Boston, MA. August 1, 2016. During a meeting with Polish bishops while attending World Youth Day, Pope Francis concluded his remarks by complaining that children are being taught “that everyone can choose their gender.” He also called this “ideological colonization” by “very influential countries.”
DignityUSA, the organization of Catholics committed to justice, equality and full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the church and society, responded with deep concern that the Pope’s comments could lead to increased violence towards and oppression of transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
“Once again, the Pope is demonstrating a lamentable and dangerous ignorance of a subject that is literally a matter of life and death to some people,” said DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke. “He is also failing to see that God speaks through many languages, cultures, and human experiences, and not always in ways that we have the skills to interpret correctly.
Duddy-Burke continued, “What many, including Pope Francis, do not yet understand is that people do not ‘choose’ their genders. 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.
“It is interesting that until recently, the prevailing belief was that people chose their sexual orientation. Now, even the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges that there are some people ‘who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex’ and that this is a ‘deep-seated’ reality,” Duddy-Burke continued. “It seems that we will have to undergo the same kind of conversion in our thinking about gender.”
Duddy-Burke concluded with DignityUSA’s major concern. “What Pope Francis says today could have serious repercussions for people all across the globe, especially in countries that are basing transphobic policies on the idea that the concept of transgender identity is a Western import. It is irresponsible of him to say such things without taking into account the fact that people’s lives are literally at stake. 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.”
DignityUSA has been working for justice and equality for LGBTQ people since 1969. It is a founding member of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.