On a podcast answering young people’s messages, Pope Francis told a transgender youth that “God loves us as we are,” following up on previous comments this year expressing welcome to a nonbinary young person.
The pope’s latest remarks were made during Vatican News’ “Popecast” released ahead of World Youth Day next week, in which Francis responded to audio messages from marginalized young people. One message came from Giona, a transgender and disabled Catholic in Italy, who spoke of being “torn by the dichotomy” between their gender identity and their faith. Vatican News reported:
“The Pope offered words of encouragement, saying ‘God loves us just as we are,’ and that ‘the Lord always accompanies us, always. Even if we are sinners, He draws near to help us.’ The Pope added, ‘do not give up, keep striving ahead.’
The Catholic Review noted that Francis also used Giona’s name, which translates into English as “Jonah,” to the prophet’s story in Scripture:
“Like the prophet Jonah, ‘people are often stubborn,’ he said, ‘and that stubbornness closes us’ to God’s love. Yet the pope urged Giona to ‘not surrender’ and recalled that ‘God always caresses us’ and ‘walks with us,’ even if it is sometimes difficult to feel.”
Francis responded to other youth who struggled with their mental health, were imprisoned, and had career difficulties. He also addressed a religion teacher.
Earlier this year, the pope made similarly LGBTQ-positive comments in a separate conversation with youth as part of a documentary for the streaming service Disney+, titled “The Pope: Answers.”
In the short film
1, Francis frankly and pastorally discussed issues which the ten young people raised. The participants were aged 20 to 25 years old, came from several countries, and only a few remained Catholic. The young people included a pro-choice activist, a sex worker, a survivor of clergy abuse, a former novice in religious life, and a nonbinary person. Of this last young person, Vatican News reported:
“Another Spanish girl [sic] , Celia, introduces herself and explains that she is non-binary and Christian. ‘Do you know what a non-binary person is?’ she asks the Pope. He answers yes, but she explains to him anyway that ‘a non-binary person is one who is neither man nor woman, or, at least, not all the time.’ Then she wants to know if there is room in the Church for sexual and gender diversity.
“The Pope responds by broadening the horizon to the ecclesial challenge of inclusion: ‘Every person is a child of God, every person. God does not reject anyone, God is Father. And I have no right to expel anyone from the Church. Not only that, my duty is always to welcome. The Church cannot close the door to anyone. To no one.’
“Immediately afterwards, the Pope addresses criticism to those who, with the Bible as a reference, promote hate speech and justify the exclusion of the so-called LGBT movement from the Church community. Such people, he says, ‘are infiltrators who take advantage of the Church for their personal passions, for their personal narrowness. It is one of the corruptions of the Church.'”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, called the pope’s Vatican podcast remark “a grand sign of welcome to LGBTQ+ people” which was “once again modeling the kind of pastoral outreach message that he wants the rest of the church to follow.” DeBernardo, whose full statement is available here, continued:
“If the pope’s messages of unconditional and compassionate acceptance encourage ministers, theologians, and church officials to listen more attentively to the life stories and spiritual journeys of transgender and nonbinary people, they will have the power to transform pastoral practice, and eventually church teaching which currently has too many condemnatory messages for LGBTQ+ people.
“What is further needed from Pope Francis is a repudiation of anti-trans messages from church leaders, such as using the term ‘gender ideology’ to refer to accurate scientific understandings of gender that recognize the male/female binary is not the only way that gender manifests itself in human nature.”
For a list of statements and actions by Pope Francis on gender identity issues, click here.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 27, 2023