Pope Francis sent his personal almoner, the official charged with dispensing charitable contributions from the pope, to assist a transgender community which had appealed to a parish priest for assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.
Il Fatto Quotidiano reported that a group of trans people, mostly from Latin America but now living in Italy, appeared at the door of Fr. Andrea Conocchia in the coastal town of Torvaianica, not far from Rome. The group was suffering from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 and requested help. But Conocchia’s funds were already limited due to increased needs from the families in his town also impacted by the pandemic, as well as dwindling donation while no Masses were being celebrated. The newspaper report continued (via Google Translate):
“Hence the request for help that the trans community sent to the pope through his almsgiver, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski. Francis’ response was immediate. The Polish cardinal, in fact, immediately and personally brought all the necessary help. It was through Krajewski that the trans community sent its gratitude to Bergoglio through an audio message in Spanish: ‘Many thanks to Pope Francis. God bless you, thank you for everything. A thousand blessings. May the Virgin protect you ‘.”
“Fr. Andrea said that ‘in this community the word then spread and there are now about twenty people. They are trans who come mostly from Latin America: they love Bergoglio very much. They also have faith. I was moved by the image of one of them who prayed on his knees before the Virgin. Someone even asked me to bless loved ones. They are very lonely people, with stories of solitude behind them and with distant families. There is one of them who started working on the street at the age of 14. Thirty years have passed since then.'”
This outreach is very consistent with Pope Francis’ approach to transgender people. He has constantly emphasized paying attention to concrete pastoral situations. In 2015, the pope met at the Vatican with a Spanish transgender man, Diego Neria Lejárraga, who had been rejected at his parish after transitioning. In 2016, during an in-flight interview, Francis referenced the man as “he that was her but is he,” while suggesting that accompanying LGBTQ people is “what Jesus would do today.” The following year, Francis sent a supportive note to a nun in Argentina who runs an outreach ministry for transgender women. (For the pope’s full record on gender identity topics, click here.)
In this most recent case, he rushed aid to people in need. This is the same pope, however, who has repeatedly critiqued gender theory in Laudato Si, Amoris Laetitia, other documents, and interviews and speeches. Somehow for Pope Francis there is a gap between praxis and theory when it comes to transgender people, many of whom are people of faith, including Catholics, as Fr. Conocchia made clear. Perhaps the best approach for Francis when it comes to gender identity is far fewer words about transgender people and more loving actions in solidarity with them.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 30, 2020