Pope Francis is getting praise from LGBT-supportive Catholics for reportedly telling a gay man that “God made you like this and loves you like this,” while so far there’s silence on the right.
Juan Carlos Cruz, one of several survivors of sexual abuse perpetrated by a Chilean Catholic priest, recently told Spanish newspaper El Pais that those were Francis’s words to him in a private meeting. Cruz, the main whistleblower in the abuse case, said that some Latin American media outlets had tried to use his sexual orientation against him, calling him a pervert and a liar about the abuse.
But Francis was reassuring, Cruz said. “He told me, ‘Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are,’” Cruz said in the interview, as translated by The Guardian.
Vatican officials declined to confirm or deny that the pope made the remarks, as their policy is not to comment on private conversations, according to the Associated Press. But some Catholics found the report encouraging.
“If the comments are true, this represents a remarkable shift in official Catholic discourse on LGBT issues,” said a statement issued by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which works for LGBT equality within the Catholic Church. “Instead of the more passive ‘Who am I to judge?’ the pope is expressing a much stronger affirmation of gay and lesbian people than he, or any previous pope or Vatican official, has ever done. Even if the words reported are exactly as the pope said them, they still do not indicate a change in official teaching, but they do represent a major change in pastoral attitude and practice.
“Our hope, though, is that Pope Francis would say these words publicly, not just in the context of a private conversation. LGBT people need to hear this message proclaimed, not just whispered. Such a message stated publicly would do an immense amount of good towards effecting healing and reconciliation with so many people alienated from the church because of sexuality issues.”
DeBernardo noted other supportive remarks the pope had made privately to LGBT people, such as a transgender man in Spain and a gay man he met with during his 2015 U.S. visit who had been a student of his in Argentina.
The Rev. James Martin, a Catholic priest who advocates outreach to LGBT people, also praised the pope’s reported comments. ‘‘The pope is saying what every reputable biologist and psychologist will tell you, which is that people do not choose their sexual orientation,’’ he told the AP.
Martin’s book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity is being published in Italian this week with a preface by Monsignor Matteo Zuppi, the bishop of Bologna, “a sign that the message of acceptance is being embraced even in traditionally conservative Italy,” the AP reports.
In a commentary piece in U.K. newspaper The Independent, however, Douglas Robertson pointed out that what Francis said “doesn’t really contradict the church’s teaching in any way.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a collection of official teachings, states that gay and lesbian people should “be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” but considers acting on same-sex desires to be sinful. This teaching that acting on one’s love is wrong is damaging to young people, Robertson wrote, and even led him to consider suicide in his youth.
“I welcome any statement from Pope Francis which reminds people that gay people (like anyone) should love themselves,” Robertson concluded. “But what he has reportedly intimated to this victim is not radical, it is not new, and it belies a wider official teaching on homosexuality that is very clear — and profoundly damaging.”