The Catholic Diocese of Westminster recently marked the 21st anniversary of a pastoral outreach that welcomes Catholic LGBT+ people, their parents, families, and friends.
“LGBT+ Catholics Westminster” began as a pastoral outreach after the city of London was rocked by a fatal bombing of a SoHo gay bar, the Admiral Duncan Pub. In response to this violence, the diocese instituted a bi-monthly Mass in the SoHo neighborhood, which has since been incorporated into the Jesuit-run Church of the Immaculate Conception, Mayfair.
Joe Stanley, a past chair of the council that oversees the ministry’s activities, has been attending the LGBT+ Masses since 2002. Stanley told Positive News that “he was always fulfilled by his faith and didn’t believe that being gay should pose a barrier to him practising it.” Yet, when at age 13 he came out in 1960s Northern Ireland, he ended up in psychiatric treatment to try to change his orientation. As a result, he did not address his sexuality again until his early 20s.
“I was always quite comfortable going to mass and participating and seeing myself as a Catholic,” Stanley said “But, of course, I met lots of Catholics who hadn’t had the same experience.”
The Masses by LGBT+ Catholics Westminster have been “very successful in reaching out to a lot of people who hadn’t felt at home in a church before,” Stanley said. The ministry has also tried to raise global awareness about the issue of LGBTQ asylum seekers. Further, member Martin Pendergast spoke approvingly of the United Kingdom’s ban on conversion therapy when bishops remained quiet. To learn more about the group, you can visit their website here.
While some conservative Catholics have opposed the outreach, the group has support from the local ordinary, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. Last year, while presiding at a Mass for the group, he offered new definitions of “home” and “family” which embraced configurations beyond the heterosexual nuclear grouping. Support has also come from Rome. When members of the ministry made a pilgrimage to Rome in 2019, Pope Francis greeted them personally in St. Peter’s Square after the Ash Wednesday papal audience.
After almost 20 years of attending masses held by LGBT+ Catholics Westminster, Stanley commented that he has, “a real sense of God’s presence in the world. I don’t feel that He’s . . . going to exclude me from His presence because I happen to love my partner.”
—Emily Win, May 22, 2020