Pope Francis' remarks towards LGBTQ people are sincere, a gay Vatican aide said NPR's Leila Fadel speaks with Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man who is a survivor of clergy sex abuse, about remarks by Pope Francis that criminalizing homosexuality is "unjust."

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

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Pope Francis says that homosexuality is a sin, but it is not a crime. And then he went further, saying the church must work against unjust laws that make it a crime. He made the comments in an interview with the Associated Press just before an upcoming trip to South Sudan, one of at least 67 countries with anti-gay laws. Joining us now to discuss the significance of these statements is Juan Carlos Cruz. He first met Pope Francis in 2018 when he and other survivors of sexual abuse by a Chilean priest were invited to the Vatican. Cruz is openly gay and now an adviser to the pope on LGBTQ+ issues. He's also a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Good morning. Thank you for being here.

JUAN CARLOS CRUZ: Hi, Leila. Thank you so much for having me.

FADEL: Well, I would love to just hear your initial reaction to hearing the pope say this publicly.

CRUZ: You know, it's been an incredible day...

FADEL: Yeah.

CRUZ: ...With his statement, something that no pope has ever done in history and in a moment where the LGBT community all over the world needs it because it's being attacked. It's condemned. There's laws that criminalize it. And so it's a great day.

FADEL: Do you think it could actually have impact on changing some of these laws? As we pointed out, there are these laws in dozens of countries. Sometimes they carry the death penalty.

CRUZ: Exactly. It's horrifying. But the fact that Pope Francis, a leader that is respected morally around the world...

FADEL: Yeah.

CRUZ: ...Does say this, it's time for civil authorities, for bishops, cardinals, as he says, to change their heart and start speaking up as well.

FADEL: Yeah. Did it surprise you, as somebody who knows the pope and speaks to him about these issues, that he said this publicly?

CRUZ: No, you know, 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. And 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.

FADEL: Yeah. But this doesn't shift the church's views on homosexuality, right? I mean, it still teaches that it's intrinsically disordered...

CRUZ: Yeah.

FADEL: ..Homosexual sexual acts.

CRUZ: Yeah, those words are shameful, actually. But if you see pope, 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. He shifts this, you know, wording, like you said, 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.

FADEL: Now, your relationship with the pope started out pretty complicated, right?

CRUZ: Yes.

FADEL: At first, he questioned your credibility. You were, as you put it, mortal enemies, I think.

CRUZ: Yes.

FADEL: Is that what you said?

CRUZ: Yes.

FADEL: But that's changed. And now you're his adviser on these issues.

CRUZ: Yeah.

FADEL: How has the pope's views evolved since you came to know him?

CRUZ: You know, the pope that I knew when - that I saw in 2017 versus the pope that I met and after a few meetings in 2018, it's 180-degree difference, right? It's surprising. You know, we normally say older people, you know, it's hard to change their views or change a man in his 80s, you know, he's not going to 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 still to do in terms of abuse in the church. By no means we're done, but - and also in the LGBT issue. But he's taken great steps. And they're sincere. And that I appreciate.

FADEL: Juan Carlos Cruz is a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and an adviser to the pope on LGBTQ+ issues. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

CRUZ: Thank you, Leila. I appreciate you guys calling me. Thank you.

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