News has broken today of a conversation between Pope Francis and Juan Carlos Cruz (a victim of Chilean abuser Fernando Karadima). Spending three days with the Pope back in April, in the wake of the Chilean abuse scandal, Cruz discussed with El Pais not only the abuse he suffered, but also his sexuality; Cruz happens to be gay.
Speaking to CNN, Cruz recounts the conversation with the Pontifex: “You know Juan Carlos, that does not matter. 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.”
Following the reports, the Vatican are maintaining their customary silence, with a Vatican spokesperson telling CNN that the Vatican “do not normally comment on the Pope’s private conversations”.
When we hear something like this, the tendency is (understandably perhaps) to see this as an indication that maybe, just maybe, we are witnessing the dawn of a brave new world, where – shock horror! – the Roman Catholic Church will advocate that gay people are worthy of being loved. Not an especially radical notion in many circles, but sure, in this case, undoubtedly noteworthy.
What I fear is being missed here though, is the fact that what the Pope said doesn’t really contradict the church’s teaching in any way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (a summary of official church teaching and doctrines, the latest of which was compiled by Pope John Paul II in 1992), does acknowledge that the “number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible”, advocating that they “be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (Catechism 2358).
From that perspective then, Pope Francis hasn’t said anything all that radical.
There is of course a good deal more about homosexuality in the catechism that was not referenced by Pope Francis in his exchange with Cruz, perhaps understandably – and I think it is worth quoting in its entirety, so readers perhaps less familiar with it see how much detail it goes into.
“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (Catechism 2357).
So – homosexual acts apparently constitute grave depravity, are “intrinsically disordered”, contrary to the natural law, and should never be approved. What does the church suggest these sorry individuals do? Chastity. Catechism 2359 states that “homosexual persons are called to chastity”. It’s there in black and white.
As someone of any age, but I think especially as a young person discovering their sexuality and growing up in the church, this artificial separation between our inclination to be affectionate and the physical expression of that affection can be profound in its effect.
For someone growing up in a church that takes this approach, like the Catholic Church, the message is clear: the way you love, the way you are, is somehow inherently and unchangeably wrong. For you to express your love is a sin; for you to love, even, is a sin.
Invariably this message will come from people in their life who they have respected, like parents and faith leaders: people who probably genuinely believe they are doing the right thing, and who have their best interests at heart. I know my parents did.
To be told by those you respect most that the way you feel compelled to express love is inherently sinful can echo down a lifetime. The only time I’ve really truly considered killing myself was when I came to this realisation.
This stance on homosexuality is, I acknowledge, not something unique to the Roman Catholic Church. The somewhat infamous “affirmations” of the Evangelical Alliance wrap the Christian body’s anti-gay stance in similarly “loving” words – “gentleness, patience and ongoing pastoral care during this process and after a person renounces same-sex sexual relations”, also citing chastity as the only choice – “refraining from homoerotic sexual practice”.
I welcome any statement from Pope Francis which reminds people that gay people (like anyone) should love themselves. But what he has reportedly intimated to this victim is not radical, it is not new, and it belies a wider official teaching on homosexuality that is very clear – and profoundly damaging.