LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Celebrates 20th Anniversary After Meeting Pope Francis

Members of LGBT+ Catholics Westminster outside the site of a 1999 anti-gay bomb attack in London

The LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council has been busy lately, celebrating its 20th anniversary just weeks after some pilgrims from the group met Pope Francis after the weekly papal audience in St. Peter’s Square.

The Tablet reported on the London-based group’s prayer walk that marked its two decades of celebrating liturgies and building community. The walk through London on April 27th began at a memorial to Oscar Wilde and ended at two churches where Masses for the group have been most recently celebrated. In between, other significant sites were visited:

“The walk continued to the church of Notre Dame de France, near Leicester Square, where the first public conference on Catholics and Homosexuality was held in 1976, beginning decades of working to integrate LGBT people fully into the Church. It also houses murals depicting the Annunciation, Crucifixion and Assumption, painted by the famous gay poet and artist Jean Cocteau. At this stop Catholics prayed for activists who work to reconcile gay people and the Church.

“It continued to St Anne’s Church on Dean Street, where LGBT Catholics met until 2007, and which currently hosts a prayer meeting for transgender Christians, then moved on to the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street to mark the 20th anniversary of a bombing attack at the site that killed three people and injured 80 in April 1999.”

That bombing was the impetus for LGBT+ Catholics Westminster’s formation. Benjamin Smith, chairperson of the group, wrote in The Tablet that it was the Helpers of the Holy Souls  religious community of women who welcomed LGBT+ Catholics to their convent for Mass just days after the Admiral Duncan pub attack. Over time, the group has shifted churches, coming to be known as the “Soho Masses” for a time because the church where they worshiped was in London’s Soho neighborhood. In 2013, the Diocese of Westminster (London) invited the community to become part of a larger parish, Immaculate Conception, Farm Street. Though initially met with some trepidation by the LGBT+ members, the move has allowed the group to flourish.

Of the prayer walk, Smith told The Tablet, that:

“As a younger person, it was really moving for me to hear the stories of the older members as we walked through Soho and stopped at each location. I have only been a member of the LGBT+ Catholics Westminster community for about 7 years, but even during that time I think the situation has changed for us, particularly in London. Although there is still some way to go, I think the Church community is moving away from seeing LGBT people as outsiders, and towards recognising that we are their sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, family members, friends and colleagues.””

LGBT+ Catholics Westminster has helped advance that progress, most recently by making headlines when membes from the group were introduced to Pope Francis when they were in Rome on a pilgrimage. The Tablet published an editorial (March 16, 2019) extolling Cardinal Vincent Nichols for his ‘sensitive and consistent efforts to reconcile gay Catholics with the Church,” particularly this pilgrimage audience. The editorial then commented more broadly:

“The reconciliation of the Church with its gay and lesbian members cannot simply mean trying harder to persuade them to adhere to traditional teaching. . .At a pastoral level there is increasing acceptance that gay Catholics benefit, just as others do, from being in loving, stable, long-term relationships. That acceptance has tended to be grudging, on the grounds that such relationships are less damaging than a promiscuous lifestyle. The point has now been reached when caring, stable and monogamous gay relationships could be acknowledged by the Church as a blessing. And the focus lies less on sexual acts than on the quality of the whole relationship. That is progress.”

In twenty years, the Catholic Church has certainly progressed in becoming more inclusive of LGBTQ people and their families. Congratulations to LGBT+ Catholics Westminster and their leaders for helping in that change as they moved Catholics from the devastation of a hate crime to a place of promise that the Church can truly be, in Pope Francis’ words, a “home for all.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 12, 2019

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