Pope Francis met with a group of transgender women in June, one of whom remarked on how the encounter was an “important message” during Pride.
On June 22nd, the pope held a private audience at the Vatican with six trans women of “different cultural and social backgrounds,” according to Religion News Service. The outlet reported further:
“The meeting was not announced on the pope’s daily schedule and was organized by Sister Genevieve Jeanningros, 79, known for her work with marginalized groups, including circus performers, the homeless and members of the trans community.
“Jeanningros, who does her ministry from a chapel located in a small caravan parked next to a funfair in the Roman port town of Ostia, has known the pope since his election in 2013. She told the Italian online media outlet Fanpage that she asked Francis if she could bring more than one person to the Vatican, to which he allegedly answered: ‘Bring them all.’
“One of the trans women who visited the pope, Alessia, said the meeting with Francis ‘was emotional’ and ‘they felt welcomed.’
“‘On Pride Month I think this is an important message,’ she said. ‘The best part of having spoken to Pope Francis is that it was simply a meeting among people and not focused on our differences.'”
The news about this papal audience was published in a larger analysis by journalist Claire Giangravé about a shift in the Catholic Church on LGBTQ inclusion. And that shift is due in large part to Pope Francis, said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry. He told RNS:
“‘Catholic LGBTQ ministry has been expanding astronomically in the last decade. . .Pope Francis’ welcoming statements and gestures are the main reason for this greater openness to LGBTQ people. . .[Pope Francis] has given people courage, and his approach of dialogue and accompaniment has given people a Catholic explanation for how LGBTQ inclusion can be authentically Catholic.'”
But more locally, DeBernardo noted the expansion of ministry at the grassroots, so evident during Pride Month. RNS reported:
“New Ways Ministry, founded in 1977, was accustomed to only one such example a year. ‘Now, Catholic parishes’ participation in pride events is becoming a normal part of pride celebrations, and a normal part of Catholic parish life.’ . . .
“LGBTQ outreach and ministry ‘used to be something that was done rather secretly, with pastoral leaders wanting to stay under the radar,’ said DeBernardo, but thanks to the efforts of Francis and others, he believes this work can now be done without as much fear of controversy or reprimand.
“‘In more and more parishes, LGBTQ people are not only welcome, but are becoming ministry leaders in all kinds of activities and programs, not just LGBTQ outreach efforts,’ he said.”
From the papacy down to the parish, this Pride, the Catholic faithful are indeed closer than ever to realizing an LGBTQ-inclusive church. Pope Francis’ latest meeting with this group of trans women, which follow several previous pastoral gestures to the trans community, is indeed another “important message” of this momentum—especially during Pride.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 1, 2022