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Pope Francis' LGBTQ comments are not surprising but sincere, gay Vatican adviser says

Clergy sex abuse survivor and victim's advocate Juan Carlos Cruz first met Pope Francis in 2018 when a group of survivors of abuse was invited to the Vatican.
Andres Kudacki
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AP
Clergy sex abuse survivor and victim's advocate Juan Carlos Cruz first met Pope Francis in 2018 when a group of survivors of abuse was invited to the Vatican.

Updated January 26, 2023 at 3:30 PM ET

An openly gay advisor to the Vatican says he's not surprised by Pope Francis' declaration that "being homosexual isn't a crime."

Juan Carlos Cruz, an internationally known Chilean advocate and survivor of clerical sexual abuse, told NPR the pope's remarks made for an "incredible day."

In his first interview since the death of former Pope Benedict XVI, Francis told the Associated Press that laws criminalizing homosexuality are "unjust" and that Catholic bishops should apply "tenderness" and help ease discrimination by welcoming LGBTQ people into the church.

On Tuesday, Cruz told Morning Edition's Leila Fadel that anti-sodomy laws in dozens of countries, including some that impose the death penalty, are "horrifying," but the pope's moral leadership will help civil authorities, bishops, and cardinals to "change their heart" and join the pontiff in speaking out.

"The pope highlights that the LGBTQ community is not sinful and criminal," said Cruz.

Cruz, who is a member of the Vatican's Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, also dissents from Catholic teachings. Cruz says the church's insistence that homosexuality is "sin," a position embraced by the pope, is "shameful," although Cruz says the pope appears to be trying to shift the church's relationship with the LGBTQ community.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview highlights

On the impact of the pope's message on LGBTQ criminalization

It's been an incredible day with his statement, something that no pope has ever done in history. He's taken great steps and they're sincere and that I appreciate. In a moment where the LGBT community all over the world needs it because it's being attacked, condemned, there's laws that criminalize it.

This man does change and does acknowledge when he has made a mistake and he said it publicly. And I admire that in him. I mean, there's a lot a lot still to do in terms of abuse in the church. By no means we're done.

It doesn't surprise me from Pope Francis. He's a man that is open to everybody, who holds the dignity of the person in the highest standards. The LGBT community is very in his heart. I would not say this if I didn't know it. I know this for a fact, and that makes me very happy.

On how Cruz has seen Pope Francis' view change over the last decade

The pope that I knew and that I saw in 2017 versus the pope that that I met, and after a few meetings in 2018, it's 180 degree difference. It's surprising. You know, we normally say older people, you know, it's hard to change their views or change.

This man does change and does acknowledge when he has made a mistake and he said it publicly. And I admire that in him. I mean, there's a lot a lot still to do in terms of abuse in the church. By no means we're done.

On the pope's initiative to shift the church's relationship with the LGBTQ community

The pope highlights that the LGBTQ community is not sinful and criminal. And he says harming one's neighbor is most certainly both. So it's the bedrock of Catholic teaching. And he shifts this, you know, wording, like you said it, Leila, but he highlights how important it is that it's more sinful, you know, having things against your neighbor or being uncharitable, or criminal towards the gay community, that's sinful.

The radio interview with Juan Carlos Cruz was produced by Kaity Kline. The digital version was produced by Destinee Adams and edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Jan Johnson