Pope Francis met privately with a Spanish transgender man this weekend, according to new report featured in the Washington Blade.
Diego Neria Lejárraga told the Spanish newspaper Hoy that he and his fiancée met with the pontiff at his official Vatican residence on Saturday, in what would mark the first meeting of a pope with a transgender person.
Although Neria said that he encountered often hostile reactions from Church officials because of his gender identity -- one priest allegedly called him "the devil's daughter" -- he felt he would receive a warmer reception from the pope, who has called on the Church to welcome long-marginalized groups, including gay people and divorcees. Neria wrote the pope a letter conveying his experiences as a transgender Catholic and lamenting the rejection he experienced from fellow brethren following his sex-change operation.
After receiving the letter, the pope called Neria on Christmas Eve, one month ahead of their meeting this weekend, Hoy reported.
“After hearing him on many occasions, I felt that he would listen to me,” Neria told Hoy following the audience.
José María Núñez Blanco, president of Fundación Triángulo, hailed reports of the meeting as “a piece of good news," per the Blade.
"Hopefully the Catholic Church ceases to be a machine of hate and suffering for the good of believers and non-believers," Núñez added.
The reported meeting is emblematic of Francis' approach to divisive social issues, particularly those pertaining to LGBT rights. Although he has not abandoned the Church's longstanding opposition to same-sex marriage, the pope has called for LGBT people to be treated with compassion and vowed not to "judge" them.
Advocates of more fundamental change would like to see the pope and the 2,000 year-old institution he helms go further, however, and while Francis has hardly revolutionized the Church's approach to social issues, he has signaled an openness to change. Late last year, the pope demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American known for his strident opposition to abortion rights and LGBT equality. And while last year's Vatican synod on the family failed to produce a landmark agreement, bishops will meet again this year, and Francis has given every indication that the new synod will tackle difficult issues head-on. In his concluding remarks at last year's gathering, the pope railed against the "hostile rigidity" of the "so-called traditionalists," although he also disappointed Catholic progressives by chastising those who would “bandage a wound before treating it," suggesting that the Church should not fully accept LGBT people as they are.