It seems that Pope Francis has done it again.
News reports have been spreading across the globe because a Chilean clerical sex abuse survivor has reported that in his private conversation with the pope, Francis strongly affirmed the man’s gay sexual orientation.
The Guardian reported that Juan Carlos Cruz, who met with the pope two weeks ago told him:
“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.”
The news of this statement first appeared in Spain’s newspaper, El País.
The Vatican has yet to confirm or deny these statements. CNN reported that Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke said “We do not normally comment on the Pope’s private conversations.” If the comments are true, this represents a remarkable shift in official Catholic discourse on LGBT issues. Instead of the more passive “Who am I to jugde?” 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.
Pope Francis has made many private messages of affirmation to LGBT people and those who minister with them: he wrote a personal letter to Kairos, an LGBT ministry group in Italy; he met privately with a transgender man at the Vatican; while in the U.S., he met with a gay former student and his partner; through an aide’s letter, he congratulated and blessed a Brazilian gay couple who had their adopted children baptized; he wrote a supportive note to an Argentinian nun who works with transgender women. (For a list of all the things that Pope Francis has done, positively and negatively, regarding LGBT issues during his papacy, click here.)
While a public pronouncement of this message from the pope would be best, these words can still have a great affect on the church. Over the past five years of his papacy, Pope Francis seems to instruct less by direct instruction and more by example. Instead of telling bishops and pastoral leaders what to do or say, he models these actions for them. The pope is changing the church in a quiet way. He is giving people permission to make the changes that they want to see in the church. It’s up to the bishops around the world and the people in the pews to follow his lead.
Some Catholic leaders have begun to respond to the news of this message. The Los Angeles Times reported:
” ‘This is a big deal, I cannot remember the pope making a comment about gay people being born that way,’ said Father James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, whose 2017 book ‘Building a Bridge’ urged greater ties between the church and the LGBTQ community.
” ‘Pope Francis has repeated what all reputable biologists and psychologists say — you don’t choose your sexual orientation. And that is a great comfort to many gay and lesbian Catholics who have been told by priests that they have chosen their orientation and are therefore guilty,’ he said.”
Ruth Hunt, a Catholic lesbian who is the director of Stonewall, the U.K.’s LGBT equality organization, commented in an op-ed in The Guardian:
“Francis’s reported words can help to build bridges between the Catholic church and LGBT people who have felt rejected and excluded from it. Many religious communities, groups and places of worship already include LGBT people. The church accepts that LGBT people exist, but I want us to get to a point where our love is recognised as being as valid as any other. While we have a way of celebrating our love through civil partnerships and same-sex marriage, we also need to keep working to allow LGBT people of faith to marry in church and declare their love in the eyes of God.
“I would like to see the pope’s apparent openness mirrored by others in the Roman Catholic church. I want to live in a world where all people will be accepted – for their beliefs, their faith, their sexual orientation, their gender identity and everything else – without exception. The words of Pope Francis to Juan Carlos Cruz give me hope that we are moving in that direction.”
The New York Times reported on some further comments that Cruz made since the original Spanish news story:
“. . . Mr. Cruz said that since the article in El País was published over the weekend, some . . . gay Catholic friends had written to him saying of the pope, “Did he really tell you that? I feel so relieved.’ Another wrote, ‘I’m in the gym and I feel like crying.’
“Mr. Cruz said he wanted to reveal the pope’s remarks because ‘people have to know this man like he really is.’
” ‘He is a loving man who really embraces everybody,’ he said.”
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 22, 2108
Associated Press story in Tampa Bay Times: “LGBT community cheers pope’s ‘God made you like this’ remark”