The popular Soho Masses for the LGBT community in London, England, will be coming to a close after six years because of a new pastoral plan for LGBT people that the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster has issued. But the ministry to LGBT people will continue. The archbishop has moved the LGBT ministry to a London Jesuit parish, under a new model of service and organization.
London’s Catholic Herald has printed the entire text of the pastoral plan by Archbishop Vincent Nichols. In the section on why he is ending this successful pastoral program, he states:
“At this point, and after six years of the pastoral care offered at Our Lady of the Assumption Church [Warwick Street], it is time for a new phase. Two considerations give shape to this new phase. The first is to recall that the original aim of this pastoral provision at Warwick Street was to enable people with same-sex attraction ‘to enter more fully into the life of the Church’ ‘specifically within the existing parish structures’ (Diocese of Westminster press statement 2 Feb 2007). The second is the importance of recognising that there is a distinction to be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the Mass. The Mass is always to retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church. This ‘universal’ character of the Mass is to be nurtured and clearly expressed in the manner of every celebration. The purpose of all pastoral care, on the other hand, is to encourage and enable people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances, to come to participate fully and worthily in the celebration of the Mass in the midst of the whole Church, the people summoned by the Lord to give him, together, worthy service and praise.
” . . . 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. This includes many of the activities which have recently been developed and it is to be conducted fully in accordance with the teaching of the Church. Such pastoral care will include support for growth in virtue and holiness, the encouragement of friendship and wider community contacts, always with the aim of helping people to take a full part in the life of the Church in their local parish community. It will not include the organisation of a regular Mass.”
The new pastoral program will begin in Lent of 2013.
For many years, Archbishop Nichols has been criticized by traditionalist Catholics for permitting the Masses. Indeed, the Vatican has also questioned his reasoning for establishing the liturgies. For some, his decision will surely be viewed as capitulating to these pressures.
However, England’s Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, and who is a regular participant at these Masses and a member of the Pastoral Council there, has a different point of view. He is optimistic that this decision is not an ending, but a moment of transformation for the community. He sees the archbishop’s plan as an opportunity for growth for the burgeoning community. On his blog, he wrote:
“The real issue here is not simply one of a ‘gay Mass,’ but of the wider issue of effective Catholic LGBT ministry. For many years, the Soho Masses as we know them have provided a richly valuable to those people able and willing to make the journey to get to them – but does nothing for those who by reason of location or inclination, are not. One of the obvious problems with the existing model as we have it at Warwick Street, is that it is not one that can be simply transplanted to other areas, of the diocese or pf the country. If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the ‘Soho Masses’ may end – Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded.”
The Soho Masses Pastoral Council issued a statement on January 3rd, welcoming the archbishop’s directive. The following are excerpts:
“The purpose of the Soho Masses has been, and remains, to encourage the LGBT Catholic Community to participate fully in the life of the Church, the diverse body of Christ, through participation in the Mass, and through shared prayer.
In this we have become victims of our own success, in terms of the number of people who have joined the Eucharistic Community of our congregation. This means that, while the body of the church in Warwick St. is still adequate to our number, the lack of other facilities in the 18th Century building has become a limiting factor in organising social and pastoral activity and prayer, in particular for elderly, infirm or disabled people.
“We therefore look forward with much anticipation to the opportunity of using the greater space offered by the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and, since we have kindly been relieved of our responsibility of organising the Mass, to respond positively to the Archbishop’s challenge to develop our pastoral work in this ‘new phase’ of our peripatetic existence.
“The Masses at Farm Street will, clearly, continue to be at the heart of our life in communion, and of our pastoral activity, and we look forward to participating fully in them. . . .
“Our only reservation regarding the transfer of base is that our title becomes somewhat of a misnomer, in that we shall be in Mayfair, rather than in Soho. However, given the value of the title Soho Masses we shall continue to use it.”
I attended the Soho Masses when I was in London in the summer of 2012 for the World Pride celebrations. I found them the liturgy to be very traditionally Catholic, and I met many people afterwards who said that coming to this Mass community was their way of returning to Catholicism after a period of alienation. Many of the participants were heterosexually identified people with no connection to the LGBT community, but who had heard that the spirit at these Masses was welcoming and rich. In one sense, all theological arguments aside, I imagine that this decision will probably feel very much like a parish closing or consolidation to some.
Even if there are better days ahead, I am sure it will be a difficult transition for many, and I will keep them all in my prayers, and ask you to do the same.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry