The Blog

Pope Francis' Visit With a Transgender Man Deserves the Same Media Coverage Given Kim Davis

Since the American press largely ignored or downplayed the Pope's January 2015 Vatican visit with a transgender man from Spain, many Americans have nothing to counterbalance off the Pope's Kim Davis visit to understand that the pontiff's message is truly about the compassionate inclusion of all people.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Since the American press largely ignored or downplayed the Pope's January 2015 Vatican visit with a transgender man from Spain, many Americans have nothing to counterbalance off the Pope's Kim Davis visit to understand that the pontiff's visit is not meant to signal he has taken Davis' side, or joins in condemning gay culture. Rather it is the Pope's demonstration of compassion for all people. While those eager to criticize and even hate the Pope for his visit with Davis, those with open minds can consider the Vatican visit with Diego Neria Lejarraga and his fiancee as a refutation of the hatred that the Davis camp is spreading. The public following the Pope is due more comprehensive exposure to Pope Francis' inclusion of the different voices and lifestyles he embraces in his spiritual vision of the Church in the future, and the vist with Neira represents the Pope's boldest departure from Catholic doctrine to date.


A common rebuttal of Francis' inclusive approach complains that the Pope's meeting with Kim Davis cancels out his more admirable intentions in meeting with the trans man. "He can't have it both ways," some say. Yet from a logical standpoint, such an approach belittles the trans man's account as much as any bigot's disparagement does by putting more weight on Davis's account than is deserved. In fact, "the canceling out" is being made, however unconsciously, by the very people supposedly advocating the cause of transgender lifestyles. If the Pope's vast public and the media who inform us don't listen to Diego Neria Lejarraga's story of how, eight years ago he underwent the gender reassignment that made him a man, they cannot properly assess what advances the Pope hints at, and in fact may be a matter of the Pope testing the public as a litmus test of their readiness to embrace greater diversity into the Church.

Such an account serves as a strategic counterpoint to the visit that Davis wants us to consider. If we don't make Neria a bigger part of the picture surrounding the Pope's consideration of gay and transgender lifestyles, Davis and other homophobes win in their negative public smear campaign. We can only understand what the Pope has in mind with such visits when we consider more than one, preferably a selection of papal visits we can study. And the only reasons for preventing some from hearing another side of the Pope's agenda for the Church, an apprehension that comes as much from the LGBT community as it does other liberal enclaves, is the apprehension that the reality will not confirm with what the LGBT community desires from the Pope. In such cases his critics have not surprisingly resorted to vilifying the Pope as a closet defender of a patriarchal and homophobic institution wearing liberal clothing.

In fact the only way to understand the Pope is to look beyond the derision of those who dismiss his diversifications by claiming Francis is "trying to have it both ways". A more considerate inquiry looks at what it means to embrace both a homophobic woman and a man who was born a biological girl to someone who is ideologically inclined to search for the common denominator of humanity as opposed to our many polarizing differences. Despite our apprehensions, we observers can make 'having it both ways' justifiable by accumulating the seemingly incongruous information necessary to understanding the Pope's intentions and enabling the larger public to make informed judgments when grappling the implications of what it means for the Pope to, first, seemingly defy Catholic dogma with Neria, and then apparently to uphold it with Davis.

But it is a fallacy to assume that there are mutually-exclusive lifestyles that the Pope is confronting in traditional morality and identity. This becomes clearer when we contextualize what Pope Francis is doing by comparing him with what the Left philosopher and feminist lesbian, Judith Butler, is doing when she states there is no essentialist gender or sexuality, there are only individual orientations to gender and sexuality, each unique in value and application to and by the individual.

By his actions and his statements the Pope is making a different kind of deconstruction of essentialism. He is defusing the notion of an essentialist sinner, the idea that a sin defines the sinner. He may be even signifying that the sin (as defined by Catholic dogma) isn't what matters as much as the person committing it and the person it is committed against. We might go so far as seeing Pope Francis deconstructing sin to the point that consensual sexuality and transgendering is no longer archaically deemed sinful. The Pope's apparent "wanting to have it both ways" tells us in embracing both the bigot and the recipient of the bigot's hatred, Pope Francis is letting us know that the 'sin' that Kim Davis exalts is not the end she is making it seem. In embracing both Diego Neria Lejarraga and Kim Davis, Pope Francis demonstrates that what is the same about us in our humanity is to be regarded the greater good over the divisive polarization of our differences. And to a Pope who has named himself after the greatest lover of creation known to the Christendom, Francis of Assisi, that message is undoubtedly to seek to love, not to love. In fact , to understand Pope Francis, we need only read the Catholic Prayer of Francis of Assisi, to understand to what degree he is an intended reconciler of opposites.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, let me sow pardon;
where there is doubt, let me sow faith;
where there is despair, let me sow hope;
where there is darkness, let me sow light;
and where there is sadness, let me sow joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
not to be understood, as to understand;
not to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

One doesn't have to be religious or believe in God to grasp the meaning of the prayer is to also grasp the intentions of Pope Francis. Just as there is nothing conservative or radical invoked in Francis' prayer, the Pops is not trying to bolster the homophobia of the Kim Davises of the world, nor is he trying to sell the transgendering of Diego Neria Lejarraga to the media. This may not impress non religious readers, but the Pope is enacting the proactive prayer of Francis of Assisi to bring hope to the despairing, to bring light to those in the dark, to console the suffering of prejudice and being the object of prejudice that afflicts those Catholics who still regard their queerness or desire for a transgendered life to be at odds with their faith.

As to why the Pope ordinarily declines to disclose the details of his visits with individuals, it is a simple disclosure on a need-to-know basis. Invariably it is the individual visited, not the Pope, who comments on what is said or even gives the world notice of the visit. Practicing and lapsed Catholics know what this silence is about, having met with priests regularly to confess what they believe to be their sins, and in the case when the priest is something more than a slave to doctrine, has a bilateral conversation about those sins. But in all cases the priest should understand that the vows of his ordination require that he is for eternity to remain silent about each and every confessor's sins.

If the Pope remains silent about these visits, it seems reasonable to assume that it is for the same regard for the sacred confidentiality applied in the confessional as on the therapist's couch. It is a sacred privacy that both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung adopted in their psychoanalytic practices while admitting they had transferred the talking cure of psychoanalysis directly from the confidentiality of Catholic priests, with the difference that the privacy of the patient has been made law in many modern societies. With the culture of individual privacy made inviolate, we require something more than one person's (Davis') domination of the public conversation. The Pope holds his visits to be private. He will never disclose the contents of his conversation, so let Diego Neria Lejarraga do that for him through the media, since he is, like Davis, eager to tell his story.

But the row stirring in the blogosphere reflect the priorities of the mainstream media more than the values of the Pope. Where were the American press, the bloggers and tweeters in the US when Neriaa was visited? There were ample tweets and articles in Europe. And if the Catholic predisposition is reputedly out to suppress the LGBT community, why, apart from CNN, is the National Catholic Record not only one of the few American platforms to have announced the Pope's visit with Lejarraga, why is the Record's also the most enthusiastic report of the Neria visit?

Liberals have seized on Pope Francis's disclosure to Reuter's Philip Pullella on Monday that he believed that "government officials have a 'human right' to refuse to discharge a duty, such as issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals, if they feel it violates their conscience". From both a legal and a Constitutional standpoint, the Pope's defense does no more that reiterate the Democratic right to conscientious objection guaranteed by the Constitution. Stanley Fish opined in Huffington Post that Davis had a valid legal case of defense, however detestably it struck one. With "Sherbert v. Verner (1963), for example, Fish argues that the fifty-two-year-old ruling of the Supreme Court upholds the Constitution in stating that no one should be forced to choose between "abandoning one of the precepts of her religion" and securing a job; the burden on free exercise is just too great ... from the perspective of Sherbert, the state should find a way to accommodate Davis's deeply held beliefs and not exact as the price for adhering to them her employment and her physical freedom."

By this reading of the law regarding conscientious objection, Davis' employers should have simply replaced her and given her another position not in conflict with her conscience. Even advocates of democracy can be overzealous. But Davis obviously wanted to grandstand. And she had plenty of support from her religious colleagues, none of which should by necessity reflect on Pope Francis for any contrived necessity, especially now that the Pope has clarified his position, which when combined with his visit to Neria is tantamount to stating that in order to uphold the right of an LGBT individual, we must also uphold the right of their critics and haters to dissent. To not uphold the latter's rights opens the door to our rights being overturned. Yet no matter how cliche such a statement seems, it is easily forgotten when ideologies clash, in which case it is not cliche enough.

There are some who rightly hold that the Church has used conscientious objection to bolster those Catholics entrenched in the doctrine of past centuries. But this again is only half the story. There is an entire population of Liberal and Left Catholics and people of other persuasions, particularly in the US, who use conscientious objection to resist military drafts, the death penalty, racism, sexism and homophobia. The Catholic Church, like all institutionalized faiths today, is a battleground to the culture wars waged by progressives against conservatives. And though the progressives face formidable intransigence on the part of the Right, since the 1960s, when Pope John the XXIII introduced the reforms that earned him the sobriquets "John the Revolutionary" and "a quiet and cunning revolutionary" from the historian E.E.Y. Hales and the "radical shepherd" by historian Paul Johnson, John demonstrated to the world that even a 2,000-year old institution can evolve with the society it serves.

On 10/2/15 the author added links to the Catholic Reporter article and Michaelangelo Signorili's report and commentary on Pope Francis' clarification of the circumstances through which his meeting with Kim Davis came about. These links were not included in the original post.

Read other posts by G. Roger Denson on Huffington Post in the archive.

Follow G. Roger Denson on facebook and twitter.