While meeting privately last week with bishops from Poland, Pope Francis lamented that children are being taught gender can be a choice.
"Today, in schools they are teaching this to children -- to children! -- that everyone can choose their gender," Pope Francis said in the closed-door remarks, according to a transcript released Tuesday by the Vatican. "We are living a moment of annihilation of man as image of God," the Pontiff added.
The pope blamed this "terrible" phenomenon on textbooks supplied by "persons and institutions who donate money." He called this "ideological colonizing" backed by "very influential countries," which he did not name.
LGBTQ religious groups were quick to express disappointment in the pope's comments.
"Once again, the pope is demonstrating a lamentable and dangerous ignorance of a subject that is literally a matter of life and death to some people," DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement. "What Pope Francis says today could have serious repercussions for people all across the globe, especially in countries that are basing transphobic policies on the idea that the concept of transgender identity is a Western import. It is irresponsible of him to say such things without taking into account the fact that people's lives are literally at stake."
Eliel Cruz, an LGBTQ advocate and the Executive Director of Faith in America, said the Pope's comments were narrow-minded.
"It is incredibly naïve Pope Francis believes the image of God is anything close to binary," Cruz said. "In believing that God is only represented in male or female, Pope Francis is effectively eliminating the diversity and complexity of the image of God."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.