The Pope does not have it in for trans folk. He is absolutely not running some sort of veiled anti-trans agenda.
In fact – with a little more support in the right quarters – Pope Francis may well turn out to be the best thing that has happened to the trans community, religiously speaking, in a very long while.
That may come as a bit of a shock to those who have been nodding along to the recent spate of alarmist ‘insights’ in the LGBTI press, and beyond, about how the Pope has depicted ‘transgenderism’ as on a par with nuclear weapons in its dangerousness.
The problem is these insights are based on little other than second hand interpretation of remarks delivered in a very different context. In most cases this view is not supported in any official way within the Catholic church.
Someone who ought to know is Monsignor Keith Barltrop. He was recently tasked by the head of the Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, for expanding the church’s LGBTI ministry.
Gay Star News asked Barltrop what he understood the Pope’s official position on transgender issues to be.
He told us: ‘I would be surprised if it is an issue he has given any great thought to. At an individual level, transgender issues affect a very small minority of individuals within the church.
‘As far as I am aware, the Church takes no official position on trasnsgenderism: it is a pastoral issue, not a matter of doctrine.
‘Insofar as the Church were to be involved in any individual’s decision to transition, it would counsel caution, because this is not a step to take lightly: but it should be fully supportive of individuals who have made that decision.’
So why have so many in the LGBTI community bought into the idea this Pope, otherwise one of the most inclusive of modern times, has a bee in his bonnet about transgender people?
That notion seems to be based almost exclusively on a very particular interpretation of a phrase used on a number of occasions over the past few months by Pope Francis: ‘gender theory’ (‘la teoria di genere’). He compares ‘gender theory’ to the nuclear arms race. And he condemns it, in his recent ground-breaking encyclical on climate change, as part of a wider failure by humankind to respect its bodily nature.
However, as respected blogger, the Catholic Transgender, argues, ‘gender theory’ really is very little connected, except in the most tangential fashion, to being transgender.
This view is supported by Barltrop. He suggests the target for the Pope’s concern is the notion of gender to be found in Queer Theory and the writings of Michel Foucault, as well as radical feminism, that sees gender as totally constructed and constructible.
So while it is likely to impinge to some degree on those segments of the trans community that define themselves in more gender fluid terms, it is certainly not the out and out attack on transgender it has been represented as.
Or as explained in Il Post, an Italian magazine, the real issue is not the trans community, but feminist thinkers, such as Judith Butler.
Does it matter if the press gets it wrong? Unfortunately yes. And this year it could matter more than most.
This autumn, bishops of the world assemble once more, as they did a year ago, at Rome for part two of the synod on the family. On the agenda will be discussion of the Church’s attitude to the LGBTI community.
There will not be any grand overturning of centuries of disapproval. But it is likely, as liberals hope, and conservatives fear, that there will be a significantly more open attitude. And once out of the box, it will be hard to put such positivity away again.
Barltrop told us: ‘In practice gay and trans people are going to meet a variety of attitudes from priests and lay people, ranging from warm support to suspicion.
‘But the official teaching of the Church is clear: homosexual and transgendered people are not only to be respected but made to feel welcome in the Church and accompanied as they journey, along with everyone else, to be more like Christ who radiates nothing but love.
‘If priests take this teaching seriously, as well as engaging with their congregations and reading the newspapers, then it is less likely that reports in the LGBT press that the Catholic Church disapproves of transgenderism will become self-fulfilling prophecy.’
In other words, we should be careful what we write. The press is not entirely neutral observer to the news, but active participant in it.
A quick Google of the timeline for this issue suggests that many of the pieces appearing in the wider press, including influential right-wing and anti-trans outlets such as CNN and evangelical Catholic publications, appear to follow directly on from scare stories appearing in the LGBTI media.
The bottom line: If we are too enthusiastic in claiming that the Church is against us, we may yet succeed in making it so.