May 23, 2018 at 12:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Pope to gay sex abuse victim: ‘God loves you’

Juan Carlos Cruz is a gay man from Chile who met with Pope Francis earlier this month at the Vatican. Rev. Fernando Karadima, a former priest at a parish in the Chilean capital of Santiago, sexually abused Cruz and hundreds of other boys and young men over more than three decades. (Photo courtesy of Juan Carlos Cruz)

A gay man from Chile who was sexually abused by a priest said Pope Francis told him earlier this month that God “loves you.”

Juan Carlos Cruz and two other victims of Rev. Fernando Karadima — José Murillo and James Hamilton — met with Francis at the Vatican.

Cruz, Murillo and Hamilton in a 2013 civil lawsuit accused Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of the Chilean capital of Santiago and his predecessor, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, and the Archdiocese of Santiago of covering up the abuse that took place the span of three decades.

Errázuriz and Ezzati conspired to block Cruz from being named to a sex abuse commission that Francis created. Cruz in a previous interview with the Washington Blade said Errázuriz also dismissed his allegations against Karadima, noting he is “gay and he liked it.”

“In the conversation with the pope, he said Juan Carlos, don’t worry about that,” Cruz told the Blade on Monday during a telephone interview. “God loves you. The pope loves you.”

“He said God loves me for who I am, made me like this,” added Cruz in a follow-up text message.

Cruz told the Blade that he was “super touched” by Francis’ comments to him.

“But I also don’t want to lose sight as to why I was there: To call attention to all the survivors around the world,” added Cruz. “It’s not just about me.”

Pope was ‘man of compassion and cared deeply’

Cruz is one of the hundreds of people who Karadima sexually abused in his parish in a wealthy Santiago neighborhood.

Francis in January during his trip to Chile sparked widespread outrage when he publicly defended Rev. Juan Barros, a Karadima protégé who is the bishop of the city of Osorno, and dismissed allegations that he witnessed the sex abuse and covered it up. Francis faced additional criticism over his assertion that he did not know about the allegations against Barros.

Francis in a letter he sent to all of Chile’s 31 active Catholic bishops said he made “serious errors” in the way he responded to the Karadima case.

All of the bishops offered to resign last week after they met with Francis at the Vatican. It remains unclear as to whether Francis has accepted the resignations, but Cruz said he is “pleased” by the apparent overture.

“I’m just hoping these things move and they happen,” he told the Blade.

Cruz also reiterated his praise of Francis after their meeting.

“The (man) I met at the Vatican was a man of compassion and cared deeply,” he said. “But I hope that I am not the exception and become the norm.”

LGBTI advocates welcome Francis’ comments

The Vatican’s tone towards homosexuality and other LGBTI-specific issues has moderated under Francis’ papacy, but advocates maintain church teachings on them have not changed.

The Vatican website notes Catholic teaching says “tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,'” but gay men and lesbians “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” Francis has also faced criticism over his comments against marriage rights for same-sex couples and transgender children.

Advocates this week nevertheless welcomed Francis’ comments to Cruz.

“The pope saying that God created an individual as gay goes far beyond a statement of welcome,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group of LGBTI Catholics. “It sets a new foundation for Catholic teaching about sexual orientation that is very different than what has been traditionally stated. If God creates us with our sexual orientation or gender identity as part of who we are, the doctrine that LGBTQI people are not part of God’s plan for humanity cannot stand. We can no longer be considered ‘objectively disordered,’ and the entire theology of human identity and relationships will need to be reconsidered.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that ministers to LGBTI Catholics, in a statement said the comments represent “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,” said DeBernardo. “Even if the words reported are exactly as the pope said them, they still do not indicate a change in official teaching, but they do represent a major change in pastoral attitude and practice.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, gay news, Washington Blade

Rev. Fernando Karadima sexually abused Juan Carlos Cruz and hundreds of others over more than three decades at the Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús in Santiago, Chile. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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