Aboard the papal plane, Oct 2, 2016 / 03:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On his way back from Georgia and Azerbaijan Pope Francis criticized what he called the “wicked” push of gender theory in schools, but stressed that individuals who struggle with their sexual identity ought to be treated with mercy, as Jesus would do. 

“In my life as a priest and bishop, even as Pope, I have accompanied people with homosexual tendencies, I have also met homosexual persons, accompanied them, brought them closer to the Lord...and I have never abandoned them,” the Pope said Oct. 2. These people must be accompanied in the same way that Jesus would accompany them, he said, noting that Jesus would never tell a person “go away because you are homosexual.” However, while these people must be shown love, there is a “wickedness which today is done in the indoctrination of gender theory.”

Gender theory or ideology is the idea that one's 'gender' is chosen and need not correspond with one's biological sex. Francis recounted how a Catholic father had once told him that as he was sitting at the table with his children, he asked his 10-year-old son what he wanted to be when he grew up. When the son replied “a girl,” he realized his son was being taught gender theory in school. “This is against the natural things,” he said. “One thing is that a person has this tendency, this condition and even changes their sex, but it's another thing to teach this in line in schools in order to change the mentality. This is what I call ideological colonization.”

Pope Francis spoke to journalists while on board his Oct. 2 flight from Baku to Rome, bringing an end to his three-day visit to the Caucus nations of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The 11 questions asked during the inflight new conference covered a variety of topics in addition to gender theory, such as Vatican relations with China, future trips and topics related to each of the countries he visited.

The question on gender theory was prompted by comments the Pope made in an Oct. 1 audience with priests, religious and pastoral workers, during which he called gender theory “a great enemy of marriage today.” “Today the whole world is at war trying to destroy marriage,” he said, noting that this war isn’t being fought with arms “but with ideas.” There are “certain ideologies that destroy marriage,” he said. “So we need to defend ourselves from ideological colonization.”

In his answer to the question, which asked how he would accompany a person who genuinely struggled with their sexuality, Francis said people in this condition must never be sent away, but treated with mercy and love.  He recounted the story of youth he met that had been born as a girl, but “suffered so much because he felt he felt like a boy, but was physically a girl.” After having a surgery to change their sex, the youth met with a bishop “accompanied (this person) a lot. Good bishop,” Francis said, explaining that he had also accompanied this person. Francis recalled how eventually the man changed his civil identity, got married and asked to meet with him, saying “it would be a consolation to come with his wife, he who was she, but him! I received them: they were happy.”

“Life is life and things must be taken as they come. Sin is sin. And tendencies or hormonal imbalances have many problems and we must be careful not to say that everything is the same,” he said. The Pope clarified that he’s not saying to go out and "party" with someone struggling in that way, but rather to take each case and accept it, accompany it, study it, discern it and integrate it. 

“This is what Jesus would do today,” he said, and asked the journalists not to say that “'the Pope sanctifies transgenders.’ Please, eh! Because I see the covers of the papers.” The struggle with one’s sexuality is “a human problem and it must be resolved always can be with the mercy of God,” and with the truth, he said. 

Alan Holdren and Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this report.