The pope often steals headlines for doing pretty much whatever he wants. He holds freewheeling news conferences on planes. He castigates clergymen for profligacy. And he once reportedly called a divorced Argentine woman and told her she could receive communion, bucking church policy. Has he now done it again?
There are reports in Spanish publications that Pope Francis has accepted a transgender person into the Vatican — and embraced him — after the man who was once a woman wrote him an anguished letter last year. The Vatican hasn’t corroborated the accounts, but it hasn’t denied them either. According to the Huffington Post, the Holy See said it didn’t have any information on the alleged gathering.
But if the accounts are true, it would be another stunning overture to another demographic the church has long held at arm’s length. “While there is no public, official position of the Catholic Church regarding people who are transgender, it would be safe to say that the hierarchy of the Church would likely forbid this ministry,” Sister Monica, who runs ministries for transgender people, told the Huffington Post.
The story begins with a man named Diego Neria Lejarraga, a bespectacled transgender Catholic who long harbored a profound sense of sadness. Residing in a deeply Catholic country, the Spaniard told the Spanish newspaper, Hoy, that his feelings of disillusionment increased with his age. “My jail was my own body,” he told the newspaper, recalling his youth. “Because it absolutely didn’t correspond with what my soul felt. I didn’t know one happy summer when I could go to the pool with my friends.”
He said his soul only matched his body after he turned 40 and transitioned. But even then, his “suffering didn’t disappear,” Hoy reported. “Social rejection and condemnation at the church prevented it.” Snickers followed him when he got to his church. “How do you dare to come here with your condition,” he said one person told him. “You are the devil’s daughter,” another said.
“If I could have chosen,” he told Hoy. “I would not have chosen my life.”
He didn’t know who to turn to. He wanted to stay in the Catholic church, but how could he if its followers only rejected him? Then he thought of Pope Francis. Maybe this new, progressive pontiff, who once famously asked “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gays, would know what to do. So last year he got out a pen and paper to write the pope at the Vatican and seek his counsel. “Before, I never would have dared,” he told Hoy. “But with Pope Francis, I did.” After hearing him on many occasions, I felt that he would listen to me.”
According to Neria, he did. On a December day just after 2 p.m., his phone chirped. The number, he recalled, was “hidden.” But as soon as he picked up, he said he knew who it was. “I am Pope Francis,” the man on the other end said.
“I didn’t know what was happening until, by the Holy Father, he said he had read the letter and it had touched his soul.” He said the pope asked to see him, and would call again to arrange a date. Days later, to his surprise, the pope rang again.
“The first call was already so much more than what I had expected,” he said. “The second, I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. Because I know that my situation is nothing. There are so many people who suffer in this world.” A date was arranged for this past Saturday, and Neria arrived at the Vatican.
Neria told Hoy when he got before the pope, he asked whether, after his transition, whether there a “corner in the house of God” for someone like him. And he said Francis then embraced him.