London Cardinal Celebrates Mass with LGBT Catholics

May 13, 2015

LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official archdiocesan ministry for gender and sexual minorities in London, England.  Their ministry has flourished for over a decade, and recently they experienced a big step forward from their diocese.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, joined LGBT Catholics and their families for Mass last Sunday, at the Jesuit church of the Immaculate Conception, where the group meets on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month.  Cardinal Nichols has been a strong supporter of the group, even when faced with harsh criticism from local detractors.  This was the first time that he joined the group for Eucharistic liturgy.

The church was packed with congregants and the cardinal thanked the parish and the LGBT group for journeying together in this pastoral outreach.

He used the occasion to sermonize on the idea that God has no favorites and that mercy must be foremost in Catholics’ minds and hearts.  A summary of the homily provided by LGBT Catholics Westminster:

Affirming that in God’s mercy and love, all are acceptable and accepted, the Cardinal warned against those who would set God’s mercy and Commandments against each other. It is this understanding of mercy which is informing so much of Pope Francis’ ministry, and also the Synods’ processes. The Commandments  are not simply regulations imposed from on high, but indications of how God’s mercy can be received and embraced as we journey in the transformation to which we are called. The Cardinal emphasised that it is in the Eucharist that we become what we see: the Body of Christ.

You can read the text of the cardinal’s sermon by clicking here.

LGBT Catholics Westminster welcomed Cardinal Nichols, offering new musical pieces, including Live every day in my love, based on the day’s Gospel reading, and a new version of Psalm 97.

Nichols’ occurred near the anniversary of the group’s 1999 founding after “the homophobic-motivated bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub” in London’s Soho neighborhood, reports The Tablet. Nichols previously supported the Soho Masses, though asked them to integrate into the Jesuit-run Farm Street Church in 2013 as part of the Archdiocese of Westminster’s LGBT pastoral plan.

When the group moved to the new location, Cardinal Nichols paid a pastoral visit to welcome them to the parish.

Nichols was named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis, in his first set of cardinal appointments at the beginning of 2014.

At the end of last year’s extraordinary synod, he told the press that he did not vote for the paragraphs addressing lesbian and gay topics because he felt that the important words of “welcome,” “respect,” and “value” were missing from them.

In the United States in the 1990’s, I recall two bishops presiding at Masses for the LGBT communities in their dioceses:  Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, NY, and Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Virginia.  Both events attracted overflowing crowds.

Why aren’t more U.S. bishops following these examples?  A little kindness can go a long way.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Rest in Peace: Bishop Walter Sullivan

December 13, 2012
Bishop Walter Sullivan

Bishop Walter Sullivan

With a heavy heart, we report the passing of Bishop Walter Sullivan, retired Ordinary of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.   As a past president of Pax Christi USA, Bishop Sullivan is best known for his work on peace issues.  However, no less significant is Bishop Sullivan’s contributions to LGBT equality.  Here are  a few of his accomplishments:

  1. Establishing the Sexual Minorities Commission, the first diocesan outreach to LGBT people, back in 1976
  2. Writing the introduction to A Challenge to Love:  Gay and Lesbian Catholics in the Church (edited by New Ways Ministry co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS).
  3. Hosting the second national convention of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries in 1996.  (The organization is now called the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.)
  4. In1997, he hosted a Mass for LGBT people and their families and friends at the diocesan cathedral.  He opened the liturgy by saying,  “You belong here.  It’s about time somebody says that to you.”

Also in 1976, Bishop Sullivan spoke out in support of lesbian/gay civil rights, stating in the Richmond News Leader:

“The issue before our community and the [human rights] commission, however, is not the morality of a person’s sexual orientation, but rather a person’s rights and protection under the law.  We believe that a person’s sexual orientation, whether it is one we approve or disapprove, is not a proper ground for depriving  that person of the basic rights and protections that belong to all human beings. “

From a statement such as this, we can see that Bishop Sullivan was one of the first Catholic bishops to apply the church’s social justice and human rights traditions to the LGBT community.

Bishop Sullivan was not averse to applying that tradition to church structures, too.  In his introduction to A Challenge to Love, he stated:

“. . . we cannot remain satisfied that, once we have clearly articulated the official Church position on homosexuality, nothing else remains to be done in the area of pastoral care for homosexual people and education on this topic for the larger human community, including the families and friends of homosexual people.  This is especially true in those cases where the teaching of the Church itself has been presented in such a way that it has been the source or occasion of some of the pain and alienation that many homosexual Catholics experience.  We cannot overlook those injustices, including rejection, hostility, or indifference on the part of Christians, that have resulted in a denial of respect or of full participation in the community for homosexual people.  We must examine our own hearts and consciences and know that each of us stands in need of real conversion in this area. “

Bishop Sullivan was a good friend of New Ways Ministry over the years.  When he first established the Sexual Minorities Commission, he invited our co-founders, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Nugent, to lead the first retreat for the commission members.

I had the good fortune to meet Bishop Sullivan on several occasions, both in the context of peace activities and LGBT ministry.  He always had a warm smile and a joke or two to share.  His good humor and expansive spirit was remembered by others in a National Catholic Reporter article about his life and his death:

“Sullivan will be remembered as ‘a happy and tireless warrior for justice and peace,’ said retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Houston, a former president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

” ‘He truly believed in the priesthood of the laity and their essential role in the life and mission of the church,’ Fiorenza told NCR.

“Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, a longtime observer of the Catholic scene in the country, concurred.

” ‘It would be hard to find anyone like Sullivan in the American hierarchy today,’ Reese said. ‘He was a liberal bishop passionately committed to social justice and peace.’ “

Though, as Fr. Reese notes, there are no other current bishops who share Bishop Sullivan’s passion and spirit, those of us who mourn his passing can take comfort in the fact that we now have a new saint in heaven to intercede for us in areas of peace, church reform, and LGBT equality and justice.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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