From Ruth Hunt,  chief executive of Stonewall UK, in THE GUARDIAN, 21 May 2018:

It is immensely powerful to hear that Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic church, reportedly told Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay man: “God made you like this and loves you like this.”

Cruz is a survivor of clerical abuse who spoke privately with the pope a few weeks ago, and has since reported his conversation to Spanish newspapers. His abuser, Fernando Karadima, was found guilty of abuse by the Vatican in 2011.

As a practising Catholic, I find it deeply moving to have Pope Francis appear to confirm what many Catholics already know to be true: God made us just as we should be, there are no mistakes.

Lesbian, gay, bi and trans people exist in every community, from every ethnic background and in every religion. However, religion can often be the area of life that people find the most difficult to reconcile with their identity. Some people will say that LGBT people can’t exist in faith communities; that faith communities don’t accept same-sex relationships or those whose gender doesn’t match the one that they were assigned at birth. Some believe that LGBT people can and should be “cured”. As a result of these beliefs, LGBT people often need to find a way to God despite their leaders, rather than because of them. But the pope’s reported words are a striking affirmation that LGBT people of faith belong in church and in religious communities.

Churches can be unifying spaces. Religions teach that God is love, so it should be integral that all members of the community and their relationships are respected. Just as LGBT people need respect and acceptance in wider society, they also need to be included in their faith communities.

Francis’s reported words can help to build bridges between the Catholic church and LGBT people who have felt rejected and excluded from it. Many religious communities, groups and places of worship already include LGBT people. The church accepts that LGBT people exist, but I want us to get to a point where our love is recognised as being as valid as any other. While we have a way of celebrating our love through civil partnerships and same-sex marriage, we also need to keep working to allow LGBT people of faith to marry in church and declare their love in the eyes of God.

I would like to see the pope’s apparent openness mirrored by others in the Roman Catholic church. I want to live in a world where all people will be accepted – for their beliefs, their faith, their sexual orientation, their gender identity and everything else – without exception. The words of Pope Francis to Juan Carlos Cruz give me hope that we are moving in that direction.

Ruth Hunt is the chief executive of Stonewall UK