London’s Archbishop Welcomes LGBT Community to a New Pastoral Home

March 7, 2013

soho MassesAt the beginning of January, Bondings 2.0 reported on London’s Soho Masses for the LGBT community being transferred to a new location and operated under a different model of pastoral ministry.  That story made headlines because the Soho Masses were a pastoral accommodation made by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, but had also been the subject of some criticism by conservative Catholics, reaching to the Vatican.

This past Sunday, the Soho Masses community moved to their new location at the Jesuit-run Immaculate Conception parish, Farm Street, in the Mayfair section of London.  In the new model of ministry, the LGBT community will not have a separate Mass, but will attend the Sunday evening Mass of the parish with the rest of the worshiping community.  Additionally, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council will work with the parish to expand outreach and ministerial programs to the LGBT community of London.

The new model of ministry got off to a good start, with a noteworthy visit from Archbishop Nichols himself to welcome the community. The Independent newspaper reports:

“In a remarkable gesture of goodwill, the Archbishop of Westminster made a private address to the united congregation after yesterday’s service – the first time a senior figure in the Roman Catholic church has formally engaged with the LGBT community.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

When the change had been announced, there had been some suggestion that Archbishop Nichols was forced by the Vatican to try to close down the pastoral outreach.  His presence at the first Mass to welcome the community shows that he is firmly committed to making the church a welcoming place for LGBT people.  His gesture shows how pastoral leaders can help to ease any discomfort that a change may entail, and it also stands as an example to the rest of the faith community about the importance of welcoming LGBT people.

The leadership of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council are excited about the new opportunity for community and ministry, while realizing that the transition may be difficult for some.  The Independent carried the comments of one leader:

“Despite a sense of betrayal in the LGBT Catholic community, some churchgoers, including Soho Masses Pastoral Council member Mark Dowd, were hopeful about what an integrated service would mean:

” ‘I’m excited because a lot of Catholics still don’t know any gay men or lesbians… This is a chance to make our face known and become formally part of the community,’ he said yesterday. ‘In a perfect world none of us would describe or define ourselves by our sexual orientation… there wouldn’t be a need for a special designated space. But it’s not a perfect world.’ “

Dowd also commented on the significance of Nichols’ pastoral visit to the first Mass:

“There are those critics of Vincent Nichols who would say that he is not on the progressive side of the argument, but to sit down and actually acknowledge the existence of our community has to be something.”

Here in the U.S., LGBT Catholics have sought such opportunities for many years, with few opportunities to dialogue with a bishop.

Catholic blogger Terence Weldon, at QueeringTheChurch.com, attended the first Mass and described the positive atmosphere of the event, as well as his hopes for the future:

“Tonight (Sunday 3rd March) I went up to London for the first Mass of the integration of the Soho Masses Community into the Farm Street parish of the Church of the Immaculate Conception – and came home more confident than ever that this transition will work out to our advantage. There will be short-term disappointments and teething problems, but these will be dealt with in time. In the longer run, we will benefit from the improved physical space, the greater resources of the Parish and the Mount Street Jesuit Centre for growth in faith and spirituality, and for opportunities to grow as part of a wider community – simultaneously influencing and learning from them.”

Weldon’s post describes the event in full, and he also corrects some of the inaccuracies of a press report of the event.  You can read his entire comments here and here.  If you want more information on this topic, they are an excellent resource.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

One final note about the new parish location.  This is the same parish which rejected Oscar Wilde as a parishioner back in the 1890s after he completed his prison sentence on “gross indecency” and sodomy charges.   Reconciliation can happen on all levels, even the historical one.   In an International Businss Times  article, Dowd commented on the historical significance of the parish:

“Oscar Wilde was turned away; they didn’t want to be associated with him. Now the Jesuits are saying: ‘It’s OK, it’s fine.’ “

We pray the Soho Masses community receive every blessing as they settle into their new pastoral home.  We pray, too, that similar models of ministry here in the U.S. be accorded the pastoral support that Archbishop Nichols has demonstrated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation

August 13, 2012

The Times of London, England, has published a letter to the editor today from 27 prominent British Catholics expressing support for the United Kingdom’s proposed legislation to legalize same-gender marriage.  (It is not possible to link to the text on the Times’ website because a subscription is required to access letters to the editor.)

The 27 signatories include James Alison (theologian & priest), Tina Beattie (theologian), Mary Grey (theologian), Bernard Lynch (priest), Martin Pendergast (Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality).

The text of the letter reads:

“Sir,  Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the submission by the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales  to the Government’s equal civil marriage consultation indicates a growing understanding about legislating for same-sex unions, compared with its 2003 position, when it firmly opposed civil partnerships.

“It seems  to us, as Catholic laity, theologians and clergy, important to uphold some key pastoral care principles used by the Catholic Church in England & Wales. Its 1979 guidelines stated that the Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society.

“In 1997 Cardinal Hume wrote that love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. This respect demands that such loving relationships be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles. He proposed three criteria for considering issues of social policy: are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be undermined by a change in law? Would society’s rejection of a proposed change be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change? Does a person’s sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens? We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

The full list of signers:

James Alison, Theologian & priest
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (LGBT Catholics)
Tina Beattie, Theologian  
Mike Castelli, Educationalist
Mark Dowd, Journalist
Michael Egan, Chair, Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Maria ExallChair, Trade Unions Congress LGBT Committee
John Falcone, Theologian
Eileen Fitzpatrick, Educationalist
Kieran Fitszimons, Priest
Mary Grey, Theologian
Kevin Kelly, Theologian & priest
Ted Le Riche, Retired educationalist
Bernard Lynch, Priest
Gerard Loughlin, Theologian
Francis McDonagh, Lay-person
Patrick McLoughlin, Priest
Anthony Maggs, Priest
Lorraine Milford, Lay-person
Frank Nally, Priest                                                                                                                                                                                                       Martin Pendergast, Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality                                                                                         Sophie Stanes, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                       Joe Stanley, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                   Valerie Stroud, Chair, Catholics for a Changing Church                                                                                                                                Terry Weldon, Editor, Queering the Church                                                                                                                                            Matias Wibowo, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                           Deborah Woodman, Clinical Psychologist

Congratulations and many thanks for this thoughtful piece.  Let’s hope and pray that Catholic leaders in other countries, particularly the United States, will speak out as clearly and forthrightly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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