The Associated Press reported Francis made the comment last week during a private meeting with Polish bishops.
“Today, in schools they are teaching this to children — to children! — that everyone can choose their gender,” said Francis, according to a transcript the Vatican released on Tuesday.
The Associated Press reported the transcript indicates that Francis said textbooks provided by “persons and institutions who donate money” perpetuate this belief. The Associated Press also said the pontiff blamed “ideological colonizing” that “very influential countries” support.
“This is terrible,” said Francis, according to the Associated Press.
The Vatican transcript indicates that Francis said his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, shares his view on gender.
“Once again, the pope is demonstrating a lamentable and dangerous ignorance of a subject that is literally a matter of life and death to some people,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group of LGBT Catholics, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “He is also failing to see that God speaks through many languages, cultures, and human experiences, and not always in ways that we have the skills to interpret correctly.”
Duddy-Burke stressed in a statement that DignityUSA released that “people do not ‘choose’ their genders.” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that ministers to LGBT Catholics, made a similar point in response to Francis’ comments.
“His statement . . . reveals a serious blind spot about educational systems and transgender people,” said DeBernardo in a statement.
Francis’ comments come against the backdrop of the more moderate tone the Vatican has adopted on marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues since the former archbishop of Buenos Aires became pope in 2013.
A trans man from Spain who said his fellow parishioners rejected him after he underwent sex-reassignment surgery had a private audience with the Argentine-born pontiff in 2015.
The Vatican announced last month that Francis accepted the resignation of Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, an anti-LGBT cardinal who was the head of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The pontiff said in June that the Roman Catholic Church should “ask forgiveness” from gay people over the way it has treated them.
Sarah McBride, a trans woman who is a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, wrote on her Twitter page on Wednesday that Francis’ latest comments are “incredibly disappointing.”
The Pope's comments about trans folks are incredibly disappointing and betray the larger message of love and inclusion that he preaches.
— Sarah McBride (@SarahEMcBride) August 3, 2016
Duddy-Burke has told the Blade in previous interviews that the church’s teachings on homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues has not changed since Francis became pope.