The Vatican “Mess” Over Gay Mass

Among the numerous commentaries on the move of the Westminster Masses for LGBT Catholics, their friends and families from Soho to Mayfair, is one by Andrew Brown, at the Guardian. Like many other commentaries, this contains some factual errors (the Masses were never weekly, but only twice a month. They have not been shut down, but moved from Warwick Street to Farm Street – where they will be weekly). Nevertheless, the commentary, rather than the facts, is sound.

The Catholic church makes a mess of gay masses

The Vatican has stamped on the Soho masses. It’s a victory for conservatives, but the ‘problem’ of gay Catholics won’t go away

altar boy incense

For the past six years there have been Catholics praying on a London pavement every Sunday to try to stop other Catholics attending mass. The “gay masses” at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Soho, became a global symbol of the church’s struggles over homosexuality. Within the church was a congregation that went on gay pride marches: outside it were campaigners for gay shame.

For the past six years there have been Catholics praying on a London pavement every Sunday to try to stop other Catholics attending mass. The “gay masses” at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Soho, became a global symbol of the church’s struggles over homosexuality. Within the church was a congregation that went on gay pride marches: outside it were campaigners for gay shame.

Indeed, these Masses have been a global symbol of the church’s struggle with the “problem”. The Vatican’s most infamous and hurtful public statement on the subject, known within the gay community as the “Hallowe’en letter” of 1989, is titled “Homosexualitatis Problema (The Problem of Homosexuality)“. The problem, however, is not of homosexuality itself, which is entirely natural, and accepted as so by an increasing proportion of humanity and in many countries, by a majority of Catholics. The problem, as Brown observes, is with the Vatican struggles with the challenge of dealing with the inconsistencies in its own teachings on sexual ethics, especially in loving, comitted same – sex relationships, and the incompatibility of that disordered, dangerous and sometimes disordered doctrine with the simple realities of science, and of changing public understanding of sexuality, in all its forms. That is why these Masses became a global symbol of the Catholic Church’s struggles over sexual realities – and why, to many LGBT Catholics world – wide, a symbol of hope, a beacon of light in the darkness.

Once the lidless eye of the CDF was turned against them the masses were doomed. The English hierarchy, which had protected them from their inception, has now withdrawn their protection.

A statement by Archbishop Vincent Nichols announced that the masses would end in Lent this year, and would be replaced by “pastoral care”, based around the Jesuit church in Farm Street, which would not involve a celebration of communion.

 This is grievously inaccurate. It is not true that the British hierarchy has in any way “withdrawn  protection”. Both the senior bishops in the Church in England and Wales have expressed clear and continuing support. All that has substantively changed, is that the Masses will be moved from Warwick Street, where the opposition was visible, vocal, and to LGBT Catholics a symbol of all that is wrong with the response of so many of our coreligionists, to an alternative location – where the opportunities for further growth and development of the congregation will be substantially greater – and “protection” easier. I do not see this as a sign of the protection being withdrawn, but extended.

It is also totally wrong to state that this will not involve a celebration of communion. The Eucharist is the central focus of any Catholic Mass, and will be as much so at our new home, as it has been up to now. Nor is Mass being “replaced” by pastoral care, which has had an increasingly prominent part of our activities at Warwick Street alongside just the Mass twice a month – but which, given the nature of that parish and church building, has been difficult to expand as much as we would have liked. The move now planned, with the vastly superior physical and spiritual resources of the Jesuit parish now accessible to us, makes it substantially easier to undertake the expanded provision we were seeking to do – and this will be done by precisely the same team that  has done so, up to now.

The rest of the commentary is sounder, especially in his observation that Vatican panic is fuelled in part, by anxiety over gay marriage, and the inconsistencies in Catholic practice, between provision for LGBT Catholics, and others whose lives lie outside of Vatican orthodoxy. If gay Catholics can possibly be seen as remotely normal, an participating in the Church on a basis of equality with others outside of Vatican orthodoxy – people for example, like the divorced and remarried, or loving and committed couples expressing their love sexually before marriage, or planning their families after marriage with the help of artificial contraception – then the rationale for the Vatican opposition to gay marriage begins to crumble at its foundations. With it, goes a substantial part of the Vatican’s entire basis for its autocratic style of power and control, which are so contrary to the Gospel message.

The campaigners objected to the idea that there were people within the congregation receiving communion every week despite the fact that they had sex outside marriage, repeatedly and without sincere repentance. The masses, they said, had become a dating agency.

Quite possibly this did happen to some extent. Any gathering of Catholic laypeople defined both by their celibacy and by their interest in sex could in a way be described as a dating agency. In fact, when this sort of activity is called youth work, and involves both sexes, the church is all for it. But then there is an acceptable terminus to the interest. Happy heterosexual couples can get married and cure their celibacy, possibly even their happiness, with the full blessing of the church. Gay people can’t. In fact, the campaign against gay marriage is probably what made the masses seem a really dangerous experiment in Rome: once gay people are seen as entirely normal and with the same kind of longings as everyone else, who knows what rights may not be granted them?

A conservative could argue that the same applies with divorced and separated Catholics. They are not meant to take communion if they remarry. Many do, of course, but the rules are clear. So far as I know, there are no special masses for divorced and separated Catholics in Britain (there are in America) though there are support groups where – horrible thought – adults might fall in love, which might lead to dancing.

However, gatherings of divorced and separated Catholics aren’t picketed. So far as I know, remarried Catholics aren’t rejected by their congregations, any more than couples who use artificial birth control. They are both accepted as being part of the normal human condition. Gay people aren’t so much, especially by older Catholics.

Now, here’s the supreme irony in this move: instead of “shutting down” these Masses, as the campaigners had hoped, we will instead be celebrating Mass weekly, with a superbly increased resource base for expanding precisely the kind of pastoral care activities we had in any case been planning.  Much of the opposition has pointed at me personally, and my own participation and role. But instead of gradually reducing my involvement to once a month, as I had been considering to make space for more active involvement in my local parish and diocese, I will instead be participating from now on, every week.

What absolutely won’t happen is that the problem will somehow go away. Some gay people will go on being Catholics, and some Catholics – a disproportionate number, I suspect – will continue to be gay. Religion is fundamentally about questions of identity, and gay people have more cause than most to take seriously the mysteries of their own identity. The masses may be over, but the mess will continue.

No, we are not going away. Instead of being squashed out of existence, our community of openly and unashamedly LGBT Catholics will henceforth be worshipping and participating in a full range of parish activities, alongside a large and influential other Catholics (many of whom may also be gay, but closeted, and others will have gay children or other family). More than ever before, we will come to be seen as normal.

Seven years ago, our opponents were actively campaigning against what they thought of as the “sacrilege” of gay Catholics openly celebrating Mass in an Anglican church. Pleading with the Cardinal to have these ended, they got their wish. Soon after, our congregation was moved out of the Anglican church, and into an Anglican one. Our congregation grew and flourished, and the opposition stepped up their campaign and hostility.

Again, they have campaigned vigorously for a stop to these Masses in Soho. They have got their wish. These Masses are being moved to Farm Street, where I confidently expect they will continue to grow and flourish.

Message to the opposition:

Be careful what you wish for.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

4 comments for “The Vatican “Mess” Over Gay Mass

  1. January 6, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    “Pleading with the Cardinal to have these ended, they got their wish. Soon after, our congregation was moved out of the Anglican church, and into an Anglican one.”

    Huh?

  2. Raphael Wong
    January 24, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Sigh … why can’t you people just reconcile with the Vatican? This useless anti-clerical posturing is just handing the Church’s secularist enemies Christ’s head on a silver plate, so to speak.

    Well, at least you are confined to London … for the time being …

Leave a Reply