LONDON, January 2, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a surprising reversal of six years of policy, the Archbishop of Westminster has rescinded permission for a group of homosexual activists to hold specially dedicated Masses at which the homosexual lifestyle was promoted as morally acceptable for Catholics.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols issued a letter today saying that “after six years of the pastoral care,” the notorious Soho Masses will no longer be offered at Our Lady of the Assumption church in central London.

“It is time for a new phase,” Nichols wrote.

One of the leaders of the group that organizes the Masses has responded saying the group is unruffled by the announcement and that they will simply be moving on to a larger and more useful facility for their purposes.

Nevertheless, the announcement of the end of the Soho masses came as a surprise. As recently as February last year, while under growing pressure from Catholics who maintain that the event constitutes a formal scandal, Nichols had reiterated his determination that they would continue. He said at the time, however, that officials were giving “consideration” to whether the Masses were fulfilling the purpose for which they had been established.

In his letter Nichols wrote that the Soho Masses community is invited to “focus their efforts” on receiving “pastoral care” at the Jesuit parish of the Immaculate Conception on Sunday evenings. This care, he said, “is to be conducted fully in accordance with the teaching of the Church.”

“Such pastoral care,” Nichols wrote, “will include support for growth in virtue and holiness, the encouragement of friendship and wider community contacts, always with the aim of helping people to take a full part in the life of the Church in their local parish community. It will not include the organisation of a regular Mass.”

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The church that had formerly been used by the Soho Masses is slated to be given over to the work of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the group formed to answer Pope Benedict’s invitation to Anglicans to come into the Catholic Church while retaining their liturgical traditions.

The group behind the Soho Masses as well as the archdiocese have come under heavy criticism from many Catholics who have compiled written and electronic evidence that the Masses were being used by homosexualist activists to promote their “lifestyle” as normal within the Catholic Church.

A small group of core activists have long campaigned to put an end to the masses, but until now their efforts had yielded little result, either in the UK or in Rome. In his letter, Nichols made no mention of the controversy over the Masses. 

But despite Nichols’ letter, the Soho Mass organizers themselves appear unfazed. Terrence Weldon, a founding member of the Soho Masses organizing team, wrote today on his blog “Queering the Church,” that the Soho Mass “congregation is emphatically not being ‘shut down,’ as the opponents will claim, but simply being relocated.”

He described the move as merely “the next phase of our evolution”. Weldon wrote that the “key” issue is the group’s identity as a “congregation.” In the various discussions the group had about changes, “it was observed that as long as we retained our congregation, we would continue to flourish. So it proved, and flourish we have.”

Despite the public insistence of the Archdiocese of Westminster to the contrary, the group itself has been quite frank about the nature of their identity and purpose. The Soho Masses Pastoral Council (SMPC) published openly on their website their intention to promote of the goals of the homosexualist movement.

Weldon wrote that the approval of the group by the archdiocese, as well as their relocation to a Catholic parish, significantly furthered the group’s goals and expansion. Until the move into Our Lady of the Assumption, the congregations at the Masses, which had been carried on with quiet diocesan approval, were “overwhelmingly of older, White men.”

“Since the move, the transformation has been astonishing. Numbers have doubled, and the degree of active participation has simultaneously increased. We are now far more diverse in age, ethnicity and gender balance, and offer far, far more than just two Masses a month, with a steadily expanding range of support groups and activities, social and spiritual, outside of the Masses themselves.”

The new move to the Jesuit parish, he wrote, could greatly facilitate their efforts by providing more space for meetings and social events.

“I am increasingly convinced that one of the major challenges facing the LGBT Catholic community, is that of achieving visibility in the wider Church, and engaging openly and honestly with others,” Weldon said. “If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the ‘Soho Masses’ may end – Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded.”

Despite the group’s history of close collaboration with archdiocesan officials, Weldon responded to an email from LSN today saying that he was not aware of any “negotiations” between the SMPC and the archdiocese over the move to the Jesuits.

“This decision was taken by Archbishop Nichols personally, without any consultation with us. The only negotiations that occurred, were with the Society of Jesus,” he said.

A commenter on his website, however, identified only as “Martin,” said, “A degree of confidential consultation around this took place over the past month.” One of the group’s more prominent organizers is Martin Pendergast, a former priest currently living in a civil partnership with another man. Weldon responded, “A very limited degree of ‘consultation,’ Martin – I’m not sure that I would dignify it with that word (it certainly did not amount to anything like negotiation). But there was certainly a small degree of very discreet communication.”

Asked publicly on his website whether he anticipated that the Jesuits would be offering Masses for the group, Weldon wrote, “We know from Archbishop Nichol’s statement that we will, from the beginning of Lent, be worshiping at the 6:15 Mass at Farm Street – which, as can be seen at their website, is an existing feature of their regular Sunday Mass program. It is clear therefore, that we will be worshiping as part of a larger parish community – who, I am convinced, will give us a warm and valued welcome.”