LONDON, December 17, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A group of pro-life and pro-family British Catholics have reacted with dismay this month as the “conservative” archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, has accused them of being “judgmental” in their opposition to an officially approved “gay” Mass that is ongoing in the archdiocese of Westminster.

In an interview with the liberal Catholic magazine, The Tablet, Longley, widely regarded as a theological conservative among the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, said, “I assume” that the people praying and protesting outside the church where the Masses are held, are acting out of prejudice.

Asked by The Tablet whether “those protesting are making assumptions” about the “lifestyles” of the people attending the Masses, Longley replied, “I would assume that is the case, and so it isn’t for any of us to make those judgments which, in conscience, people make before God and also within the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of reconciliation assisted by the priests and other pastors within the Church.”

“The Church does not, as it were, have a moral means-testing of people before they come to receive the sacraments and it is very easy to jump to and come to the wrong conclusions about people when you don’t know them.

The people protesting and praying, however, have said that they have never been given a chance to express their concerns with the Catholic leadership and are shocked at being so casually dismissed as “judgmental”.

The so-called Soho Masses were instituted in Britain’s leading diocese in 2007, when Longely - at that time an auxiliary of Westminster - was asked by then Cardinal Murphy O’Connor to find a place for them in a local Catholic parish, Our Lady of the Assumption in Soho. The Masses are openly supportive of the “homosexual lifestyle,” with some of the organisers publishing materials on the internet in opposition to Catholic teaching on sexuality.

“I don’t know whether the people outside have made attempts to meet the people who are going to the Masses in Soho,” Longley told The Tablet.

He added, “I think at the end of the day, those sorts of protests are counterproductive and usually have the effect of hardening attitudes and polarising rather than fundamentally changing people’s minds.”

But Daphne McLeod, the organiser of the group that prays outside Our Lady of the Assumption, has said that the archbishop, now head of Britain’s “second” diocese, has unjustly attacked them.

In a letter to The Tablet, McLeod wrote that the group are not “protesting” in the style of political demonstrations, but praying in reparation to any possible sacrileges that may be taking place.

“If he had asked us we would have assured him that we have met many of them [and] most of them are very friendly and perfectly honest abouut their homosexual lifestyles, introducing us to their partners and emphasizing that they are in sexual relationships. So we are not ‘making any assumptions’ about them,” McLeod wrote.

“Some of us have been down to the Social Hour which follows every Mass where we have received kind hospitality enabling us to spend some time eating and drinking and talking to them and examining the books they have on sale.

“No-one, apart from the Archbishop, tries to pretend they are living or striving to live chaste lives.”

Archbishop Longley declined to respond to LSN’s request for clarification. His secretary Fr. Martin Pratt said in an email that Archbishop Longley’s comments “related to the period between 2003 and 2009 when he had responsibility as an Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster for the Parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Soho.

“Since 2009 he has been in Birmingham and could not comment usefully on more recent events.”

Daphne McLeod told LSN, “From the acknowledgment from his secretary I would guess he is going to try and pretend that the situation has changed since he went to Birmingham. However the truth is that it has not.

“They were openly flaunting their homosexual life styles from day one of the first Mass - when they were under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Longley.”

Some of the organisers of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council have commented on their sexuality in public, including Terrence Weldon, who runs the ‘blog “Queering the Church - towards a reality-based theology,” on which he advocates for the Catholic Church to alter its teachings on homosexual activity.

When the See of Westminster was open, Weldon wrote that Longley was the pick of the dissenting homosexualist Catholic community that gathered at the Soho Masses. Weldon wrote in March 2009, that if Longley were to be chosen as the new archbishop it would be “huge for us”.

“It has also been reported that he stood up for us and urged their continuation when Murphy O’Connor allegedly wanted to shut us down,” he wrote. After “frank” discussions about the “reservations” the archdiocese had with the “gay community in general,” Weldon was confident that Longley would represent their interests: “We did not always agree, but established very clear common ground in a shared desire for the Masses to continue and to succeed.”

After criticizing the Catholics praying outside the Soho Masses, Longley told the Tablet, “It is always very difficult for people to hear absolutes and I think in our own culture today it is very hard because our culture is not attuned to hearing about and receiving teaching on absolute truth, so every pastor has to present the Church’s teaching accurately and clearly, sensitively also, because what is said has to be heard to be effective.”

To contact Archbishop Longley:

Phone: + 0121 236 9090
Fax: + 0121 212 0171
Email: fr_martin.pratt@rc-birmingham.org