The Vatican Wires Covid19 Relief Funds to Trans Sex Workers
Cardinal Konrad Krajewski is the man the Pope put in charge of handling the Vatican’s philanthropic ventures. In mid-April, he directed funds to a group of trans sex workers who were out of work and struggling for food under the Covid19 lockdown in a small beach town near Rome. His reasoning? That’s what Jesus would have done.
The move is surprising, considering the Vatican’s stance on LGBTQIA+ rights. In a 2019 memo, it rejected the notion that gender identity could be fluid or even borne out of individual choice. The memo said “gender theory – which sees gender identity as fluid, as opposed to a male-female binary – misleads people into thinking that gender is different from biological sex and eliminates ‘natural differences between men and women.’ It calls gender theory a ‘gradual process of denaturalization’ and a move away from nature,'” The Swaddle has previously reported. In light of the hostility the Vatican has expressed toward LGBTQIA+ people’s existence, Krajewski’s charitable donation is a surprise, but also feels contradictory with the church’s values.
“I don’t understand why this is getting so much attention,” Krajewski told Reuters. “This is ordinary work for the Church, it’s normal. This is how the Church is a field hospital.” He proceeded to explain that the sex workers had first approached their local parish for help to buy food. When they found out the parish was already struggling with providing resources amidst the coronavirus pandemic, they contacted him. Knowing that these sex workers were most likely undocumented, Krajewski knew they could probably not go to Italian welfare offices to seek support. “They could not have gone to a politician or a parliamentarian,” he said. “They are really in difficulty because sometimes their passports were taken away by the mafia pimps who control them. We follow the gospel.”
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Krajewski’s perception of sex workers reflects what Pope Francis has himself voiced in the past. The Pope has previously spoken out against the exploitation of sex workers, even apologizing to women for all the Catholic men he believes have taken advantage of them. “I think of the disgust these girls must feel when men make them do these things,” he had said in a Q&A at the time, Reuters reported. He had called going to sex workers a “crime against humanity” equal to “torturing a woman” reflecting “a sick mentality.” The Pope has also blessed sex workers and urged them “to stay strong” in the past, and urged his followers to respect sex workers and victims of human trafficking in Thailand.
While this anti-sex work outlook doesn’t quite match up to modern feminist notions of sex work that accord sex workers agency in choosing their line of work, the Pope’s perception of sex workers as victims is fueling outreach efforts spearheaded by Krajewski. His methods, however, remain quite unorthodox.
At 56, Krajewski is one of the youngest cardinals in the papacy. He made news headlines in 2019 when he climbed down a manhole, broke a police seal and restored electricity to an abandoned building in Rome that housed homeless people, many of them immigrants. He’s a minor celebrity in Rome, known for dressing down in layman’s clothes and bringing food to homeless people in a white van. He has redirected Vatican funds toward setting up shelters for the homeless where they can get haircuts, access sanitation and receive medical care.
While these acts of philanthropy fall in line with the ‘Christian spirit,’ the Vatican has historically been misogynistic and bigoted in who gets to be on the receiving end of its charities. With Pope Francis and Krajewski’s relatively progressive views on human rights, the tide may be turning in Rome. But in order to fully get with the times, the Vatican institution will have to recognize the agency of marginalized groups, not just their plight.