You may recall last month’s fake news set ablaze by Eugenio Scalfari, the Italian journalist who reported Pope Francis as saying to him during a private meeting that “hell does not exist”.
The social media frenzy that ensued called Francis a heretic, whilst others rejoiced that a pope should deny hell.
Yet, lo and behold, within days the non-recorded comments reconstructed from the elderly journalist’s memory were under serious question. Francis did still believe in hell.
Now let’s roll out the headline earlier this week in The Guardian: ‘Pope Francis tells gay man: God made you like this’ which related the story of Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of clerical sexual abuse.
Cruz reported to Spanish newspaper El País that the Pope told him, “Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The Pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.”
The Guardian was happy to offer its own bias stating that “Francis has an open and tolerant attitude toward homosexuality” and that these “new remarks appear to go much further in embracing homosexuality as a sexual orientation that is designed and bestowed by God”. The newspaper also suggests that “Francis does not believe that individuals choose to be gay or lesbian, as some religious conservatives argue”.
Having been a gay activist, I am in full agreement that no one chooses to be gay or lesbian. As I recall numerous private conversations with young people about sexuality, those coming to terms with any degree of same-sex attraction are often in profound emotional turmoil whereas I have yet to meet one teenager who speaks of struggling with aspects of being other-sex attracted.
Some of these young people have parents, teachers and colleagues who wholly and lovingly embrace them and accept their life choices. That they should continue to struggle so severely shows, I believe, that there are deeper underlying issues that need to be dealt with in relation to same-sex attraction.
It is obvious that Pope Francis’s overwhelming desire will have been to impart as much love and mercy as possible into the core of Mr Cruz’s incredible pain. And let’s get real: there is only so much a pope can do and say in a brief encounter with anyone.
Yes, God loves Mr Cruz exactly where he is today, without any need of a sexuality label. If only more same-sex attracted and gender questioning individuals would hear this truth and take their places alongside every other imperfect person on the church pews.
God does indeed call us first to love ourselves where we are. Only then can we begin to experience the lavish love that he has for each one of us.
Let us also look beyond the revelation that Mr Cruz is sexually attracted to members of his own sex, and consider what long-term effects the sexual abuse he received at the hands of an older male might have had on his early and ongoing sexual development. Isn’t this the conversation our global family needs to be having and which the LGBTQI+ community needs to stop being so phobic about?
Maybe – just maybe – the reason why there is no genetic evidence for people “being gay” is because empirical evidence shows time and again that, with the appropriate professional care, individuals can and do move from being same-sex to other-sex attracted.
This begs us to ask why, in so-called enlightened Australia, the Victorian State Government and Shadow Federal Minister for Health, Catherine King, should be so anti-choice, intolerant and bigoted as they continue discussions to outlaw any person from taking their same-sex attraction into the therapy room of an appropriately trained professional.
I am only one of many Australians who, as a result of a disciplined spiritual journey and tender, insightful therapy, have found relief from the debilitating inner emotional turmoil mentioned above and now have significantly reduced same-sex attractions.
Since when should politicians make laws prohibiting clients from taking a lead in their own therapeutic journey, and limiting or denying them the religious freedom which can bring about comfort in place of pain?
Finally, let us remember that a Pope only ever has time for fleeting remarks of encouragement. The story of aptly named Mr Cruz, which translates as ‘Cross’ in Spanish, offers yet another stark reminder to the Church – clergy and laity alike – of its fundamental mission to upturn every stone until Christ’s compassion and mercy are applied to the pain sewn into the life journeys of those who feel on the fringe of society.
Only in this setting does the fullness of truth about human sexuality begin to free rather than further pain those affected by the fallout of the global sexual revolution, be they survivors of every form of sexual violation, those who identify as LGBTQI+, those affected by abortion, or those struggling with pornography.
Mercy triumphing over judgment is ostensibly at the heart of Francis’s words. If we focus on becoming instruments of Christ’s compassion and mercy, then it is less significant what the Pope did – or did not – actually say.