ROME – As part of the fallout of Pope Francis’s meeting with 34 Chilean bishops, many of whom have been accused or at least suspected of covering up cases of clerical sexual abuse and destroying damning evidence, and all of whom have offered their resignation, the survivors who met with Francis in April continue to share bits and pieces of their encounter with the pontiff.
“Juan Carlos, that you are gay doesn’t matter,” Francis reportedly told clerical sexual abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz. “God made you like this and loves you like this and it doesn’t matter to me. The pope loves you like this, you have to be happy with who you are.”
Cruz is one of three victims of Father Fernando Karadima who were in Rome in late April for a weekend meeting with Francis. His comments came in an interview with Spanish daily El Pais.
Cruz was answering a question about his homosexuality, and was asked if he’d spoken with the pope about it and the suffering he was subjected to as a result of it. He answered affirmatively.
“They had basically told him that I was a pervert,” the survivor said. “I explained that I am not the reincarnation of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, but I’m not a bad person, I try not to hurt anyone.”
Gonzaga was an Italian aristocrat who became a member of the Society of Jesus, the same religious community as Francis.
Sharing an English report of the interview on Twitter, Cruz spoke about this exchange, calling it “something else that I will always remember about my hours of conversations with Pope Francis.”
“His phrase: ‘Who am I to judge?’ I experienced it personally and I hope many feel that no one is excluded or should be excluded…ever!” he said on the same tweet.
Francis and the man abused by Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest also spoke about Cruz’s faith.
“They had told him that I didn’t believe, that I was an enemy of the Church,” Cruz said in the interview with El Pais. “I told him that it enraged me, because I continue to believe, loving the Church, thinking that this can change.”
He said that he’d told the pope that his faith is very important to him, and that he found it “awful” that they tried to destroy that for him. “It’s a terrible evil,” he said the pope told him in response.
Cruz reportedly also told the pope that he could “have a spectacular papacy if you grab the bull by the horns and deliver a strong blow on the issue of abuse, and send out the message that the pope will no longer tolerate this.”
“He told me, ‘help me so that the Holy Spirit guides me so that I know well what I have to do,’” Cruz said.
In a written message to Chilean bishops in Rome last week, Francis wrote that in the case of many abusers “grave problems” had already been found during their formation, and there are also “grave accusations against some bishops or superiors who [allegedly] entrusted to these education institutions priests suspected of active homosexuality.”
Francis typically takes a pastoral tone when addressing a gay person, and has often distinguished between the person and the morality of same-sex acts, in line with Church teaching maintaining that homosexual acts are sinful but homosexual orientation is not.
For instance, Francis’s words to Cruz echo those he reportedly said to Spanish transgender man Diego Neria, who was welcomed by the pontiff privately in the Vatican in 2015: “God loves all his children, however they are; you are a son of God, who accepts you exactly as you are. Of course you are a son of the Church!”
His pastoral tone, however, doesn’t undermine his staunch opposition to promoting or endorsing such “tendencies,” as he told reporters flying with him after his visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan in 2016.
During that flight, he spoke about receiving Neria in the Vatican- without actually giving names, saying that “Life is life, things have to be accepted as they come. Sin is sin,” the pope said. “Tendencies, hormonal imbalance, have and cause so many problems… we must be attentive. Not to say that it’s all the same, but in each case, welcome, accompany, study, discern and integrate. This is what Jesus would do today.”
“When a person (who is gay) arrives before Jesus, Jesus certainly will not say, ‘Go away because you are homosexual,'” Francis said, adding: “Please don’t say that the pope will sanctify trans [transgender people], because I read the headlines in the newspapers.”
Yet he tempered his welcoming tone by reiterating his opposition to gender theory, which presents the idea that even though people are biologically men or women, they can identify as male, female, both or neither. During that trip, he went so far as to say that the teaching of this theory in schools amounted to a “global war” against the family.
“What I was talking about was the nastiness that is present today in indoctrinating people in gender theory,” he said. “It is one thing for a person to have this tendency, this option, and even change sex.”
“But it is another thing to teach it, gender theory, in schools along these lines in order to change mentality. I call this ideological colonization,” he said.