Pope Francis has reportedly arranged to meet a transgender man at the Vatican, embraced him and told him that there is a place for him in the Catholic Church.
The reported meeting, described in an interview with the Spanish daily newspaper Hoy, would represent a significant step towards the recognition of LGBT people in Catholicism.
Diego Neria Lejarrage, 48, described how he was born a woman but felt that “my jail was my own body… because it absolutely didn’t correspond with what my soul felt”.
He told Hoy he was raised a Catholic but struggled for acceptance in the Church, and was once described as “the devil’s daughter” by his local priest.
But that changed when he heard reports of Pope Francis’s efforts to reach out to those marginalised by some of the Church’s traditional views – and particularly when the Pontiff said of gay people: “Who am I to judge?”
Mr Neria said he made the decision to write to Francis, who responded first with a personal phone call – as he has been reported to do in the past – and then an arranged meeting at the Vatican last Saturday.
Attending the meeting with his fiancée, Mr Neria asked the Pope if, after his gender reassignment, there was “a place somewhere in the house of God for him”. He told Hoy Francis responded by embracing him.
The Vatican has declined to confirm the meeting took place – but it has not denied it either, in reports run by the Catholic Herald.
Francis DeBernardo, a directory at the New Ways Ministry which advocates for LGBT Catholics in the US, told The Huffington Post: “The Vatican's reluctance to verify the meeting is another indication of why I don't think their attitude can yet be called ‘acceptance’.”
Writing in a blog post for the publication, a minister who provides services to transgender Catholics but does so anonymously to avoid reprisals explained what this meant in the context of the Church.
Going by the name “Sister Monica”, she said: “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.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, who runs the LGBT Catholic group Dignity USA, told the Washington Blade: “For the pope to meet with a transgender man about to be married, and for that meeting to result in this man feeling more hopeful about his place in the Church, shows a concern for those at the very margins of our church.”