This week’s papal confusion surrounds his supposed comments to Chilean sexual abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz. The story made most of the mainline papers. You can read one version of it here.  The summary of it is:

Juan Carlos Cruz, who met with the pope in late April, relayed details of their conversation to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

“Juan Carlos, that you are gay doesn’t matter,” Cruz said Francis told him, according to Catholic news site Crux. “God made you like this and loves you like this and it doesn’t matter to me. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.”

Cruz said his sexuality came up in conversation because Chilean bishops had sought to use it to frame him as untrustworthy, a source of hurt he shared with the pope.

The Vatican, which does not comment on the pope’s private comments as a policy, declined to confirm or deny the remarks to multiple news outlets.

Gay agenda activist Fr James Martin SJ jumped right in with a tweet:

Of course the critics of Pope Francis sounded the trumpet once again about the heretical pope etc. etc.

So let’s step back for a moment and look at the situation. First of all, the pope has not made a formal statement about this case–as in so many other situations in this papacy, the pope’s words have been reported by a third party, then picked up by the papers and a game of Chinese whispers has gone on and the progressives have picked up the ball and run with it in one direction and the conservatives have grabbed the ball and run in the other direction.

But let’s assume that the words that were reported by Juan Carlos Cruz are essentially correct. The pope said, “That you are gay doesn’t matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and it doesn’t matter to me. You have to be happy with who you are.”

That was a nice, compassionate thing for him to say, but the fact is, we don’t have the whole context of the conversation. We also have to remember that what a person says and what the other person hears is not always quite the same. Furthermore, the Vatican has once again declined to give any clarification. Instead the Vatican simply lets it stand.

Is that really what the pope said, or is that what Juan Carlos heard the pope say? Were the words reported verbatim or (like the Scalfari interviews) was it the gist of what the pope said filtered through the experience and prejudices of the hearer?

The problem is in the ambuiguity. The words as they have been reported could be given a conservative reading or a progressive reading. Like this:

Conservative: It is true that having same sex attraction does not matter in the overall picture of your life with God. You are bigger than your sexual inclinations and should not be defined by them. God made you just as you are and he loves you. He understands why this disordered desire developed in your life and he knows the struggles you will have with chastity, and he is with you in that struggle.”

Progressive: God made you gay. He wants you to be happy. We can’t say you should get a boyfriend, but (wink, wink) God understands and forgives….

But the progressive reading would be wrong. God does not make people gay, and the pope didn’t necessarily say that (although it is being reported as such) God makes people who are gay, but he doesn’t make gay people. God can’t do something which is a distortion of nature. Common sense tells us that the human genitals are designed for male-female union leading to an intimate profound union and procreation, and that it is natural for a man to desire a woman, not another man. The homosexual condition is therefore something that has gone wrong in a person’s development. God doesn’t create that.

However, God did create the person who experiences same sex attraction and God loves that person unconditionally, and we are called to love and accept that person too,  while still affirming the full teaching of the church regarding marriage and sexual activity.

The problem therefore is not so much what the Pope said, but the inevitable spin that will be put on his alleged words. Conservatives will frown and huff and puff while progressive will smirk and preen and puff, and the only thing that will come of it is more tribalism and confusion.

Once again, there is ambiguity, and as I have commented before, the biggest problem with this is that Pope Francis is undermining his own ministry and that of the papacy.

Because his comments are ambiguous, vague and often sentimental, an increasing number of people simply disregard him, and that is a shame because we have a gospel to proclaim and what the world needs now, more than ever, is a strong, clear and courageous moral voice.