Pope Francis and the community of transwomen

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Pope Francis with Transgender logo in the background 2023
Pope Francis image by Ed Hahn

It’s a rare opportunity to meet the pope. It’s even rarer if you’re a transgender Catholic.

However, on November 19, in Torvaianica, Italy, a community of transwomen, many who are sex workers, were welcomed and seated in a vast auditorium with over a thousand other poor and homeless people as Pope Francis’s guests for lunch to celebrate the Catholic Church’s World Day of the Poor. This wasn’t their first time lunching with the pontiff. They have received the VIP seats to Pope Francis’s monthly gatherings since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We transgenders here feel a bit more human because the fact that Pope Francis brings us closer to the Church is a beautiful thing,” Carla Segovia, 46, a sex worker, told Reuters. “Because we need some love.”

Torvaianica, a run-down seaside town just 20 miles south of Rome, has been this community of transwomen’s haven. They are seen, safe, cared for, and welcomed. Even though Torvaianica is an impoverished town, this community of transwomen has readily accessible free medical care, vaccinations, cash assistance, and feminine toiletries, no small feat for transgender communities worldwide.

Is Francis displaying a spiritual transformation toward transgender people from where he was nearly a decade ago?

The pontiff’s transphobic vitriol unleashed itself unapologetically back in the day.

In the pontiff’s 2015 tome, “Pope Francis: This Economy Kills,” Francis compares transgender people to nuclear weapons. His reason is that this unlikely pair destroys and desecrates God’s holy and ordained order of creation.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Francis spewed the following transphobic remarks:

“Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,” he continues.

“Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.

“With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator. The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate.

“God has placed man and woman and the summit of creation and has entrusted them with the earth. The design of the Creator is written in nature.”

Has the Vatican changed its views on transgender people?

Also, in November, the Vatican agreed to baptize transgender Catholics and allow them to be godparents.

This is a 180 from 2000 when the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith denounced the existence of transgender people.

“The key point is that the transsexual surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person is a male, he remains male. If she was female, she remains female.”

Have both Pope Francis and the Vatican come to understand that their denunciation of our present-day gender theories and the fluidity of human sexuality not only perpetuates spiritual harm and alienation to our trans community but also unwittingly invites physical harm — done in the name of God? Francis’s comments earlier this year, calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, were hailed by LGBTQ advocates as a milestone that would help end harassment and violence against us, as he publicly distinguished between homosexual acts as a sin or a crime.

Nothing in terms of church doctrine might change moving forward, but November showed promise for transgender Catholics in the future. However, Pope Francis is notorious for flip-flopping and back-pedaling when it comes to full-throated inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the church.

However, addressing poverty has been one of Francis’s inclusive and uncompromising stances. One of the Catholic social teaching principles is the “preferential option for the poor,” also a core tenet in Liberation Theology. The Catholic Church’s World Day of the Poor, with the message “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor,” is an example of the church at its best regarding welcoming everyone. It allows the faces of transgender people not to be hidden.

To Torvaianica’s small and isolated community of transwomen, Pope Francis, without condemnation from his bishops and conservative Catholics, can uphold every month the biblical mandate in Matthew 25:31-40 concerning food for the poor and welcome all in.

“They didn’t see us as normal people; they saw us as the devil,” Andrea Paola Torres Lopez, a Colombian transgender woman known as Consuelo, told NBC News. “Then Pope Francis arrived, and the doors of the church opened for us.”