Juan Carlos Cruz, the man who said that Pope Francis told him during a recent private meeting that God made him gay and that God loves him the way he is, says that his meeting with the pope is a model of how church leaders should welcome L.G.B.T. Catholics, even if he believes church teaching on homosexuality should change.
“He said, ‘Look Juan Carlos, the pope loves you this way. God made you like this and he loves you,’” Mr. Cruz recalled earlier this week.
In an interview with America, Mr. Cruz, a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in his native Chile, said that even if the church’s teaching on homosexuality remains unchanged, the pope’s words provide an example as to how L.G.B.T. Catholics can be welcomed in the church.
“I saw a compassionate man, I saw someone who was caring for someone, not worrying about if we are gay, straight, brown, white. He was hearing from someone who has been hurt, abused,” Mr. Cruz said.
“I saw someone who was caring for someone, not worrying about if we are gay, straight, brown, white.”
He said he told the pope that when he came forward with allegations of sexual abuse, leaders in the Chilean church, including Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, a member of the pope’s advisory council, said that because Mr. Cruz is gay, he was not a legitimate victim of abuse because he may have “liked” it.
This, he said, appeared to move the pope.
“I think the pope reacted to all that by just being the compassionate man he is,” Mr. Cruz said.
The Vatican is adhering to its policy of not commenting on the pope’s private conversations, but Mr. Cruz said he decided to share some of his side of the conversation with the pope—the vast majority of which he is keeping private, he said—because it was so closely linked to his own case. He has heard that other Catholics have suffered in similar ways and hopes the pope’s words can bring “healing” to others.
Mr. Cruz said he hopes the pope’s words can bring “healing” to others.
Debate over how L.G.B.T. Catholics should be treated by church officials has been constant since the early days of Francis’ papacy, when he asked “Who am I to judge?” in response to a question about gay priests. Later, a transgender man said he met with Pope Francis at the Vatican and the pope spent time with a former student and his male partner during his 2015 visit to the United States.
More recently, a number of high-ranking church officials have endorsed Building a Bridge, a book by Jesuit priest and America editor at large James Martin, in which he calls for church leaders to welcome L.G.B.T. Catholics. Just this week, Italian Archbishop Matteo Zuppi endorsed that call in a preface to the book’s Italian edition. But as some Catholics point out, Pope Francis has not changed church teaching on issues of sexuality, and he has spoken out strongly against what he dubs “gender ideology” a number of times.
As for Mr. Cruz, he said “the ideal would be to obviously change the teaching, of course, with nobody as a second class Catholic, or a second class citizen, just for belonging to the L.G.B.T. community.”
He thinks if the pope is able to meet, listen and welcome a gay man into the church, there is no excuse for other church leaders not to do the same.
“I think there is plenty of homophobia to go around, in the church, and it’s very sad.”
“There is no reason why every single pastor from the pope down cannot be welcoming to everybody. I think gay people in general have been hurt enough, and they are not second class and they deserve the same love and respect as anyone else,” he said, adding, “Nobody wants special treatment. Nobody.”
“Welcoming would be just integrating everybody into this great big community, that has people from every different walk of life, every different ethnicity, every different sexual orientation, every different nationality,” he said. “That is what Catholic means.”
Responding to a question about an interview given by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, as reported by Breitbart News, in which the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said homophobia “simply does not exist, it is clearly an invention, an instrument of totalitarian domination over the minds of others,” Mr. Cruz sighed.
“I think there is plenty of homophobia to go around, in the church, and it’s very sad,” he said.
He recalled efforts by Chilean bishops to dismiss his complaints of sexual abuse because of his sexuality. And he noted that when the news broke about the pope’s words to him, he received a flood of emails, text messages and phone calls, many from other gay Catholics who had felt alienated from the church.
“Hopefully what is happening in Chile now is the beginning of the end of this culture of cover up among bishops.”
“I never expected this to become such a big topic,” he said. “At the same time, you can’t imagine how many people have written to me or texted me or emailed me or used social media, who have said, ‘This has changed my life.’”
“I have friends that have been kicked out of their home for being gay,” he continued. “One texted me and said, ‘I’m at the gym and I just saw something the pope said to you. Is it true?’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s true.’”
As for the bishops of Chile, all of whom submitted letters of resignation following a meeting with the pope, Mr. Cruz said he believes the pope should, and will, accept some immediately while investigating others. But he said action is needed, as “the eyes of the world are on Chile.”
“I doubt that there is one bishop [in Chile] who is not contaminated with this horror of hiding or committing abuse,” he said, adding that he hopes both the church and civil authorities hold negligent bishops accountable.
“Hopefully what is happening in Chile now is the beginning of the end of this culture of cover up among bishops,” he said. “Hopefully the Vatican is taking this very seriously and bishops around the world look at this and say, ‘Hmm, look what can happen to me.’”
Mr. Cruz said he still practices his Catholic faith, vowing early on during his fight for justice that he was not “going to let them win. They can hurt me in all kinds of ways, these bishops, but what I won’t let them do is take away something so precious to me, which is my faith.”
“I am Catholic. I go to church. I kept my faith when all odds were against it, and I thank God for that because it has sustained me to make me the person I am today,” he said.