LONDON, March 5, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a statement released late last month the Catholic archbishop of Westminster “reaffirmed” the “intention and purpose” of the 2007 Pastoral Provision for ministry to homosexuals while suggesting that the way it is being carried out may be under review. The Provision established the notorious “gay” Masses, held at a parish in the Soho district of London that have drawn heavy criticism for the past five years.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols wrote in the statement that the foundations of the Pastoral Provision are “the moral principles concerning chastity and the Church’s teaching on sexual activity, and the pastoral care of Catholics who are of same-sex orientation.”
However, while expressing support for the idea behind the masses, he said that currently “consideration is being given to the circumstances in which these Masses are celebrated to ensure that their purpose is respected and that they are not occasions for confusion or opposition concerning the positive teaching of the Church on the meaning of human sexuality or the moral imperatives that flow from that teaching, which we uphold and towards which we all strive.”
The statement has received a mixed reception among Catholics who have campaigned against the Masses. Critics have complained repeatedly to the archdiocese and have sent written and photographic evidence to Vatican officials that Catholic teaching on sexuality is ignored or openly contradicted at the Masses. Participants at the Masses, they say, make no secret of their lack of interest in giving up homosexual activity.
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Daphne McLeod of the campaign group Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice told LifeSiteNews.com that the scandal of the Soho Masses is the worst-kept secret in the British Church, and participants at the Masses, “don’t even pretend to be chaste.” She said members of her group regularly attend the Masses and have spoken with participants who say that they have never heard from the pulpit that they should not indulge in homosexual activity.
The criticism has stung Catholic leadership in England, and publicly both Nichols and his predecessor Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor have insisted that the Masses are aimed to welcome those who struggle with same-sex attraction and intend to live chaste lives according to the teaching of the Church. In a BBC interview in 2010, Bernard Longley, a former auxiliary of Westminster and now archbishop of Birmingham called the objectors “judgmental” and Archbishop Nichols said that they should “hold their tongues”.
But McLeod defended her group’s position, saying, “We are just reacting to the facts we’ve been given” by regular participants at the Masses. “They walk up to communion hand in hand. They never hear from the pulpit they shouldn’t do it. They have talked to us and said, ‘We don’t know it’s wrong, the priest never tells us’.”
“We’re not being judgmental,” she added. “They tell us quite openly what they’re doing.”
Some prominent British Catholic bloggers and commentators have praised the statement, calling it “good news.” Joanna Bogle, an author and well-known Catholic personality wrote on her popular blog that the statement indicates that Archbishop Nichols may be coming around.
“A new approach seems to have been signaled about something in London which has been all wrong for too long,” she said. “Things look set to change… This is good news and what happens next needs our prayers.”
Deacon Nick Donnelly, who runs the “Protect the Pope” blog, also welcomed the statement, calling it “good news” and saying that it “signifies an important shift in [Nichols’] position on the Soho Masses.”
“Before the Holy Father’s visit the archbishop expressed, in intemperate language that those Catholics concerned about public dissent at the Soho Masses should ‘hold their tongues’. Now 18 months later Archbishop Nichols has admitted the concern that the Soho Masses could be occasions for confusion and opposition to the Church’s teaching and needs investigating. This is exactly the claim made by Daphne McLeod and Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice,” Donnelly wrote.
But McLeod said that so far there is no concrete indication in the statement of any plans to change the current situation.
The organizers of the Soho Masses, who are open about their goals to change Catholic teaching and accept homosexual behaviour as normal, have also warmly welcomed Nichols’ statement.
Quoting New Testament passages on “speaking the truth in love,” Terrence Weldon, a member of the Soho Mass Pastoral Council, wrote in a piece for the liberal Catholic magazine The Tablet, “These verses epitomise the importance of the Soho Masses. For this reason I am glad that the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has this week reaffirmed his support for the Masses and also comfortable with his reminding that they must not oppose or confuse church teaching.”
“Gay men and lesbians know the benefits to mental health of living the truth, by coming out honestly in the truth of their lives. The closet is a lie. We need to be honest, and that includes honesty in Church,” Weldon wrote.
He denied that the Mass is used as an occasion for “sexual hook-ups,” but admitted that “the question of celibacy is not directly discussed or even raised.” There is only, “a tacit understanding of the Church’s teaching, including its teaching on conscience.”
On the comments section of the article, Martin Pendergast, a former priest currently living in a civil partnership with another man also commented, “Those of us who have been long-committed members of the Church, and are involved in other parishes, find our participation in the Soho Masses community a source of nourishment for our other commitments.”
Pendergast is another member of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council and is a well-known figure in the homosexualist activist community whose “partner” is the former head of the Catholic bishops’ charitable organisation CAFOD. Pendergast is a founding member of the “Cutting Edge Consortium,” a political lobby group that opposes opt-outs from Equality legislation that would allow churches to refuse to ordain or hire active homosexuals.
Despite her group’s misgivings, McLeod told LSN that some of the wording in the statement is clearly intended to be conciliatory. She said that although it has seemed their efforts have been fruitless, the statement’s language possibly indicates that Nichols is under some pressure from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to clean up the scandal.
“We all wondered about it,” she said, “and we can only think that he’s under pressure from Rome. This makes us very hopeful.”