Pope Francis has said that Catholics who are homosexual, confused about their sexuality or convinced they were born in the wrong body deserve the same attentive pastoral care as anyone else.

Flying back to Rome after visiting Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Pope was asked, given his earlier criticism of “gender theory” and “ideological colonisation”, how he would provide pastoral care to a person who felt his sexuality did not correspond to his or her biology.

Francis said that as a priest, a bishop and even as Pope he had “accompanied people with homosexual tendencies and even homosexual activity. I accompanied them; I helped them draw closer to the Lord, although some couldn’t. But I never abandoned them.

“People must be accompanied like Jesus would accompany them,” he said. “When a person who has this situation arrives before Jesus, Jesus certainly will not say: ‘Go away because you are homosexual.’ No.”

The Pope said what he was condemning was “indoctrination of gender theory”, teaching small children that no matter their biological sex, they can choose their gender. He said a Spanish father told him that he had asked his son what he wanted to be when he grew up and the boy replied: “A girl.” The father realised the child was taught in school that gender is a choice. “This is against nature,” the Pope said.

“It is one thing for a person to have this tendency, this option and even to have a sex change, but it is another thing to teach this in schools in order to change mentalities,” the Pope said. “This I call ideological colonisation.”

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