In what’s believed to a first, Pope Francis invited the head of an LGBT rights group to attend an official discussion during a visit to Paraguay.
Simón Cazal, director and co-founder of the organisation SomosGay (We are gay), was surprised to be asked to take part in a roundtable, in which civil society representatives met with the Pontiff on Saturday in the capital, Asunción.
“Diversity is the way that societies get better,” the Pope said at the meeting, Cazal told Buzzfeed.
“He gave a very harsh critique of the local church and the local authorities, saying that you cannot exclude anyone, that the organisations that are here represent Paraguay’s diversity.”
Speaking to CNN, Cazal, who is married to a man and is an atheist, said he believes that the Pope can play a role in promoting tolerance towards LGBT youth in the predominantly Catholic country.
The activist explained that while the Pope didn’t address the LGBT community directly, his general comments at the meeting supporting diversity were important.
“We need his strong voice on the side of defending the life and integrity of LGBT people,” he said.
“The message I would want to hear? Please don’t kick your sons and daughters out of the house because they’re gay,” Cazal added.
There is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Paraguay, and the Constitution limits marriage to being solely between a man and a woman.
While Pope Francis has hinted at a willingness to be more accepting of gay people and asserted that he will not judge them, he has also described same-sex marriage as a threat to the family.
The Catholic Church remains officially opposed to same-sex relationships and especially gay marriage.