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William Oddie FAITH Magazine September-October 2010

Ecclesial Co-operation with Homosexual Activism

The affair of the Soho Masses has rumbled on for years now; and it has become one of the defining issues of the Catholic Church in England at the beginning of the new Millennium. That sounds a little pompous, maybe: but I predict nevertheless what, at my age, I will not live to see - that when the history of the English Church in this dire period for its fortunes is written, this subject will merit more than a passing footnote.

The question the affair poses is very simple: are those set in authority over us, the bishops, at this juncture in our history prepared to defend the teaching of the Church as though it were indeed, as Catholics have always believed, part of a body of faith given by God and not constructed by men?

The latest phase in the story began in February 2007. The Telegraph's headline was "Cardinal's permission for gays' Mass dismays Catholic traditionalists":

"Homosexual rights campaigners have gained permission from the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales to hold Mass for gay parishioners.

"While the Church has allowed celibate gays to receive holy communion, traditionalist Catholics believe that practising homosexuals should be barred from the sacramental rite because their way of life defies Church teaching.

"Now, however, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has taken the controversial step of allowing fortnightly Masses in his Westminster diocese specifically for homosexuals.

"A statement from the diocese stressed that the move did not represent a shift in Church teaching, which says that homosexual practice is a sin and that non-celibate gay people should not be given Communion."

In fact, the masses had been going on for some years in a nearby Anglican church. Their move to a Catholic church was taken as meaning only one thing: that despite the lip-service being paid by the diocese to the teaching that "non-celibate gay people should not be given Communion", the diocese of Westminster was in fact giving its tacit approval and support to a situation in which that was precisely what was happening, in a setting in which the Pope and the teaching of the Church were regarded with hostility and held up to contempt.

These are serious accusations, but I think they can be substantiated. I can do so most simply by referring to the astonishing reaction to a blog on the subject of the Soho Masses I wrote in July for The Catholic Herald. The blog was brief, a mere 426 words. The comments, passionate on both sides of the argument, added up to a word count of nearly 11,000 after a week, and they were still coming in as I wrote this.

There were two main themes. Firstly, how did I know that those who attended these Masses were "non-celibate"? "Unless" as one correspondent commented "you are in possession of intimately-acquired knowledge of every Soho Mass-goer's sex life." Well, of course I wasn't, as another pointed out, any more than he knew who at Mass was using condoms and who wasn't. My original correspondent returned to the charge:

"William, have you or The Catholic Herald put the question: 'Are the vast majority of your attendees at the Soho Masses practising, non-celibate homosexuals?' or indeed a similar question to the Soho Masses Pastoral Council? If not, how can they possibly deny the charge unless you put the charge to them?"

- to which I replied that in my blog I had in effect put the charge; that the said Soho Masses Pastoral Council (SMPC) had not denied it; and that it was clear to me that they weren't going to. (Nor did they, and nor have they yet.) At this point, the evidence of those opposed to the Masses who had actually attended one started pouring in. "I can confirm," wrote one correspondent, "as one who went along to one of these Masses, and then went 'downstairs' (to the hall underneath the church) for tea afterwards, that the vast majority of the men there were quite open about a) their dissent from Church teaching; b) their disliking of the Pope; c) the fact that they had 'boyfriends'. If you want proof, just go to one of these sacrilegious Masses yourself, and you'll soon shut up".Another recounted that "My friends and I were there ... when those Masses began. I myself chatted with various members of the Gay Attendees after Mass. All of them that I spoke to admitted that they were practising sex. Two Lesbians told me that they were very much in love and to defend their undying love for each other, they told me that they have been sleeping together, sharing the same bed for over 20 years. I have seen men actually kissing in the congregation. I have actually seen with my own eyes, a man fondling another man's backside, rubbing him and squeezing him on the way up to Holy Communion. I have witnessed overt flirting amongst homosexuals. They seem to get extra FLIRTY when Fr Timothy Radcliffe is the celebrant."

The other main theme was the more fundamental one of what Catholic belief actually consists of. It emerges with stark clarity that the Soho Masses are built on the unshakeable foundation of a belief that what the Church teaches, as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other manifestations of the Magisterium, is not to be taken seriously as an expression of what Catholics ought to believe.

One correspondent expressed what was clearly the dominant view among those who attend the Masses, that "It is not the teaching of the 'Church' that we should refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage, but the doctrine of the Vatican. The 'Church' includes all Catholics, from the Pope in Rome, down to ordinary lay people in the pews. Research shows clearly that most Catholics differ from the official doctrine on virtually all matters of sexual ethics.

The overwhelming majority reject and ignore Humanae Vitae, and most Catholics in the UK and the rest of Europe, and the US are also known (from research evidence) to disagree that sexual relations before marriage, [by] masturbation, after divorce, or between same sex couples are morally wrong".

One reply offered the following statement by John Paul II to establish that the teaching of the Catechism was more than just that of "the Vatican": "It can be said", the Pope had asserted, "that this Catechism is the result of the collaboration of the whole Episcopate of the Catholic Church, who generously accepted my invitation to share responsibility for an enterprise which directly concerns the life of the Church. This response elicits in me a deep feeling of joy, because the harmony of so many voices truly expresses what could be called the 'symphony' of the faith. The achievement of this Catechism thus reflects the collegial nature of the Episcopate; it testifies to the Church's catholicity." To which, depressingly but predictably came this: "Your response simply confirms my point:it may have been extensive collaboration between Cardinals and bishops - but where were the rest of us?"

A new correspondent now said what needed to be said. You've heard it and said it all a thousand times, but it's worth putting on the record that in this extended online debate it was clearly and lucidly said again:

"That the Church is or should be some kind of democratic club where we all have a say in what is taught, is patently ridiculous.... In the simplest possible terms, God reveals His will to us through the Church, as long as it is teaching what has been believed from the beginning. He's not revealing to us that any old religion will do, because, whatever the ecumenists tell you, the Church has ALWAYS condemned false religions, from the beginning. And, from the beginning the sexual aberrations that are now almost mandatory in our society - contraception, abortion, sodomy - have ALWAYS been condemned by the followers of Christ. So, sorry... we can't just take a show of hands on the matter. The Soho Masses are an almighty scandal and the Archbishop is totally, one hundred percent in the wrongto permit them to continue. Puts a massive question mark over his mitre. Massive. Catholics must accept that Christ meant it when He promised to be with his apostles -that is, His teaching Church - until the end of time. Those who don't are, de facto, Protestants."

There are two points to be reiterated here: firstly that it is clear that sexual activity is normal among those who attend the Masses; secondly, and much more seriously, that though the diocese told The Telegraph that "non-celibate gay people should not be given Communion", it has not enforced this and indeed didn't once point out to the SMPC that Church teaching should be faithfully fostered, not effectively undermined, by official celebrations of the Church's definitive offering to God the Father. The SMPC (as one comment on my blog pointed out) have made a big point of this fact: "Martin Pendergast (founder of the SMPC) said: 'I can assure others who have commented that there was no demand on us to remain celibate and agree that homosexual acts are wrong' and alsoTerence Weldon (Eucharistic Minister and SMPC committee member) said: 'I agree with my friend and colleague Martin...who notes that during the extensive consultation process around the Soho gay Masses, Bishop Longley at no time expressed any demand that we remain celibate or agree with Church teaching.'" [My italics]

Bishop Longley is consequently something of a gay icon, and when he was translated to Birmingham attracted the main "front page" story in the Pink News online news service, with the splash headline "New Archbishop of Birmingham helped organise gay Masses". "The man tipped to be named as the new Archbishop of Birmingham today", reported the paper, "has played a strong part in reaching out to gay Catholics. In 2007, Rt Rev Bernard Longley, currently the Auxiliary [sic] Bishop of Westminster, helped integrate the Soho Masses Pastoral Council into the diocese. The group puts on special Masses for gays and lesbians" (my italics).

So, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, through the Masses it officially organises, is now "integrated" into and legitimised by the Westminster diocese, and its practices and beliefs have received the implicit endorsement of that diocese and of its previous and present archbishops. That is the bottom line; the diocese of Westminster has now driven a wedge between the divine liturgical proclamation and some Church teachings. This effectively denies the notion that the Church's teachings are those of God himself.

It should not, perhaps, surprise us: the intellectual and spiritual formation of our clergy has for many years been officially or semi-officially subverted in numerous ways.

There is one very significant straw in this particular wind, one probably unnoticed even by deeply orthodox clergy as they say their daily office: as this magazine pointed out in its last edition (p.20), in the version of the breviary used in Australia, Ireland, England and Wales, verse 4 of Newman's great hymn "Firmly I Believe and Truly",

And I hold in veneration,
For the love of him alone,
Holy Church as his creation,
And her teachings as his own

has been clinically excised. Why is that? The answer will tell you everything you need to know about the issue of the Soho Masses. As Newman also wrote (same page):

"Deeply do I feel, ever will I protest... that in questions of right and wrong, there is nothing really strong in the whole world, nothing decisive and operative, but the voice of him, to whom have been committed the keys of the kingdom and the oversight of Christ's flock.... if ever there was a power on earth who had an eye for the times... .such is he... who sits from generation to generation in the Chair of the Apostles, as the Vicar of Christ and Doctor of His Church."

That doctrine has now been dropped in its public, ecclesial activity by the diocese of Westminster. And as one who lives in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, I await developments here with some trepidation. Watch this space.

 


Faith Magazine

September - October 2010