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The church which turned away Oscar Wilde after he was charged with sodomy and gross indecency is now to open its doors to LGBT Catholics, after the announcement that the Soho masses would come to an end.
Sunday night marked the final ever ‘Soho mass’ for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Catholics at its central London church. LGBT Catholics will be offered ‘pastoral support’, but not the opportunity to worship Jesus instead.
In January, The Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, who leads the Catholic Church in England and Wales, announced that masses throughout Soho in central London, aimed specifically at LGBT people, were to end.
He said the masses held at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Soho, central London, were out of line with the church’s main teaching on sexuality.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, in Mayfair which refused a request from gay writer, Oscar Wilde, almost 116 years ago, after he asked them to grant him a six month retreat, is to provide mass for those who used to attend at Soho.
Renate Rothwell, a regular at the Soho mass, told the Guardian that she was anxious about how those displaced by its end would settle into the Jesuit church.
She said: “I just feel let down by the church,” she said. “We built a house on sand in Warwick Street because church teaching is what it is. That seems to have brought us to a fall and now they’re doing it in the Jesuit parish … who’s to say if we become a nuisance to them they’re not going to do the same?”
She went on to say that the Soho congregation, which has about 150 members, never had the intention of challenging the teaching of the Catholic Church. She said: ”The first agreement we made was that we weren’t ever going to campaign – and we stuck to that,” she said. “It was a proper mass and the liturgy was in line with the church’s teaching. We never did that.”
Mentioning Gerhard Ludwig Muller, appointed prefect of the Contregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in July, and was strongly opposed to the idea of the Soho masses, Rothwell said: “I think the Catholic church is quite homophobic.
“I don’t know an awful lot about the politics, but I think [Muller] just followed the hard line and said: ‘No, I want these masses closed.’”
One organiser of the Soho masses, Mark Dowd, defended Vincent Nichols. Many Catholics had left the church over the introduction of the Soho masses.
He said: ”You could say this is dreadful, you’re giving this church to these very rightwing, traditional ex-Anglicans and kicking the gays out… But poor old archbishops have always got to play these games where they’ve got a certain number of chess pieces to move round.”
Commenting on the change of heart by the Jesuit Church since Oscar Wilde’s time, Dowd said: “Oscar Wilde was turned away; they didn’t want to be associated with him,” he said. “Now the Jesuits are saying: ‘It’s OK, it’s fine.’”
The mass at Farm Street will first be attended by the LGBT worshippers on 3 March 2013, where they will be joined by Vincent Nichols.
Joseph Patrick McCormick