ROME—There are few people outside Vatican City who have spent as much one-on-one time with Pope Francis as Juan Carlos Cruz.
The Chilean man is the main whistleblower in a clerical sex abuse scandal that prompted all 34 of Chile’s bishops to resign in unison last week for their role in covering up blatant rape and molestation of Cruz and others like him over a period of years in Chile.
Francis has not yet decided whether to accept those resignations, but they came after Cruz was invited to meet personally with Pope Francis along with other Chilean abuse victims two weeks ago in Rome.
After that meeting, he told reporters that Francis had admitted to him he “was part of the problem” in addressing the abuse cover-up in Chile.
Prior to his trip to Chile last year, Francis defended his controversial appointment of Bishop Juan Barros, who victims named as a facilitator of the cover up and a witness to the abuse. Francis even accused victims of “calumny” for accusing Barros of lying.
Now Cruz has revealed even more of his intimate conversations with Francis while he was in Rome, which lasted over a period of three days.
He said he talked to the pope about being gay, and that the pope told him to essentially not worry about it. “You know Juan Carlos, that does not matter,” Cruz told El Pais and other publications over the weekend. “God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say."
If what Cruz says is true, and there is no reason to believe it isn’t, it would mark a monumental change in attitude by the Church, which has previously called homosexuality “intrinsically disordered.”
Francis has made baby steps when it come to LGBT rights and equality in the past, telling priests it is OK to baptize babies of same sex couples and working towards welcoming gays in the church. But he has never made such a bold statement as to admit that homosexuality is natural, and he has certainly never implied that the church would treat it as such.
There is no reason to believe that Cruz misinterpreted Francis’ comments— they spoke their native Spanish and Cruz is a highly respected person—but the Vatican has refused to confirm them, saying instead that “the Pope does not comment on private conversations.”
But by letting Cruz’s words stand alone, Francis is lessening their meaning.
Francis De Berardo, the head of New Ways Ministry, which describes itself as a “gay-positive” ministry supporting LGBTQ Catholics, issued a statement asking Francis to make these important words count.
“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,” he said, referring to Francis famously saying he could not judge a gay priest who was devout.
“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.”
If Francis would make such a pronouncement out loud rather than in private whispers, it could have a lasting impact on the church as a whole. But as long as he refuses to admit the words that mean so much to so many, they end up meaning nothing at all.