World News

‘God Made You This Way,’ Pope Is Said to Have Told Gay Man

Posted May 21, 2018 1:47 p.m. EDT

ROME — A Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse has said that Pope Francis told him in a private meeting this month that God had made him gay and that both God and the pontiff loved him that way, a remarkable expression of inclusion for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

“He said to me, ‘Juan Carlos that’s not a problem,'” said Juan Carlos Cruz, the abuse survivor, describing having told the pope he was gay in a long meeting in the Vatican. “You have to be happy with who you are. God made you this way and loves you this way, and the pope loves you this way.”

The Vatican declined to comment on the pope’s private remarks.

Cruz had already said that Francis had apologized in the meeting for the large-scale sexual abuse scandal involving Chilean clergy members, but over the weekend, he also told the Spanish newspaper El País about the pope’s remarks about his homosexuality. In a separate interview Sunday night, Cruz, through tears, explained that he had told Francis in their nearly three-hour private meeting that he had maintained his Catholic faith even though Chilean bishops had apparently told the pope that he had left the church “for a life of perversion.”

In July 2013, the pope responded to questions about a supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican by saying “Who am I to judge,” a remark that caused celebration among liberals and consternation among conservatives. His reported remarks to Cruz added to the debate over whether Francis believes homosexuality is a choice.

Vatican officials, however, cautioned against interpreting the pontiff’s pastoral outreach as a definitive ruling on the nature-versus-nurture question or as a change in church teaching.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that people with “homosexual tendencies” “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” but it also calls a “deep-seated” homosexual inclination and its acts “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law.”

The pope’s remarks, if accurate, would reinforce his vision of inclusion, accompaniment and mercy. It is an emphasis that is increasingly evident throughout a church hierarchy that he is reshaping.

Archbishop Matteo Maria Zuppi of Bologna, sometimes called the “Bergoglio of Italy” for his similarity to Francis, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio, published Monday a preface to the Italian version of “Building a Bridge,” a book by American Jesuit priest James Martin about reaching out to gay Catholics.

“The intent of the book is to help pastors develop an attitude of understanding, as well as a capacity for accompaniment, towards their homosexual brothers and sisters,” the archbishop writes.

The pope has been increasingly assertive over the spring, five years into his papacy, especially after he seemed hobbled by missteps on the Chilean sexual abuse scandal.

He announced Saturday that Óscar Romero, a Salvadoran bishop shot and killed by right-wing forces for preaching against military oppression and American meddling, would be canonized in October.

The next day, he reshaped the College of Cardinals, which will choose his successor. He surprisingly named 14 new cardinals, 11 of whom are under 80 and thus able to vote in the next conclave. After the appointment in June of the new cardinals, who come from across the world, Francis will have named 59, or nearly half of the 125 voting cardinals. Pope Benedict XVI, a conservative who retired in 2013, named 47 of the remaining electors. And Pope John Paul II, also a conservative, elevated 19.

And the Vatican issued a major document last week on economic ethics that insisted that profit for profits’ sake was “illegitimate” and an “amoral culture of waste,” reflecting Francis’ fierce criticism of the inequality caused by capitalism.

But it was the pope’s muscular response to the Chilean sexual abuse scandal, which seemed months ago to hold the potential of tarnishing his entire pontificate, that has been most remarkable.

During a trip to Chile this year, the pope repeatedly defended a Chilean bishop against accusations of a cover-up. Francis called the claims of abuse survivors “calumny.”

The resulting backlash forced him to send the Vatican’s top sex-crimes investigator to Chile. He returned with a scathing, 2,300-page report that suggested that bishops there had misled the pope and destroyed records to prevent the public from learning that abusive priests had been moved from diocese to diocese. Francis said the systemic failures had left him “perplexed and ashamed.”

The pope convoked all Chilean bishops to Rome for days of intense meetings, at the conclusion of which all 34 offered their resignation, a first. They begged forgiveness for the “pain they caused the victims, the pope, the people of God, and our country for the grave errors and omissions we committed.”

The pope is yet to accept their resignations, but he is expected to start with Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, whom he had repeatedly defended.

In a letter to the bishops, Francis said that merely removing the bishops would be insufficient. “It would be a serious omission on our part not to delve into the roots,” he wrote.

Francis’ meeting with the bishops followed his personal meetings two weeks ago with the survivors of abuse whom he had previously accused of slander. According to Cruz, Francis was decidedly on the side of the victims and entirely welcoming of the Chilean’s sexual orientation. Cruz said that his lawyer warned him in 2009 that the church would focus on his homosexuality, leaving him vulnerable and threatening to make life extremely difficult for him.

He said that his lawyer later told him that Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, a confidant of Francis, had raised the question of whether Cruz could even be considered a victim because, Cruz said, “I was gay and I might have liked it.”

“It was horrible,” he added. “This has always weighed on me.”

In his meeting with Francis on a Sunday at his Santa Marta residence, Cruz said he had told the pope that he was worried he would think less of him. Cruz acknowledged that he was gay and, jokingly, not the reincarnation of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, a model of the virtue of purity, but someone who tried to be “a good person.”

It was then that the pope reassured him, he said. The two went on to chat about Cruz’s personal life, his not having a partner, and his relationship with his family.

Cruz also told the pope of his “most wonderful friends, who are also Catholic and who struggle with this.”

In the interview, Cruz said that since the article in El País was published over the weekend, some of those 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.”

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.