Catholic LGBT Ministry Responds to Pope’s Reported Words of Affirmation to Gay Man

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

May 21, 2018

MOUNT RAINIER, Maryland– 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.” 

Juan Carlos Cruz

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 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. 

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; he called an Argentinian nun who works with transgender woman.  (For a list of all the things that Pope Francis has done, positively and negatively, regarding LGBT issues during his papacy, visit pope-francis-lgbt-issues/.)

While a public pronouncement of this message from the pope would be best, these words can still have a great effect 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.