The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, responding to Pope Francis’ October 2nd, 2016, remarks on LGBT topics.
Pope Francis’ latest plane interview on the pastoral accompaniment of LGBT people shows his profound sensitivity to the need for judging moral situations on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, his comments also reveal that he needs to abandon his reliance upon so-called “gender theory” and “ideological colonization,” ideas which do not fit reality.
The pope’s call for more sensitive pastoral care is a bold step forward for the Catholic Church, but his comments about gender and education show his misunderstanding of what LGBT advocates actually propose.
On the first point, Francis’ model of pastoral ministry to people faced with a question of sexual morality or gender identity is not to ignore, condemn, or provide pat answers, as past church leaders have suggested. When helping people discern an answer to a vexing moral question, Pope Francis said ministers should “Welcome it, accompany it, study it, discerning and integrating.” And he is on target when he says that “This is what Jesus would do today.”
This model is one that should be adopted by bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers around the globe. It is a model that New Ways Ministry and many Catholic advocates for LGBT people have been proposing for decades, so it is refreshing to see that such ideas are now being shared at the highest levels of church authority. This model of ministry values the Church’s teachings on the primacy of conscience, and that recognizes all people as uniquely and wonderfully created by God.
On the second point about gender theory and ideological colonization, the pope’s remarks reveal that he thinks children are being encouraged to choose their genders in a frivolous way. That simply is not the case. Education around gender identity typically supports people whose life journeys show they have discovered, not chosen, a gender identity which is integrally consistent and permanent.
Similarly, his comments about marriage earlier in his trip indicate that he does not see that the real problems harming marriage are social, economic, religious, and personal ones. Throwing about terms such as “gender theory” and “ideological colonization” is a red herring. It deflects from examining the deeper causes of marital strife and deterioration.
Of transgender identities, the pope noted that “It is a moral problem. It is a problem. A human problem.” He is correct only in the sense that pressures to deny one’s true, interior gender identity cause great personal problems for individuals. The true moral solution is to allow such persons the freedom to choose whatever avenues they determine will be the ones that will integrate themselves psychologically, relationally, and spiritually, as God would want.