problem. It’s a human problem that has to be resolved as it can, always with God’s mercy.”
Francis contrasted two approaches to transgender people. He mentioned an elderly priest who welcomed a trans person and a younger one who did not, shouting, “You’ll go to hell.” The aged priest offered to hear the person’s confession, so he could receive Communion.
The pope also used a personal example: “I’ve accompanied in my life as a priest, a bishop, and even as pope, people with homosexual tendencies or even homosexual practices, I’ve led them closer to the Lord,” Francis said. He emphasized that people must be accompanied “as Jesus accompanies.”
“When a person who has this condition [or situation] gets in front of Jesus, Jesus won’t say, ‘leave because you’re homosexual,'” the pontiff explained. God’s mercy can extend to all sinners.
Furthermore, the confused feeling that you are a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body is not in itself a sin. Neither is homosexual attraction a sin per se. It is acting on these tendencies — mutilating your body or engaging in a homosexual relationship — that constitutes sin, in both Roman Catholic and traditional Christian teaching.
Next Page: Why Francis called transgender ideology “the great enemy of marriage.”
Francis also called transgender theory “the great enemy of marriage,” likely because it denies the Christian idea that God made each person male or female, reflecting the persons in the Trinity and enabling marriage, which itself is a microcosm of Jesus’s relationship with the community of believers.
Christians do not oppose gay marriage and transgender ideology to be hateful or bigoted. Rather, Christians should acknowledge the deep pain of those who embraced a transgender identity and were hurt by it. These “de-transitioning people,” who have been ostracized by the LGBT community, are in dire need of our compassion. Indeed, as Pope Francis noted, it is important for believers to reach out to those who are hurting or misled and show them the mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself ate with sinners and spoke with a Samaritan woman who was sexually immoral. He did not condemn her, and He explicitly said His mission was to reach out to those who understand they are in need of forgiveness (John 4).
But the savior also did not pretend that everything was OK. He drove money-changers out of the temple, and rebuked the reigning self-righteous ideology. Were Jesus around today, He would doubtless attack more sins and errors than Christians commonly see, but He would have no hesitation condeming the idea that homosexual practice is fine or praiseworthy, and the idea that transgender surgery is affirming.
As Francis said, Jesus would meet us sinners where we are, encouraging repentance and offering salvation. He would fight against the ideologies which mislead us, and call us to lay down our arms, ceasing our rebellion against God.
As such, it is important for followers of Christ to attack the transgender and homosexual ideologies which do people harm — precisely because of Christians’ compassion for the less fortunate, for those struggling with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. Francis is calling for the opposite of bigotry, namely compassion for those who are suffering and rhetorical tools to fight back against cultural lies about sexuality.
Conservative Christians may disagree with Pope Francis when it comes to his words on capitalism or multiculturalism, but on the subject of transgender ideology, the pope has articulated a courageous position which confirms Christian doctrine and offers a path of grace. Believers would be wise to follow his lead.