The New York Times reports this week that Pope Francis told a gay man his sexuality “does not matter,” and that being gay is “not a problem.”
During a private meeting held in April, a Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse named Juan Carlos Cruz says the current Pope—who has made plenty of headlines for his progressive views—told him, “You have to be happy with who you are. God made you this way and loves you this way, and the pope loves you this way.” This is a nice story, but not one without thorns. So please excuse me while I offer this anecdote.
A little over two years ago, I went to a Sunday mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan when my parents came to visit. They had been dying to attend a service there, and told me they didn’t expect me to join them, but extended an invitation regardless. So I went—partly to spend time with my family, and partly to remind myself of what I’ve been missing in the 14 years since I left the church. But as I tried to tone out the homily and enjoy the building’s stunning (if ominous) architecture, the priest suddenly decided—apropos of nothing—to condemn the recent Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal. In an impassioned, furious tone, he pointed at the churchgoers and reminded us all that same-sex couples who married would go to hell if they didn’t split up and repent. This was, again, in 2015, two years into Pope Francis’ reign, and at one of Catholicism’s biggest, most popular institutions.
As someone who grew up in the religion—whose early beliefs, fears, and opinions were formed by it—I wonder at how anyone who doesn’t identify as a cisgender heterosexual could feel even remotely comfortable as a member of a group that despises them (as opposed to one of the religious groups that welcome them without qualification). For as long as I can remember, we have been given the same nervous, prickly embrace from the church—one that tells us we are loved, but unwanted in our current form.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” You say this when you want to absolve yourself of all criticism and be freed from the burden of humanity. When you want to feel less guilty for calling confused children damaged goods in need of rehabilitation and cleansing. When you want to feel justified in telling nervous, vulnerable teens their thoughts are impure, and that their feelings are the product of demons. Actual demons!
So to have the church’s current leader telling a gay man who was sexually abused by a priest when he was a child that, you know what, never mind what we told you your entire life, feels less commendable and woke than shamefully dismissive of a lifetime of torment. It’s a nice step, but not one that erases a history of systemic abuse. So, before we start praising this Pope once again for behaving at what should be an absolute baseline for human decency, let’s not forget where he works, and the unconscionable, often irreparable damage they have done to gay people for centuries—including this current one.
I respect Pope Francis and appreciate the work he’s doing to spread a message of inclusivity, but I can’t say I love his employer. Especially when headlines like this are published less than 24 hours apart: