Jan 022013
Vincent Nichols

Special fortnightly “Soho masses” held for gay and lesbian Catholics at a central London church for the past six years are to end, the archbishop of Westminster has announced.

The services, intended to be particularly welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Catholics, had been held with the blessing of senior clergy at the Our Lady of the Assumption church in the West End but had attracted criticism from traditionalists.

The cancellation will be seen as a victory for those who lobbied for an end to what they see as an affront to church teachings. The move comes as the Catholic church fights plans for same-sex marriage.

In a statement the diocese of Westminster said while the services would stop, “pastoral care of the community will continue” at the Jesuit Farm church in Mayfair, central London, on Sunday evenings.

In a statement on the Catholic Herald website, the archbishop, Vincent Nichols, said: “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.”

The services attracted protests despite assurances they would not become a platform for challenging biblical teaching. Catholic teaching on homosexuality calls on gay people to lead chaste lives.

Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, added: “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 as 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.”

He said after six years of the masses, it was “time for a new phase”.

Nichols said the original aim of this pastoral provision was to enable people with same-sex attraction to enter more fully into the life of the church, within the existing parish structures.

But, he added, it was important to recognise a distinction must be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the mass as the “highest prayer of the whole church”.

“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,” the archbishop said, adding it would not include “the organisation of a regular mass”.

The church where the services took place will be given to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the body set up by Rome to cater for those who have defected from the Church of England. The new arrangements will come into effect during Lent in mid-February, the runup to Easter.

Critics of the special services included the former Catholic Herald editor Dr William Oddie, who accused church leaders of supporting a “homosexual lifestyle”. He said it was clear “beyond peradventure that those who attend the masses are nearly all what the archdiocese calls ‘non-celibate gay people’ who intend to continue to defy Catholic teaching”.

In an article in the Catholic Herald in November, Oddie said the masses were “the most potentially inflammatory source of division between Rome and Westminster”. Meanwhile, in his blog, the Daily Telegraph’s religious affairs commentator, Damian Thompson, described the services as “an embarrassment; a relic of old-style gay rights campaigning that scandalised large numbers of Catholics”.

Caroline Davies

Gay mass services in Soho abolished by archbishop of Westminster | UK news | guardian.co.uk