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Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Rome
Pope Francis has said that Catholics must discern difficult situations of sexual morality on a case-by-case basis, even when presented with a person who is considering or has had gender reassignment surgery.
In a lengthy press conference aboard the papal flight back to Rome Oct. 2 after a weekend visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan, the pope said “you must take things as they come” and give time to accompany and discern individually with the various situations people are facing.
Francis recounted a meeting at the Vatican he had last year with a Spanish transgender man who had written to the pontiff to describe his own case and had asked for a personal encounter together.
“She is a young woman who suffered much because she felt like a young man,” the pope explained. “She felt like a young man, but she was physically a young woman.”
The woman, Francis said, had undergone gender reassignment surgery and had then married a woman. “He wrote me a letter saying that, for him, it would be a consolation to come [see me] with his wife,” the pope said, clarifying: “He that was her but is he.”
The pope said that during the meeting the transgender man spoke of his experience in his parish in Spain, where a younger priest had recently replaced his former pastor, who had turned 80.
“When the new pastor would see him, he would shout to him from the sidewalk: ‘You will go to Hell.'” Francis said. “But when the old pastor would come find him, he asked: ‘How long has it been since you confessed? Come and confess so you can have communion.’ ”
“Do you understand?” the pope asked the journalists aboard the flight. “Life is life and you must take things as they come.”
“We must be attentive, not saying all are the same,” he continued. “Every case: Welcome it, accompany it, study it, discerning and integrating.”
“This is what Jesus would do today,” said the pope.
Francis spoke about transgender people in response to a question from a journalist about his frequent criticism of what he has called “gender theory.” In a meeting with Catholics in Georgia Saturday evening, the pontiff had called gender theory “a great enemy” of marriage.
During the press conference, the journalist asked what the pope would say to someone who had struggled for years with their sexuality and felt that their physical appearance did not correspond with their sexual identity.
Francis first responded by revealing that as a priest, bishop “and even as pope” he has accompanied gay people in trying to help them get closer to God.
“I have accompanied people with homosexual tendencies and also with homosexual practices,” said the pontiff. “I have accompanied them, helped them get closer to the Lord; some could not, but I accompanied them and never abandoned anyone.”
“People must be accompanied, as Jesus accompanied,” the pope continued. “When a person who has this situation comes before Jesus, Jesus will surely not say: ‘Go away because you’re homosexual.’ ”
Continuing to explain his views on so-called gender theory, the pontiff made a distinction between what he called “indoctrination” of young persons and accompaniment of people in pastoral situations.
Francis recalled a conversation he had with a French father whose ten-year-old son had told him he wanted to be a girl when he grew up.
“In their schoolbooks gender theory was being taught,” said the pope. “This is against natural things.”
“It is one thing for a person who has this tendency … and also changes their sex,” the pontiff continued. “It is another thing to teach in schools along this line. Changing the mentality: I call this ideological colonization.”
Francis also spoke at the press conference about the upcoming U.S. election and his travel plans for 2017, and he gave hints to when he might create more cardinals for the Catholic church.
Pope Francis has advised U.S. Catholics voting in November’s presidential election to study the proposals of the candidates well, to pray about it, and then “choose in conscience.”
In a lengthy press conference aboard the papal flight back to Rome Oct. 2 after a weekend visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan, the pope was asked what counsel he might give to Catholics who are unhappy with both Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.
“I never say a word about electoral campaigns,” the pope replied. “The people are sovereign. I will only say: Study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience.”
Francis was asked about the election campaign during a 50-minute conference in which he also spoke about how Catholics should treat transgendered people, revealed his travel plans for 2017, and gave hints about when he might create more cardinals for the Catholic church.
After specifically addressing the U.S. election, the pope continued to speak about selection of political candidates in a more general way outside the context of the presidential contest.
“When it happens that in a country, any country, there are two or three or four candidates that do not satisfy everyone, it means that the political life of that country maybe is too politicized,” said the pontiff.
“It is one of the works of the church … to teach about having a political culture,” he continued. “There I countries — I think of Latin America — that are too politicized but they do not have a political culture.”
Regarding his upcoming trips abroad, Francis revealed that he is planning to visit Portugal, India, and Bangladesh in 2017. He also said he is hoping to visit Africa but is unsure about which country as “it depends on the political situations and wars there.”
More from the trip: In Muslim Azerbaijan, Francis calls for interreligious unity against violence
The trip to Portugal, Francis said, would likely be brief and only to Fatima, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the famous apparition of Mary, May 13. The pontiff said the India and Bangladesh trip is “quasi-sure.”
He also said he is still considering a trip to Colombia following the historic peace agreement between the government and FARC rebels there, but wanted to wait until everything was “locked-up” or “when everything is sure, sure, sure” for the success of the peace deal.
Francis said he did not have a firm date yet for when he would create new cardinals but “it could be the end of the year, or the beginning of the next.”
“At the end of the year there is the problem of the end of the Holy Year, but you can resolve it,” he said, referencing the Nov. 20 closing of the Jubilee year for mercy. “Or at the beginning of the next year.”
The pope said his criteria for choosing cardinals is having some “from everywhere” so “you see in the College of Cardinals the universality of the church.”
“The list is long but there are only 13 spots,” he said, in an apparent reference to the current limit imposed by Pope Paul VI of having only 120 cardinals under the age of 80. “You have to think about having a balance.”