Pope Francis has named a gay man to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.
Juan Carlos Cruz — a survivor of clerical sex abuse in Chile — was named to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The Associated Press on Wednesday reported nuns, laypeople, a bishop and a priest are among the commission’s other members.
Cruz on Wednesday told the Blade during a telephone interview from Chile that Francis “decided he wanted me on the commission.”
“I’m very honored,” said Cruz. “I’m a survivor. I’m gay. I’m a lay person. I’m Catholic.”
Cruz is among the hundreds of people who a now-defrocked priest sexually abused in his parish in El Bosque, a wealthy neighborhood in the Chilean capital of Santiago over more than three decades.
Cruz and two other men — José Murillo and James Hamilton — in 2010 went public with their allegations. Two Chilean cardinals later blocked Cruz from being named to the same commission to which Francis appointed him.
Cruz is the first openly gay man and the first person from Latin America to serve on the commission.
“I had lots of hits against me, but he trusts me,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to Francis.
“I’m honored,” he added. “It just renews my commitment to change things from within, for survivors, for every person who feels disenfranchised from the church. This is a place where we all belong, with no adjectives.”
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which defends Catholic teachings, earlier this month published a decree that said the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions. Cruz, who met Francis at the Vatican in 2018, is among those who sharply criticized the edict.
“As a Catholic, I would immediately ask for a change in the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which every day resembles that of the infamous Torquemada himself and not that of the pastors that Francis proposes to us,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to the mastermind of the Spanish Inquisition.
Cruz in response to Francis’ decision to name him to the commission reiterated he is “really, really honored and will do my best to live up to his appointment and the commitment that I have with the people who are expecting so much from me.”
Professor believes Francis sees road to lasting change as a long one
By Colleen Walsh
The disclosure this week of Pope Francis’ support of same-sex civil unions sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church and progressive and conservative circles alike. It came in a papal interview in “Francesco,” a documentary that premiered Wednesday, and represented a major break with Vatican teaching, leaving many wondering whether an official change might be coming soon. In the film Francis says, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” The Gazette spoke with Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Parkman Professor of Divinity and professor of comparative theology, about the pope’s comments and what they mean for members of the Catholic LGBTQ community.
GAZETTE: What was your reaction when you heard about the pope’s comments on same-sex unions?
CLOONEY: On the one hand, it’s not surprising at all, because Archbishop Bergoglio [now Pope Francis] struggled with the issue of formal marriage relationships when he was in Argentina and pointed to a compromise such as calling same-sex unions civil unions and not marriage. This debate is similar to what we went through in this country a decade or so ago. But I think Francis’ openness to same-sex unions is also more fundamentally representative of his instinct that human beings have a right to be together, a right to union, a right to family, and therefore, that it would be unjust to provide no way at all for people to live together as a couple. I think it’s his basic sense of human compassion and his openness to finding ways to help people to live the lives that they feel they must live.
On the other hand, you can’t imagine previous popes speaking in this fashion. That doesn’t mean that someone like John Paul was not a compassionate person, but they were so clearly linked to, focused on, church doctrine, and the preservation of marriage between a male and a female and, given their attitudes toward homosexuality, they simply wouldn’t speak in this fashion, whatever they may personally have felt. And I think what is new here is that Francis, as all the reports say, is in the non-authoritative context of a documentary — not sitting on the chair of Peter as pope making a proclamation — speaking his mind as probably most Catholics in the West would also speak their minds and say, “Well yes, some kind of way to allow people to live their lives happily and in peace is what matters.”
GAZETTE: Does this change anything about the church’s overall doctrine?
CLOONEY: Probably not, because he hasn’t pushed it that far in terms of recognizing gay marriages. But implicitly, it’s undercutting the rhetoric that being gay is a grave disorder or that being gay and living out a gay commitment is something that God disapproves of. Francis is taking a positive attitude and therefore changing the climate, even if there are going to be Catholics who resist this greatly.
GAZETTE: I know Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in Providence, R.I., has come out very strongly against this. Do you expect an even greater backlash from conservative and other voices in the church?
CLOONEY: Yes, but not as much as one might think. This news is based on a documentary, and it’s in keeping with things Francis has said previously. Conservative critics are not going to be surprised by this, even if they will be very annoyed by it. People who are against any compromise in this direction will see this as another sign that Francis has gone astray, that he is not adhering to church teaching. And they will add this to their list of complaints about him, even though he’s the pope and deserving of their respect. You may recall much earlier in his papacy, when people asked him about his thoughts on homosexuality, he said “Who am I to judge people in their lives?” This is Francis, and for many, this is a wonderful Francis; but for some, it’s the Francis they can’t abide, and they will continue to protest.
GAZETTE: Can you see him pressing this forward to doctrinal change?
CLOONEY: Several years ago, when there was discussion with the pope and some of the bishops about divorced and remarried Catholics returning to Communion, Francis didn’t bite the bullet and declare that they’re welcome back to Communion if they’re in a stable second marriage. But he said that good priests, who know how to be pastoral, will know how to relate to people. It was as if to say: If a couple who are divorced and remarried comes to you, you’ll help them to find their way. My sense is that Francis is not the man as pope, particularly going on 10 years into his papacy, to be making declarations that push the church where it’s not ready to go. But rather, again, he is giving a green light, really, to priests and others involved in counseling couples to say we have to find ways to welcome Catholics as they are: Be pastoral; be like Jesus. And I think this opens the door, even though it will be controversial in some circles, to saying couples who are in a same-sex marriage are members of the parish and welcome in Catholic worshipping communities. Of course, in some dioceses, such couples will not be welcome to Communion. There will be differences in response and pastoral practice. So I think what is at stake is a kind of incremental pastoral disposition, whereby things will change, as they always have, only slowly. The pope is saying things that other popes never would have said previously. But I don’t see Francis being in the position to make any kind of daring pronouncement in the years to come about gay marriage. I wouldn’t anticipate that coming.
Pope Francis, in a new documentary, has called for the creation of civil union laws for same-sex couples, in what amounts to his clearest support to date for the issue.
In the documentary, according to the Catholic News Agency, Francis is quoted as saying that same-sex couples should be “legally covered.”
“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he said.
Francis has long expressed an interest in outreach to the church’s LGBT followers, but his remarks have often stressed general understanding and welcoming — rather than substantive policies.
Priests in some parts of the world bless same-sex marriage, but that stance — and Francis’s new remarks — are a departure from official church teaching.
The documentary, “Francesco,” is premiering this week in Rome and then in the United States. The pope gave an interview to the filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, saying that “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family.”
“They’re children of God and have a right to a family,” the pope said. “Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”
Francis, who became pope in 2013, gave earlier, oblique signals interpreted as openness to recognizing same-gender civil unions. He has usually framed his comments in pragmatic, curious terms — as someone noticing the possible need for legal recognition for existing families, so they can access civil benefits such as heath care.
“This is the first time as pope he’s making such a clear statement,” the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit who has advocated for the church to more openly welcome LGBT members, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”
According to a Religion News Service story from 2014, Francis — while still a cardinal in Argentina — tried to “negotiate with the Argentine government over the legalization of gay marriage and signaled he would be open to civil unions as an alternative.”
Francis made news that year when the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published an interview with him reiterating “the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and other benefits,” RNS reported.
In the interview, Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” Corriere della Serra quoted him as saying.
The interview triggered global interest and controversy. Some said Francis had outright endorsed civil unions.
The Vatican quickly clarified that Francis was speaking in general terms and that people “should not try to read more into the pope’s words than what has been stated,” RNS reported in 2014.
Italy was the last country in Western Europe — other than Vatican City — to offer same-sex couples legal rights, The Washington Post reported in 2016, a position based on the Roman Catholic Church’s historic opposition to such unions.
Francis has a reputation of offering words open to interpretation. In 2016, after the Vatican hosted a combative synod on the family, he said “there cannot be any confusion between the family willed by God and other kinds of unions,” The Post’s 2016 story said.
This has angered traditional Christians. In 2015, New York Archbishop Tim Dolan was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if accepting civil unions would make him “uncomfortable,” Dolan said it would, because it could “water down” the traditional religious view of marriage,” the RNS story reported.
Pope Francis has told the parents of LGBT+ children to love them as they are “because they are children of God” in a groundbreaking meeting.
The pope met with 40 parents of LGBT+ children on Wednesday (17 September) to hear their concerns about the church’s disregard for their families.
The parents, all associated with the LGBT+ Catholic parents’ organisation Tenda di Gionata, told Pope Francis about the cold climate their queer children faced in the church when they came out, Avventire.itreports.
At the end of the meeting, the group’s vice president Mara Grassi gave Pope Francis a copy of a Fortunate Families by Mary Ellen Lopata, which details the experiences of Catholic parents of queer children.
He was also given a rainbow-coloured t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “In love there is no fear”.
“He looked and smiled,” Grassi said of the presentation. She called the meeting “a moment of deep harmony that we will not forget”.
Closing out the meeting, Pope Francis told the gathered parents: “Love your children as they are, because they are children of God.”
Speaking after the event, Grassi said their organisation wants to create a dialogue between LGBT+ people and the Catholic church.
“Taking a cue from the title of the book we presented to him, I explained that we consider ourselves lucky because we have been forced to change the way we have always looked at our children,” she said.
“What we now have is a new gaze that has allowed us to see the beauty and love of God in them.
“We want to create a bridge with the church so that the church too can change its gaze towards our children, no longer excluding them but welcoming them fully.”
LGBT+ parents gave Pope Francis letters about their experiences of raising queer children.
The group also gave Pope Francis letters written by parents of LGBT+ children, detailing their painful journeys to acceptance in the face of anti-LGBT+ sentiment in their church.
In one letter, a woman identified as Anna B told Pope Francis that her son knew he would only be loved by his parents if he “suffocated” his true identity.
She explained that she became involved with an LGBT+ Christian group in an effort to better understand her son’s identity after he came out as gay.
The meeting is being hailed as a significant moment of change for LGBT+ members of the Catholic church. The institution has been unwavering in its opposition to LGBT+ acceptance throughout its long history.
However, there was some hope for change among LGBT+ Catholics when Francis was appointed as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI in 2013.
In 2013, he made global headlines when he called on the Catholic church to “show mercy, not condemnation” to gay people – representing a stark shift in tone from his predecessors.
But in 2019, he told a Spanish newspaper that parents who see signs of homosexuality in their children should “consult a professional” – a comment that was considered by many to endorse conversion therapy.
Meanwhile, he has been staunch in his opposition to trans identities, comparing them to nuclear war and genetic manipulation in 2015.
In 2019, the Vatican released a document claiming that “gender ideology” is a “move away from nature”.
Pope Francis sought to shift the ideological balance of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States on Thursday, replacing one of his most prominent conservative critics as the archbishop of Philadelphia.
Pope Francis announced in a statement that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was retiring, and that Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, a former Philadelphian and relative newcomer to the national scene, would assume the role.
“The Holy Father has accepted the resignation” of Archbishop Chaput, the statement said, adding that the pope had named Archbishop Perez to take his place.
“I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese,” Archbishop Chaput wrote on his Facebook page Thursday morning, calling the nomination a “moment of great joy” for Philadelphia’s Catholics. He said that Archbishop Perez “is already known and loved by our priests and people.”
Archbishop Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Francis’ mission to move beyond the culture wars. The move is a sign that the pope, who has installed key allies in Chicago and Newark, is still intent on changing the ideological direction of the American church by directing one of its most traditionalist dioceses toward a more pastoral approach.
Francis recently acknowledged that a good deal of the opposition to his pontificate emanated from the United States, telling a reporter who handed him a book exploring the well-financed and media-backed American effort to undermine his agenda that it was “an honor that the Americans attack me.”
Archbishop Chaput’s departure was expected, as he had offered his resignation to Pope Francis when he turned 75 in September. Church law requires every bishop tender his resignation to the pope at that age, but the pontiff can choose not to accept it, often allowing prelates to remain in office for several more years.
In this case, the pope did not wait long before saying yes.
Archbishop Chaput became a favorite among Catholic conservatives for supporting the denial of communion to Catholic politicians who back abortion rights, opposing the legalization of gay marriage and, as archbishop of Denver before gay marriage was legalized nationally, helping defeat legislation that would have legalized civil unions for gay couples in the state.
Many conservatives around the church counted his removal as yet another power play by Francis, whom they have called a “dictator pope” who ignores their complaints that he is diluting the faith and breaking church traditions.
A small but vocal and influential group of American prelates has consistently raised the possibility that Francis may be leading the church toward schism. But Francis has mostly brushed those threats off as dust on the shoulders of his white robes.
“I pray that there are no schisms,” he said on a flight from Africa in September. “But I am not scared.”
At a press conference in Philadelphia on Thursday morning, Bishop Perez thanked Archbishop Chaput for his influence in his life, calling him “a great mentor, a great friend.”
“I am concerned of the shoes that I have to fill,” he said. “We thank him for his incredible ministry for the church.”
He also acknowledged the complexities of his new assignment, apologizing directly to victims of clergy sexual abuse, and he addressed Hispanic Catholics, at times in Spanish, raising concerns about anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.
“There’s a rhetoric at times that happens with our immigrants that is just not dignified, and we have to respect the dignity of the human person,” he said. “It is the role of the state and the government to protect our dignity.”
Archbishop Chaput said he would continue to live in Philadelphia and be involved in the archdiocese. He plans to take three months to read, cook, and pray, and then resume activities like giving talks and leading retreats around the country, a sign he likely will remain influential in the church as a prominent conservative thought leader.
A significant posting for the church in the United States, the archdiocese of Philadelphia is traditionally a cardinal’s seat, meaning that its leader is usually named a cardinal, the church’s highest clerical rank after pontiff. Cardinals under age 80 elect the pope, giving them critical sway in the future of the church.
Pope Francis notably never elevated Archbishop Chaput for the red hat. That denial has frustrated many conservatives, especially as Francis appointed a cardinal and ally to the archdiocese of Newark, which had never before had a cardinal, and which has outsized prominence as part of the New York media market.
In a June 2017 interview, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, then the top doctrinal watchdog in the Roman Catholic Church, said he was “disappointed” that the archbishop of Philadelphia had not been elevated to cardinal, “because the appointment of the cardinals should not be a personal relation with the pope to these bishops.” Asked why Francis had declined to make the appointment, he said “politics.”
As it became clear that Francis would never make Archbishop Chaput a cardinal, many church analysts noted that the conservative became more vocal in his criticism, often using a column on the archdiocese’s website as a soapbox to express a dissonant view.
Archbishop Chaput was also a firm administrator, tapped to reform a region in financial and spiritual disarray after extensive allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the area. A county grand jury in 2005 reported that leaders of the Philadelphia archdiocese, including two cardinals, had covered up extensive sexual abuse of minors.
A second grand jury in 2011 accused the archdiocese of not stopping the abuse, and Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Chaput to lead the archdiocese about five months later.
Archbishop Chaput removed priests accused of abuse, closed 49 schools, and sold the archbishop’s mansion for $10 million as part of a plan to reduce the operating budget deficit.
Archbishop Chaput is also the first Native American archbishop and a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe.
Bishop Perez, a Cuban-American born in Miami and raised in New Jersey, will be the first Hispanic priest to lead the church in Philadelphia. In a statement released by the Cleveland diocese, he said he accepted the appointment with a mix of “joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood,” but also “sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply.”
The Hispanic population of the Philadelphia archdiocese has grown dramatically in recent years while the non-Hispanic population has remained relatively stagnant. The region has about 200 parishes and about 1.3 million Catholics.
Pope Francis has put himself squarely on the side of the immigrants whom many experts consider the future of the faith in the United States.
“Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses,” Francis told American bishops in a 2015 visit to Washington. Speaking “as a pastor from the South,” the church’s first South American pope gave the recommendation “close to my heart” that the bishops “not be afraid to welcome them.”
Francis also visited Philadelphia during that trip, for the World Meeting of Families, a global gathering of Catholics. He was welcomed by Archbishop Chaput, who by that time had already said that his fellow conservatives had “not been really happy” with parts of Francis’ reign.
Pope Francis named Bishop Perez the bishop of Cleveland in the fall of 2017, making his elevation relatively quick. Bishop Perez chairs a committee on cultural diversity for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. His return to Philadelphia is a homecoming of sorts, as he spent 23 years serving in different Philadelphia parishes after ordination to the priesthood.
His installation as archbishop is planned for Feb. 18.