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The new prefect of the CDF intends to take on the Soho Masses. I hope he does; that would get Archbishop Vincent off a very uncomfortable hook

This isn’t about the morality of gay relationships: it’s about obedience—to the Magisterium, and to Conscience properly understood

By on Thursday, 1 November 2012

Vatican Pope Pallium

This isn’t about the morality of gay relationships: it’s about obedience—to the Magisterium, and to Conscience properly understood

The Pope has announced a consistory for next month. Since this is the second consistory at which our own Archbishop of Westminster might feasibly have received his red hat, the omission of his name has occasioned a certain amount of ill-conditioned comment, almost certainly unjustified. This is an unusually small consistory: and others who might have appeared (and were indeed expected to appear) are also missing.

So the idea that by omitting his name yet again Rome is showing its displeasure at the Archbishop’s, shall we say, lack of entire conformity with the Holy Father’s teaching and specific intentions, by withholding the desirable headgear in question is premature. Most notably, the newly appointed prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, who is known to be close to the Holy Father, isn’t there either but certainly will be soon; neither are Archbishop Chaput and several others known to be high in the Pope’s favour. In its own comment, Protect the Pope “cautions readers who post on this to exercise restraint and charity”: and so do I.

The mention of the new Prefect of the CDF, Gerhard Ludwig Müller does, however, inevitably raise the question which remains the most potentially inflammatory source of division between Rome and Westminster: the Soho Masses. The previous prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Levada, obviously decided to tread softly around the question, much to the mystification of many. It looks as though his successor has decided to confront it. The question for him (and for what follows here, too) is not, except indirectly, that of Catholic teaching on homosexuality. I have written about that, heaven knows, before and certainly don’t intend to repeat myself yet again now.

That isn’t the problem for the Church; we know what the teaching is, what faithful Catholics believe. The problem is that old “Spirit of Vatican II” distortion redefining conscience  as being not, in Newman’s majestic words, “the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas”, the inborn voice of God, restraining us and leading us to Him—but on the contrary a principle justifying the gratification of every individual desire, a procedure implicitly and sometimes explicitly claiming precedence even for Catholics over the authority of the Magisterium of the Church. How many times have I read in The Tablet a suggestion that Newman’s famous remark in the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk –“Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, …. I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards” – can be held to justify virtually any dissent from papal teaching?

But that was not at all what Newman was saying in the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk. He makes that quite clear (§4):

I have to say again, lest I should be misunderstood, that when I speak of Conscience, I mean conscience truly so called. When it has the right of opposing the supreme, though not infallible Authority of the Pope, it must be something more than that miserable counterfeit which, as I have said above, now goes by the name. If in a particular case it is to be taken as a sacred and sovereign monitor, its dictate, in order to prevail against the voice of the Pope, must follow upon serious thought, prayer, and all available means of arriving at a right judgment on the matter in question. And further, obedience to the Pope is what is called “in possession;” that is, the onus probandi of establishing a case against him lies, as in all cases of exception, on the side of conscience. Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the Presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it. Primâ facie it is his bounden duty, even from a sentiment of loyalty, to believe the Pope right and to act accordingly. He must vanquish that mean, ungenerous, selfish, vulgar spirit of his nature, which, at the very first rumour of a command, places itself in opposition to the Superior who gives it…. He must have no wilful determination to exercise a right of thinking, saying, doing just what he pleases, the question of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, the duty if possible of obedience, the love of speaking as his Head speaks, and of standing in all cases on his Head’s side, being simply discarded. If this necessary rule were observed, collisions between the Pope’s authority and the authority of conscience would be very rare….

I have consulted several sources, who have good contacts in Rome and who know about Archbishop Müller. What they all say is that the new prefect has very firm views on obedience, and intends to take a very clear line on disobedience to the Holy See. And a German publication which appears to have good sources of information, the Katholisches Magazin für Kirche und Kultur, reports under the headline “Homo-Messen: Glaubenspräfekt Müller will Klarheit” that “The new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, intends, very firmly, to address the problem of the Mass which is celebrated twice a month in London, Warwick Street in Soho for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people which has the approval of the Archbishop of Westminster, Mgr. Vincent Nichols. It seems that in the recent past other agencies of the Roman Curia, at the request and solicitation of Catholics in London, have asked for clarification and noted the concerns associated with such an initiative. Among other things, an expert on the liturgy and theology noted there is a danger that the initiative will lead to a ghettoization of the persons concerned”.

Fr Ray Blake comments that “These Masses were designed to give pastoral care to particular groups who sought help from the Church; instead people who attended, vulnerable people, some of my parishioners, have been there, they found a lobby group for dissent against the Church’s teaching “and rather than spiritual help, a gay dating agency”, as one said. The real problem has been a very serious lack of leadership and pastoral oversight. This, and the grave dissent is presumably what Archbishop Müller will want to deal with.”

A very serious lack of leadership and pastoral help, says Fr Blake. That, and the “ghettoisation” of those attending certainly need archbishop Müller’s pastoral guidance. The prefect’s intervention will be seen by his enemies (of whom I am NOT one) as a slap on the wrist for archbishop Nichols. But surely, the opposite could be the case: it could be a lifeline. The archbishop is in an unenviable position. He has, as one priest said to me, not unsympathetically, painted himself into a corner. He has accepted the assurances given to him by the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, that those attending them are chaste and faithful Catholics, and he has therefore given them firm support: it is difficult for him now to turn round and to say that he has been given good reason to withdraw that support: that would be an open accusation of deceit, one which he could not actually PROVE. He may well still himself believe the assurances he has been given. It’s all a mess. But firm guidance from the prefect of the CDF would get him off the hook: he could then obey the Church’s clear instruction by withdrawing the support of the diocese, and, just as important for Catholics in that diocese, thereby remove a major source of friction with the Holy See. He could then quietly ask for the Prefect’s guidance on the subject of civil unions, and in a low-key way announce archbishop Müller’s response, together with his own warm assent. Job done.

We could all then, with warm anticipation, look forward to reading his name in the BOLLETINO’s announcement, perhaps next year, of the next major consistory.

There is some talk of the abolition of the institution of the Cardinalatial See. But that is surely a nonsense. There are some Sees which because of their importance within their national Church should normally be headed by a Cardinal Archbishop, and Westminster is one of them. That has certainly always been the assumption; and I hope that we see it borne out yet again in the not too distant future.

  • KevinBeach

    Suppose a large number of heterosexual people started attending the Masses. What would the attitudes of the celebrant and the gay congregation be? Would they welcome the heterosexuals as much as each other?

  • AnthonyPatrick

    The inference to be drawn from the anecdotal verger’s reply being that ‘behaved’ is merely a euphemism?  Or is cupidity out of the question? ;-)

  • Simonperry36

    i’m a bit fed up with hearing about these soho masses. I have no idea whether the people who go to this mass are practicing homosexual or not, but the truth is the diocese claims that the masses are not for dissenters. If these people were in their own parishes would the same problem not persist? If pepole wiish to receive communion in a state of sin they could still do so. To be honest I think there are plenty of practicing homosexuals attending old rite masses at the oratory and other places. The only difference being they are either astute enough to confess before communion or not to present themselves. To be frank i’m quite sick of what i perceive as the growing emasculation of the catholic church in this country. Perhaps it’s better for them to be in one place, rather than at large in the parishes, particularly ones with a preference for the old rite.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    I agree that Liverpool Met is a bit of a monstrosity, but which lost Catholic cathedral in Liverpool are you thinking of gaining back?

  • jaduncan

    My reaction is unprintable. I shall merely say that the Catholic Church continue to make themselves unpleasantly obvious bigots. Combined with the Anglican rejection of female bishops, it’s very clear why religion in general isn’t doing very well in the UK.

  • jaduncan

    “demand the return of their church property stolen by Henry VIII”
    I’m sure the British government will get round to that after our claim against the Normans and Romans for previous property damage comes through.

  • Adrian

    The hanging rainbow flag from the choir tells me everything…

  • http://twitter.com/catholicandgay Catholic and Gay

    Quoting from the above, it’s not clear to whom the words are attributed, maybe to you William? Please can you clarify?
    “He (Vincent Nichols) has accepted the assurances given to him by the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, that those attending them are chaste and faithful Catholics, and he has therefore given them firm support…”This really cracks me up….when was the last time you saw a parish priest or bishop in the UK seeking such assurances from anyone in their parish??? Or perhaps from strategically placed informers? Maybe talk to Joseph Stalin about any bright ideas in this regard?The utter hypocrisy of it all…singling out gay catholics…as if there is no one else to single out?Is the writer proposing an approved list of catholics who can attend mass….and a questionnaire to ALL parishioners asking what they got up to last night? Did the UK catholic bishops say ANYTHING in reference to Prince William and Kate spending time in the same house together before getting married? They would dare !!!! This again shows the utter obsession that some church people have in other people’s (mainly sexual) lives..so busy removing the splinter from someone’s eye that they don’t see the log in their own. This from a church hierarchy renowned for child abuse cover up….makes me SICK to think about it….but I remain a catholic christian because my faith is in the LORD.@catholicandgay on twitter

  • http://twitter.com/catholicandgay Catholic and Gay

    Quoting from the above, it’s not clear to whom the words are attributed, maybe to you William? Please can you clarify?
    “He (Vincent Nichols) has accepted the assurances given to him by the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, that those attending them are chaste and faithful Catholics, and he has therefore given them firm support…”This really cracks me up….when was the last time you saw a parish priest or bishop in the UK seeking such assurances from anyone in their parish??? Or perhaps from strategically placed informers? Maybe talk to Joseph Stalin about any bright ideas in this regard?The utter hypocrisy of it all…singling out gay catholics…as if there is no one else to single out?Is the writer proposing an approved list of catholics who can attend mass….and a questionnaire to ALL parishioners asking what they got up to last night? Did the UK catholic bishops say ANYTHING in reference to Prince William and Kate spending time in the same house together before getting married? They would dare !!!! This again shows the utter obsession that some church people have in other people’s (mainly sexual) lives..so busy removing the splinter from someone’s eye that they don’t see the log in their own. This from a church hierarchy renowned for child abuse cover up….makes me SICK to think about it….but I remain a catholic christian because my faith is in the LORD.@catholicandgay on twitter

  • grryreilly

    God help the Church of Rome, with such hate-filled members! Let us pray that on the last day, you are not judged with such vitriol!

  • Sweetjae

    Huh? What are you talking about?nobody is saying segragation rather was refering to anybody who thinks better than the Pope and the Church whether from the Left and Right.

  • John

    No,   It would be ours if they – the persecutors and martyr-makers – had behaved themselves.

  • Nesbyth

    I’ve never understood why there is a need for “Gay Masses”.
    We don’t have Masses for any particular section of the community. There is just Mass for whoever wants to attend in their parish or out of it. Mass is for all and there is usually a good cross-section of all sorts of people (including gays) in Catholic Churches, which is what I love about the Church.
    But singling out one section for their own Mass is not at all catholic (as in universal) and shouldn’t have been allowed in first place.

  • Beldoc

    Well Nesbyth. On your specific point, the Mass
    isn’t GAY. It’s celebrated in the presence of an lgbt worshipping community.  In churches all over the world, and in parishes
    across the realm, prelates & priests design worship schedules to meet the
    needs of Eucharistic community. We can see this in London, with Masses for
    people who speak, Spanish and Polish etc. We see the same with “family Masses”
    for those who have family’s and need a sermon for kids.  Another example is Masses for those who lost a
    child through miscarriage. Then there is the Latin Masses for chaps who love a
    bit of lace & gin. Oh maybe their Anglicans? But most defiantly Gay as
    well. – I jest, but I’m trying to make the point. This pastoral provision was a
    good thing. What a terrible kick in the teeth for the Church to be handed over
    to the Ordinariate – A group of gay hating Ex Anglicans. One might ask why Ex
    Anglicans need a separate Mass with Anglican Spiritualty, if one Mass fits all.
    Would they not get the same provisions in a regular Catholic Church?

  • Nesbyth

    There are indeed Family Masses but they are not exclusively for families. Nor are Spanish or French masses exclusively for people of those nationalities. My local church has a Portuguese Mass on Sundays but lots of other nationalities go to it…including myself sometimes.
    Exclusivity never works out really. I have quite a lot of gay Catholic friends (some in civil partnerships) none of whom go to the Mass for the LGBT . Indeed I once asked one of my friends if he’d ever been, or would go, and he was quite offended to think he’d need to be that exclusive. He said he was a member of the Catholic Church and quite happy to attend Mass as usual in his parish.
    And I think that you libel the Ordinariate, who have been rather courageous in stepping out of their previously comfortable Anglican existence into the unknown and financially precarious situation that is the ordinariate. I am a convert from many years ago and my father was an Anglican priest (but not allowed to remain a priest in those days when becoming a Catholic). We had a hard time financially and a difficult time socially. But
    luckily the Catholics were warm and welcoming. I’m glad they didn’t take your line of hostility!
    But I do accept your query as to why they have their own brand of Mass.

  • Sweetjae

    I agree the guy was confused about the Holy Mass and sinful lifestyle of men.

  • Sweetjae

    Exaggeration based on false assumption.

  • Dsw

    The catholic church killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people since its infancy and some of you have the audacity to whine about the catholic people and religion being persecuted. And you say all this whilst upholding the discrimination of LGBT people. I guess that some of you are unsure what Jesus meant when he said to love everyone. He never said that being gay was wrong. The catholic church has spread more hate, diseases and as mentioned earlier, killed more people than all the LGBT that has ever lived. You call yourselves christians….but i personally believe that God will call you sinful. 

  • Nesbyth

    There are indeed Family Masses but they are not exclusively for families. Nor are Spanish or French masses exclusively for people of those nationalities. My local church has a Portuguese Mass on Sundays but lots of other nationalities go to it…including myself sometimes.Exclusivity never works out really. I have quite a lot of gay Catholic friends (some in civil partnerships) none of whom go to the Mass for the LGBT . Indeed I once asked one of my friends if he’d ever been, or would go, and he was quite offended to think he’d need to be that exclusive. He said he was a member of the Catholic Church and quite happy to attend Mass as usual in his parish. And I think that you libel the Ordinariate, who have been rather courageous in stepping out of their previously comfortable Anglican existence into the unknown and financially precarious situation that is the Ordinariate. I am a convert from many years ago and my father was an Anglican priest (but not allowed to remain a priest in those days when becoming a Catholic). We had a hard time financially and a difficult time socially. But luckily the Catholics were warm and welcoming. I’m glad they didn’t take your line of hostility!But I do accept your query as to why the Ordinariate have their own brand of Mass.Perhaps after a few years they’ll be happier to change properly.