Pope Francis Refers to “Gender Ideology” as the “Worst Danger” Today

Continuing the dissonance between his words on gender and his pastoral actions towards transgender people, Pope Francis has condemned “gender ideology” as an “ugly ideology of our time.” What are LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies to make of this persistent dissonance?

The pope made his remarks while addressing a meeting, “Man-Woman: Image of God. For an Anthropology of Vocations,” held at the Vatican this past week. According to the National Catholic Reporter, some of Francis’ words on gender were impromptu comments, while others were from a prepared text read by an aide. Study of “this ugly ideology of our time” was needed, the pope said. NCR reported further:

“However, [the pope] continued speaking off-the-cuff, saying, ‘I would like to emphasize one thing: It is very important that we have this meeting, this meeting between men and women, because today the worst danger is gender ideology, which erases differences.’

“As he often has done in the past, the pope referenced the dystopian science fiction novel, ‘Lord of the World,’ written in 1907 by Msgr. Robert H. Benson, a former Anglican vicar, encouraging his audience to read it. He reiterated that he considers the novel to be ‘prophetic because it shows this trend of erasing all differences.'”

Beyond his condemnation of “gender ideology,” Francis’ larger reflection to the meeting of the Center for Research and Anthropology of Vocations was about the universal call of all people to a vocation. According to NCR, the center aims “to promote and support research in the social sciences on vocations in society.” Of vocation generally, the pope explained:

“Every person needs to discover and express himself or herself ‘as called, as a calling, as a person who finds fulfillment in listening and responding, sharing his or her being and gifts with others for the common good,’ he wrote.

“People today sometimes ‘forget or obscure this reality, with the risk of reducing the human being to his or her material needs or basic needs alone, as if he or she were an object without a conscience or will, simply pulled along by life like a gear in a machine,’ he wrote.

“‘Instead, men and women are created by God and are the image of the Creator; that is, they carry within themselves a desire for eternity and happiness that God himself has sown in their hearts and which they are called to realize through a specific vocation,’ he wrote. ‘We are called to happiness, to the fullness of life, to something great for which God has destined us.’

“‘We are part of a plan of love, and we are invited to go outside of ourselves and realize it, for ourselves and for others,’ he wrote.”

Pope Francis’ warnings against the perceived threat of “gender ideology,” a nebulous term used by some Catholics to critique not only transgender people, but LGBTQ+ identities generally, once again reveals the pope’s sharp dissonance on gender issues.

These harsh words come from the same pope who has made history by repeatedly meeting with trans people, inviting them to his audiences, holding private audiences, and even sitting with some trans women at a Vatican luncheon last fall. He told trans youth: “God loves us as we are.” And yet, repeatedly, he also speaks of “gender ideology” in near-apocalyptic terms—and without much clarity. Indeed, his language on gender seems out of sync with his entire pontificate. How can a pope who speaks and writes in existential terms about climate change, whoclaims the world is experiencing World War III in piecemeal, claim that evolving understandings of gender and sexuality are the “worst danger” of our times?

Somehow, for all the good LGBTQ+ work he does, the pope in his writings seems stymied from applying his wise lessons about human flourishing to transgender and nonbinary people. For instance, in the same talk where he condemned “gender ideology,” he claims every person “needs to discover and express” themselves, find “fulfillment in listening and responding,” and share their “being and gifts with others for the common good.” It is a universal call “to something great for which God has destined us.”

LGBTQ+ people and those who love us know well that coming to acknowledge, accept, and celebrate a diverse sexual and/or gender identity is that very process of discovery, expression, listening, response, and sharing for the good of all. What the pope describes about vocation is very much like a coming out process. Rather than treating transgender people as a threat, their journeys of self-discovery and courage in living into who God created them to be should be examples for all the faithful.

Every person to some extent lives with a dissonance between their thoughts and their actions. Lent is a time to consider aligning these two more closely. Pope Francis clearly loves the trans person before him, understanding right relationship is the priority above all for Gospel living. He must turn this love into words of compassion, or at least humility before the mystery that is human identity.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 2, 2024

10 replies
  1. Sarah Rubin
    Sarah Rubin says:

    Transgender people are an ugly ideology? This is so offensive to me being someone who is gender variant. I came back to the Catholic faith over four years ago and it was not even on my plan to do so. In these four years, I have experienced being treated like I can’t do anything and I’ve had it. I am leaving the church again. I’m sick of people who have never been me not knowing what we are and making these pronouncements. I’m sorry it has to come to this, but I’ve had it.

  2. chris
    chris says:

    just in time for Easter! and to think, some of his latest remarks on not gatekeeping sexuality and marriage ALMOST had me thinking about going back to a Mass.

  3. Jim Porter
    Jim Porter says:

    What the Pope terms “gender ideology” introduces a revolutionary idea for the Church, yes, but it does not erase differences. It recognizes the complexities of gender, for all of us. It acknowledges a multiplicity of genders, not just two.

  4. Michaelangelo Allocca
    Michaelangelo Allocca says:

    Thank you, Bob. This continues to be, for me, the single most puzzling and heartbreaking anomaly of the Holy Father’s teaching and behavior.

  5. John Calhoun
    John Calhoun says:

    Seems that Pope Francis may well have philosophical and aesthetic issues needing elucidating. For example, the relation between “truth” and “beauty”. What he deems “ugly” cannot be true – a paradigm revealing the beauty and richness of the creating God. May be helpful for New Ways to contact ‘philosopher-friend’ resources for some insights here.


    Interesting comments by Pope Francis. The one gender ideology that Francis doesn’t address is the ideology that God has decreed that only men can serve in ordained ministries. The ordained male practice of exclusion and discrimination is truly destructive to the Church’s members, and sends a message to the world that its calls for justice and equality are hollow.

    Francis said: “It is very important that we have this meeting, this meeting between men and women, because today the worst danger is gender ideology, which erases differences.”

    It seems to me that the ideology Francs supports – that men and women are intrinsically different – is a false ideology. It has been used to describe what women should be, and men should be, and the roles that each is to play. The fact is that each of us – male, female, transgendered, non-binary – is unique and different from each other. It is not up to theology to decide who is what, and how they should be.

    Francis himself gives the alternative vision – “Every person needs to discover and express himself or herself ‘as called, as a calling, as a person who finds fulfillment in listening and responding, sharing his or her being and gifts with others for the common good…”

  7. Kailyn Damm
    Kailyn Damm says:

    In 1982, I left the church as I struggled with my gender identity. I did not make peace with myself through transition until 2013. I came back to the church in 2015, became a greeter and usher and by mid-2016 became a Eucharistic Minister. This letter violates Christ’s teachings and as it is from the very top of the hierarchy, it is not just blasphemy, it is also heresy. As a firm believer in Christ, I cannot in good conscience remain in an organization that actively seeks to dehumanize and vilify me and my people. Nowhere did Christ say that I have to be Catholic to gain the kingdom of God.

  8. chris
    chris says:

    i’m cis/het but i left the RCC during the pandemic after being a lector and EM for 35 years. i was almost out the door during Benedict’s reign of terror, but i stayed because i really expected Francis to step up and say something like “Christ doesn’t expect you to fulfill a gender or sex role, just to love others as yourself.” when he didn’t, i slowly lost faith that the RCC would change. this recent proclamation basically fulfills my worst expectations.

  9. Jake Kohlhaas
    Jake Kohlhaas says:

    The pope’s words should be read in context, “the worst danger [in terms of the discussions you are all about to have].” Since dehumanization is clearly worse than wrong ideas about human persons, the statement makes no sense without that context.

    The way “gender ideology” is presented so unreflectively and without nuance remains confounding. But I really don’t think the pope thinks of it as the greatest threat to the faith today (as some observers have already been quick to assume).


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *