Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has this morning released a statement on some important changes to the diocesan arrangements for pastoral care of LGBT Catholics (which he refers to, in typical Vatican speak, as “those who experience same-sex attraction”, but we all know what he means.
As this news could easily be misinterpreted, and will be so misinterpreted in some quarters, I am publishing below Archbishop Nichols’ statement, in full.
A proper and full response should not be undertaken without careful reflection, but there some crucial points to be made immediately:
The statement emphasises, right at the outset, the importance of pastoral care which responds appropriately to the “difficulties and isolation they can experience and by the imperative of Christ’s love for all”.
This statement in no way ends the existing model of pastoral care, but takes it into “a new phase”, with a shift of emphasis from organizing Mass twice a month, to pastoral provision in its fullest sense. Included in the full statement are these important lines:
I am, therefore, asking the group which has, in recent years, helped to organise the celebration of Mass on two Sundays of each month at Warwick Street now to focus their effort on the provision of pastoral care. This includes many of the activities which have recently been developed and it is to be conducted fully in accordance with the teaching of the Church. Such pastoral care 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.
In my own letter to Archbishop Nichols last year, I noted how this side of our activities have expanded since our move from St Anne’s, and how the SMPC has been looking at ways to expand this still further. This shift in emphasis from the diocese thus is fully in accordance with my own perception of the direction in which we should be going – and one that I welcome.
The SMPC as we now know it is not being sidelined, but entrusted with greater responsibility. We will no longer be organising the Masses – but the Jesuits do a fine job themselves. Free of the burden of preparing all the details of the Mass, it will be easier to extend our celebrations from just twice a month, to a regular weekly service – and to concentrate more actively on the pastoral provision, as described.
We will need to find a new name – but what we have come to know as “Soho Masses” are not ending, but expanding.
Statement from the Diocese of Westminster
2 January 2013
- Many people come to the Church with the hope of finding understanding, compassion, mercy and truth. The Church endeavours to respond to their hope through the provision of pastoral care. For many years now the Diocese of Westminster has sought to extend the pastoral care of the Church to those who experience same-sex attraction. This care has been motivated by an awareness of the difficulties and isolation they can experience and by the imperative of Christ’s love for all. In recent years this pastoral care has focused on the celebration of Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Warwick Street.
- Over these years, the situation of people with same-sex attraction has changed both socially and in civil law. However the principles of the pastoral care to be offered by the Church and the Church’s teaching on matters of sexual morality have not. First among the principles of pastoral care is the innate dignity of every person and the respect in which they must be held. Also, of great importance, is the teaching of the Church that a person must not be identified by their sexual orientation. The moral teaching of the Church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life. As I stated in March 2012, this means ‘that many types of sexual activity, including same-sex sexual activity, are not consistent with the teaching of the Church. No individual, bishop, priest or lay-person, is in a position to change this teaching of the Church which we hold to be God-given.’ (Catholic Herald article 17 March 2012). This is the calling to which we must all strive.
- At this point, and after six years of the pastoral care offered at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, it is time for a new phase. Two considerations give shape to this new phase. The first is to recall that the original aim of this pastoral provision at Warwick Street was to enable people with same-sex attraction ‘to enter more fully into the life of the Church’ ‘specifically within the existing parish structures’ (Diocese of Westminster press statement 2 Feb 2007). The second is the importance of recognising that there is a distinction to be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the Mass. The Mass is always to retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church. This ‘universal’ character of the Mass is to be nurtured and clearly expressed in the manner of every celebration. The purpose of all pastoral care, on the other hand, is to encourage and enable people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances, to come to participate fully and worthily in the celebration of the Mass in the midst of the whole Church, the people summoned by the Lord to give him, together, worthy service and praise.
- I am, therefore, asking the group which has, in recent years, helped to organise the celebration of Mass on two Sundays of each month at Warwick Street now to focus their effort on the provision of pastoral care. This includes many of the activities which have recently been developed and it is to be conducted fully in accordance with the teaching of the Church. Such pastoral care 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. In order to assist in this important work, I am grateful to the Jesuit Fathers of the Parish of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street who have agreed to make premises available on Sunday evenings and are ready to extend a welcome to this group. I have asked Mgr Seamus O’Boyle to continue to offer my support and guidance for this group.
- At the same time, the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption is being dedicated to the life of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for their groups in central London. I hope that the use of this beautiful Church, in which the young John Henry Newman first attended Mass, will enable Catholics in the Ordinariate to prosper and to offer to others the particular gifts of the Ordinariate.
- These new arrangements are to come into effect during Lent 2013.
 Letter from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – October 1986
“The human person made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties – but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: a creature of God, and by grace, His child and heir to eternal life.”
- Archbishop of Westminster cancels special mass for gay people (independent.co.uk)