A gay Chilean survivor of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest has been appointed by Pope Francis to a commission dealing with protection of children from such abuse.
Juan Carlos Cruz was named Wednesday as the newest member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Associated Press reports. Other members include clergy, nuns, and laypeople, and Cruz is the first out gay person on it as well as the first Latin American.
"I'm very honored," Cruz told the Washington Blade. "I'm a survivor. I'm gay. I'm a layperson. I'm Catholic." Two Chilean cardinals had blocked an earlier move to put him on the commission.
Cruz and two other men came forward in 2010 to accuse Chilean priest Fernando Karadima of sexually abusing them when they were minors. The Vatican found him guilty in 2011, and then-Pope Benedict XVI sentenced him to a life of prayer and penance. Pope Francis defrocked Karadima in 2018.
That year Francis met with Cruz and other survivors. The meeting included a discussion of Cruz's gayness, as he noted that some critics had used the fact to cast doubt on his allegations against Karadima, and the pope responded with supportive words, Cruz told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
"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.
Francis has frequently offered supportive words to LGBTQ+ Catholics while upholding the church's anti-LGBTQ+ doctrine. Last week the Vatican released a statement saying the church cannot bless same-sex unions, as it considers such relationships sinful.
Cruz was critical of that statement but said he will remain a Catholic and fight for change in the church. The appointment to the commission "just renews my commitment to change things from within, for survivors, for every person who feels disenfranchised from the church," he told the Blade. "This is a place where we all belong, with no adjectives."