While on a trip to Poland last week, Pope Francis met with bishops and shared his views on schools teaching concepts about gender identity and gender expression. Francis called such lessons that students can “choose their gender” a form of “ideological colonization.” Some LGBT advocates aren’t pleased.
According to a transcript of transcript of their private meeting, which was released by the Vatican, the comments came after Bishop Christopher Zadarko asked Francis about refugees. “How can we help them, since they are so numerous? And what can we do to counter fears of an invasion or aggression on their part, which would paralyze society as a whole?” Zadarko asked.
Francis responded to the question by discussing motivations of immigrants and countries that have “integrated” immigrants, before speaking about “ideological colonization.”
“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these — I will call it clearly by its name — is [the ideology of] ‘gender.’ Today children — children! — are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex,” Francis said. “Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this [is] terrible!”
Although Francis didn’t point to any specific organizations or places where he is concerned this is happening, experts interviewed by The New York Times say that church analysts think it may be connected to international groups that provide resources to developing countries on the condition that Western values are imparted onto its population.
The executive director of DignityUSA, Marianne Duddy-Burke, slammed the comments, according to The New York Times article. Duddy-Burke said the words “choose a gender” reflected a “dangerous ignorance” about gender identity, as if it were made casually, like choosing a hair color.
Sarah McBride, an LGBT activist and the first openly trans person to address a major political party convention, called the comments “incredibly disappointing.” She wasn’t alone in her assessment.
The pope’s remarks on “choosing a gender” are not exactly out of step with other comments relating to gender. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Francis criticized the idea that gender identity exists on a spectrum, along with the questioning of gender roles.
Francis said in February of last year, “Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings. Let’s also think of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.” Francis also called gender transition “a new sin.”
But ithe pope also met with a Spanish transgender man in January of 2015 after the man wrote to him. He was rejected by his local clergy and even called “the devil’s daughter.” Francis hugged the man and told him, “You are a son of God and the Church loves you and accepts you as you are.”
Moments like the pope’s meeting with a transgender man, the pope’s comments that he shouldn’t “judge” homosexuality, and the pope’s advisor’s statements that the church and society overall should say “sorry” for the marginalization of gay people have been celebrated by some LGBT groups and LGBT publications for a major change in tone from the Catholic Church and from the pope when speaking about LGBT people.
But many LGBT advocates and journalists want to hold back on praising the pope. The Advocate, a publication that focuses on LGBT issues, was heavily criticized for making Francis its “person of the year” in 2013.