“God made you like this and loves you like this” – Pope says to gay Catholic
These are said to be the words of the Pope to gay Chilean, Juan Carlos Cruz, who was sexually abused by a priest. A Brazilian Jesuit, Luís Corrêa Lima, argues that even though some might suggest otherwise, “[t]his does not suggest that he Pope disregards the doctrinal documents of the Church, but rather that, in this situation, he makes use of the elements that are pastorally more important”
An impressive and admirable comment by Pope Francis has spread widely. The Chilean, Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest was recently received by the pontiff, with whom he spoke at length and in private. Francis told him: “Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are”, Cruz told El País newspaper. This comment, of inestimable value, is not an official statement that appears on the Vatican website but the contents of a private conversation with the pope. In this way, it cannot be confirmed or denied by the spokesperson of the Holy See. Nevertheless, how much does this fit in with Francis’ teaching and practice towards LGBTI people? What novelty does this bring to the Catholic Church?
Francis has already had two other important meetings before. In early 2015, the Spanish transsexual Diego Neria and his wife Macarena went to visit the Pope at his residence. Diego’s life story became public knowledge, as a result of this meeting, showing the horrendous prejudice suffered by so many transsexuals, and with which they must deal. He reveals that his conversation with the pope brought him deep peace.
That same year, Francis received his former student and gay friend Yayo Grassi and his husband. Grassi had already introduced him to the pope two years earlier. This relationship has never been a problem in the friendship between Grassi and Francis. Once in an interview, the Pope was asked what he would say to a transsexual person and whether as a pastor and minister he would accompany them. Francis responded that he has accompanied homosexuals and transsexuals and called to mind the case of Diego, saying, “[i]ndividuals have to be accompanied, as Jesus accompanies them. […] [F]or every case, welcome it, accompany it, look into it, discern and integrate it. This is what Jesus would do today.”
Diego was not reprimanded by the pope for having gone through the transsexualisation process, nor for later having married a woman. Grassi did not hear Francis say to him that the homosexual tendency is objectively disordered and could lead to intrinsically disordered acts, as in the Catechism (#2357-2358). This does not suggest that the Pope disregards the doctrinal documents of the Church, but rather that, in this situation, he makes use of the elements that are pastorally more important, such as the welcome of the person and the autonomy of their conscience.
. Francis is also clear on the evolution of doctrine, based on a correct understanding of tradition. Relying on St. Vincent of Lerins, the pope says:
“[H]uman self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.
The Pope did not list all norms and all the secondary precepts which in the midst of the evolution of theology and the sciences have lost their value. That is because this process is dynamic, involves ecclesial consensus and always needs to clarify what stays and what changes. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Catechism, Francis said, “Doctrine cannot be preserved without allowing it to develop, nor can it be tied to an interpretation that is rigid and immutable without demeaning the working of the Holy Spirit.”
An important example of this progress is the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which launched a wide-ranging debate on new configurations of families, including same-sex unions, taking into account the many people living in a so-called “irregular” situations. In the Post-Synodal Exhortation, the Pope teaches that these people can live in the grace of God, love, and also grow in the life of grace and love. It is with this in mind that they receive the help of the Church which can include the sacraments. For this reason priests should be reminded that the confessional, where the sacrament of penance is ordinarily ministered, is not a room of torture but the place where the Lord’s mercy is experienced. And the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a generous remedy and a food for those who need it (Amoris Laetitia, 305 and 351).
By saying “God made you like this” the goodness of creation is evoked. Everything that the Lord has created is good, including LGBTI people. No one should be embarrassed or ashamed of being who they are, that is to be as God has made them. The life and nature of these people express something of the Divine design. In their life story the Holy Spirit is also at work, rescuing self-esteem, giving the courage to face homophobia and transphobia, illuminating discernment and communicating the strength for good. Please God, may the disciples of Christ not lack the necessary sensitivity to witness the amazing action of the Spirit. Please God, may they not lack the courage to rid themselves of rigid and immutable readings of doctrine that humiliate the Divine action.
*Published in Dom Total, a Jesuit-affiliated news portal in Brazil. The article is by Luis Corrêa Lima, a Jesuit priest and professor of the Theology Department of PUC-Rio (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). He does research on sexual and gender diversity and is involved with the spiritual accompaniment of LGBTI people. This was translated into English by Ricardo da Silva SJ.
Images: Daniel Ibanez/CNARepublish