Pope Francis has reportedly told a gay man that "God made you that way and loves you as you are," apparently pushing the pontiff's acceptance of homosexuality to a new level.
Francis made the comments to Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean victim of priestly sexual abuse who recently spent days with the pope at the Vatican to discuss his ordeal as the pontiff moves to tackle decades of coverups and ostracism of victims in the Chilean church, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Cruz was quoted as having discussed his homosexuality with Francis. "He told me: 'Juan Carlos, I don't care about you being gay. God made you that way and loves you as you are and I don't mind. The pope loves you as you are, you have to be happy with who you are.' "
A spokesman at the Vatican on Sunday declined to confirm or deny Francis' comments, stating, "We don't normally comment on the pope's private conversations."
In 2013, Francis famously said, "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with goodwill, who am I to judge?" when asked for his views on homosexuality, signaling a sea change in Catholic views on sexual orientation.
That year he also told an interviewer, "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality," adding, "I replied with another question: 'Tell me: When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' "
His reported remarks based on Cruz's account go further, however, by suggesting he believes people are created gay by God — a position likely to anger Catholic conservatives.
"This is a big deal, I cannot remember the pope making a comment about gay people being born that way," said Father James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, whose 2017 book "Building a Bridge" urged greater ties between the church and the LGBTQ community.
"Pope Francis has repeated what all reputable biologists and psychologists say — you don't choose your sexual orientation. And that is a great comfort to many gay and lesbian Catholics who have been told by priests that they have chosen their orientation and are therefore guilty," he said.
The comments do not suggest a change to church teaching, Martin said.
The Catholic Church's catechism currently states the "psychological genesis" of homosexuality "remains largely unexplained."
"Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,' " it states, but adds that gay people "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" in the church.
Martin stressed that the pope's comments were reported, not announced. "We have to distinguish between something the pope said on the record and a conversation," he said.
Cruz endured sexual abuse as a youth in Chile by prelate Fernando Karadima, who was sentenced by the Vatican in 2011 to a lifetime of penance.
The Vatican did not, however, believe his claim that the abuse was witnessed and covered up by Chilean Bishop Juan Barros. Francis appointed Barros bishop of the town of Osorno in 2015, hugged him publicly during his visit to Chile in January and dismissed accounts by Cruz and other victims as "slander."
But as public fury in Chile grew, Francis in February dispatched an abuse investigator to interview the victims, inviting them to Rome, admitting he had made "serious mistakes."
Summoning Chile's bishops to Rome, he accused them of destroying evidence of abuse and putting pressure on church investigators to downplay accusations.
On Friday, all 33 bishops in Chile offered to resign.
In his interview with El Pais, Cruz said Francis had been told that Cruz was "deranged" by his detractors before the meeting at Casa Santa Marta, the residence used by the pope at the Vatican.
"The pope treated us like kings in Santa Marta and the bishops as children," Cruz was quoted as saying. "It is clear that he believed us."