A victim of clerical sex abuse has said Pope Francis told him God made him gay, that his sexuality 'does not matter' and that God and the pope love him as he is.
Juan Carlos Cruz revealed what he said were details of the private conversation he had with Francis last week about the abuse he suffered at the hands of a prominent Chilean priest, Fernando Karadima.
After his sexuality came up in conversation, the pope reportedly told him: 'Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like that 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.'
Greg Burke, the papal spokesman, declined to comment on the exchanges.
Experts agreed that if true, the comments are the most positive about homosexuality by any pope.
However, this is not the first time Francis has been seen to be conciliatory towards gay people. In 2013, he told reporters: 'If someone is gay and is looking for the Lord, who am I to judge him? You should not discriminate against or marginalise these people.'
Cruz told El Pais that the subject of homosexuality came up in conversation with Francis because some of Chile's bishops had sought to portray him as a pervert who was lying about the abuse.
Karadima, now 87, was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually assaulting children in 2011. He was barred from clerical duties and sentenced to a lifetime of 'penance and prayer'.
Details of the exchange between Cruz and Francis came after all of Chile's 34 Catholic bishops offered the pope their resignation over a sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has rocked the country's churches.
It is not yet clear whether the pope has accepted their offer to step down. The mass resignation came after a Vatican investigation into the role of Bishop Juan Barros, who was appointed by the pope in 2015 and who is alleged to have covered up the abuse of Karadima.
Cruz said the pope had personally apologised to him for the abuse he suffered.
'I was thrilled that he took what we talked about so seriously,' he added. 'I felt the visit was not just a matter of protocol, of public relations.'