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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.

  • Benedict Carter

    I think Archbishop Nichols is more than aware of what goes on at these “Masses”. How many people have already forgotten his “We don’t know what lies down the road” comment? 

  • paulpriest

    I believe, Doctor Oddie; that His Grace has already informed anyone commenting on the Warwick St Masses to…
    “Hold their tongue”
    …and His Grace publicly boasts of never having responded to any of the hundreds [thousands?] of missives he’s received on the issue.

    I have to admit I am more gravely concerned regarding His Grace’s inexcusable dereliction of duty in regard to Pro-Life issues and refuse to deny in all charity, for his very own sake, that I’d prefer him to be either kicked up to some administative role or transferred to a more suitable position. Clerics don’t earn a red hat, but if that’s what’s required to get His Grace out of Westminster I beg of the Nuncio ‘speed the day’!

    Finally I repeat that I’m outraged that our SSA-neighbours have been treated so negligently and despicably – being segregated, alienated and disenfranchised from their pastoral needs.

  • Cjkeeffe

    Hi, what is SSA? or who are they?

  • rjt1

    On Newman and conscience: dissenters quote Newman to justify their dissent on matters of doctrine. Newman contradicts such a claim:

    … conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done. “Conscience,” says St. Thomas, “is the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil.” Hence conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church’s or the Pope’s infallibility; which is engaged in general propositions, and in the condemnation of particular and given errors..
    (letter to the Duke of Norfolk).

    It seems clear that Newman allows only a refusal to follow a particular command of the Pope. It refers to a disciplinary matter – if a Pope were to tell you to do something immoral, you would have to refuse – not a doctrinal one.

  • Josephmatte

    All Archbishop Nichols had to do was google the names of those in the Soho Pastoral Council in order to see how far they are from Church teachings. What kind of power do they wield over our bishops?

  • Sweetjae

    Though i agree the last sentence is just baloney, pure and simple.

  • Sweetjae

    Nice, some people use the words “blind obedience” which actually refer to them by sticking obstinately with their human interpretive ability not The Church of God.

  • Kevin

    But firm guidance from the prefect of the CDF would get him off the hook.

    If he is to be a cardinal of the Church he should be providing firm guidance.

  • Pregis

    ” What kind of power do they wield over our bishops?”

    That is the big question, especially in Westminster Diocese.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Thank God the Vatican/CDF are onto these so-called ‘Gay masses’ and other abuses of Holy Mass.

  • Romulus


  • Patrickhowes

    Very valid comment Kevin!Quite he seems to have hid himself out of sight!The new health ministers refusal to allow women to be counselled before abortion should have had him roaring!Nick Clegg and his pro.abort Dr Harris have ruled the roost yet again.Where is our Archbishop backing Nadine Dorries and Frank Field nowhere to be seen.Hence Nadine Dorrie´s comments that the hierarchy of the Church have been less than supportive.Our previous Cardinal saw it more important to couchy-couchy with the Blairites and sell our faith down the river rather than stand up for it.Cowards!And while we are on the subject when are they going to tackle the wonderful CES,so called Catholic education service who as part of our sexual education encourage children to have s confidential chat with the school nurse.!!That in terms of morality people are different including homosexuality.I shall be writing a long letter to the CDF about the disgraceful state of our catholic schools.The private sector is dominated by Cormack´s magic circle lead by his nephew!Ah well we teach a gentle catholicism nowadays….Conviction has been replaced by a complacency and an apathy that begs belief

  • Patrickhowes

    A very erudite desription of conscience by Mr oddie,but really all conscience is ,is the presence of God in the human mind.As God is love ,we can only commit acts of love.The Church is the mystical body of Christ therefore it is divine in nature and therefore human beings cannot attempt to correct or out think He who made them and gave them free choice,to chose virtue and not evil

  • Patrickhowes

    Slopey shoulders I fear.I observed that after the Holy Father addressed brilliantly the politicians in Westminster Hall,His grace mounted the Popemobile and placed his hand on the HF´s knee and congratulated Him.I bet the Pope had to bite his tongue so as not to say,”Well then they have to bring me here to do your job for you!

  • Ghengis

    If Soho gays were “chaste” then they would not need to be involved in a gay group. Why not just go to a regular mass? Clearly Nichol’s quandary is the fear that if he stood up for Catholic values he would incur persecution on himself and the Church from a country with a long history of persecution against Catholics. This quandary will only improve when all British Catholics stop fearing persecution, demand the return of their church property stolen by Henry VIII, and stop groveling for crumbs off the table of the Church of England.

  • drj81

    Surely there are Masses in all areas of London every weekend?

  • Benedict Carter

    Exactly, Patrick. “And get your bloody hand off my knee while you’re at it” hissed in German no doubt.

  • Benedict Carter

    It’s the pink mafia to which belong far too many clergy. Even one is too many, but in our days it’s like an old tea clipper infested with rats.

  • PeterTheRoman

    This is just plain wrong. Why are the faithful being allowed to segregate themselves with blessings. What next? All male, women, black, white, or straight masses. This has to stop. Im not condeming anyone, but it seems people are forgetting a simple thing. Obedience. Maybe I should be asking for a white, heterosexual mass only at Soho. What do you think that would do? This kind of PC liberal “special” thinking is destroying the Church. We are supposed to be one body no matter our wounds.

    I pray that all those involved KNOW Christ exists, not just believe and submit with humility!

  • Nat_ons

    “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.”

    In other words: evade his own sovereign duty, its responsibilities, and any timely political consequences in his choice of witness to Christ.

    What he cannot evade is accountability – even if it were his central concern (which I doubt, for he is a kind-hearted Christian soul).

    Yet offering a properly submissive obedience to one’s leading pastor, allotted to care of souls, includes his own humility.

    “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.” 1 Pet 5 : 6.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    I would have thought that the way forward would be for the Parish Priest at Warwick Street to set up a proper Parish Council in accordance with Canon Law.  This means having the Parish Priest as Chairman and ensuring that it acts in a purely advisory capacity.  The PP could invite current members of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council to join the new Parish Council but on condition that they sign a statement that they submit to the teaching of the Church on all matters including the sinfulness of homosexual sexual acts.  The masses could continue but the Soho Masses Pastoral Council would have no role in organising them.

    The present situation only gives rise to the suspicion that the hierarchy are too scared by the homosexual lobby to act.  The only alternative explanation is that they themselves dissent from the teachings of the Church which is unimaginable.

  • Guest007

    “Clerics don’t earn a red hat, but if that’s what’s required to get His
    Grace out of Westminster I beg of the Nuncio ‘speed the day”

    Your kidding me right??!!

    I would not want Vincent Nicols anywhere near the conclave of cardinals he is simply a careerist. There is a good reason why Rome hasnt given him one, traditionally the head of the Church in England and Wales was always given the red hat yet Nicols hasnt….for good reason and Rome knows this.

  • Josephmatte

    Is there any decent English bishop who could be nominated for Stonwall’s bigot of the year? I hope so.

  • Annie

    Nicolas Bellord,

    “The only alternative explanation is that they themselves dissent from the teachings of the Church which is unimaginable.”

    Why is it unimaginable?  Have you never heard of Rembert Weakland?:

  • Patrickhowes

    It is a positive step but by God they have their work cut out!But hopefully Soho will be qucikly followed by Clifton and Arundel!

  • Rizzo The Bear

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. 

  • Rizzo The Bear

    Hear, hear!

  • Benedict Carter


    You are an innocent if you think that (am not saying you do).

    Various estimates a few years ago put the percentage of American Bishops as homosexuals at up to 75%, for God’s sake!Read “Goodbye Good Men” to understand how this came to pass. 

  • Benedict Carter

    These “Masses”, it seems to me, are not only sacrilegious but are a blasphemy.

  • JabbaPapa

    The present situation only gives rise to the suspicion that
    the hierarchy are too scared by the homosexual lobby to act.  The only
    alternative explanation is that they themselves dissent from the
    teachings of the Church which is unimaginable.

    …erm, no, another explanation could be that some members of the hierarchy are themselves involved in the gay lobby to whichever extent — which is possible, even without formally dissenting from Church teachings, because the simple fact of *being* a homosexual is not a dissent.

    Which would be a quite cowardly attitude in such a person, certainly, though it might not be always possible to formally condemn such inactions.

  • Patrickhowes

    If they are practicing homosexuals,it is dissent and they barr themselves from the Sacraments as Holy  Communion must be received in a state of grace.

  • Patrickhowes

    You are right it is blasphemy.What will be the next step?.Masses for cohabitating couples,
    women who had abortions to commemorate their dead feotuses.Where does all this end?Armageddon??What should be happening at Soho,is long lines to the confessional and lessons on the catechism

  • Jack Hughes

     hear hear, here in the Clifton Diocese we could abandon the ugly monstrosity that is our Cathedral and  (with a little remoddling of the stained glass windows celebrating Henry VIII) take over the TRUE Catholic Cathedral of the Diocese down the road.

  • JabbaPapa

    If they are practicing homosexuals, yes indeed. Many with homosexual desires, however, especially among the clergy, are entirely abstinent from gay sex by moral and/or religious choice.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    There is surely a difference between committing a sin and allowing or encouraging others to sin.  We all commit sins but not all of us claim that what we are doing is right and okay for others.

  • David

    Selling off monstrosities like Clifton and Liverpool Met and gaining back our lost Cathedrals is seen as impossible to the liberal PC crowd; however, impossible miracles are what the saints count on every day. In God all things are possible; we just need to have vision and courage.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    We are discussing a specific problem in England.  Unless one has firm evidence I do not think we ought to speculate about such matters.  It is enough to express disquiet at inaction in the hope that somebody might take some action.

  • Guest

    Benedict, I thought your treatment of Woodie was a little unreasonable and heavy handed the other day, and reflected rather badly on you. If you have nothing to ashamed about your business activities you should speak up for yourself and not to threaten people, the Herald included.

  • Patrickhowes

    Agreed.We can think about sin but we should not enact it!

  • Sweetjae

    I pretty much agree except the last sentence is just plain rubbish.

  • amfortas

    Another mega-post by Mr Oddie. This is a blog not a journal article. A blog should be reasonably short and to the point. One should become bored by the end of the fifth paragraph. Maybe I have ADD!

  • amfortas

    Or, rather, NOT become bored by the end of the fifth paragraph.

  • Dorotheus

    A Catholic priest showing people around Gloucester Cathedral was heard to say, ‘Of course this used to be ours.’ A verger standing nearby replied, ‘It still would be yours if you had behaved yourselves.’ 

  • Richard Collins

    “Entire lack of conformity” rather than: “Lack of entire conformity” would be more accurate.
    There is no reason why ++ Nichols should be “let of the hook”.

  • andyandnic

    A Cardinal’s hat is red in order to signify that a Cardinal should be prepared to sacrifice himself for the Faith to the point of shedding his own blood in martyrdom.  If a man is too cowardly to deal with abominations in the Mass within his own diocese, without someone from Rome coming to wave the big stick for him, then I suggest that he is not made of the material that the office of Cardinal demands.

  • Crescenda

    I think you are being very generous, Mr. Oddie. He isn’t up to the job.

  • Andy

    Injustices that go back so many centuries cannot be righted in a democratic society overnight. Perhaps it might be possible to build legislative support in England for a return of a modest percentage of “Church” properties to Catholic stewardship based upon the percentage of actual Catholics; relative to Anglicans, that actually profess the Catholic Faith. As individual localities reconvert to Catholicism (assuming they will over time) the percentage of Church properties (from the “verifiably confiscated Catholic properties” only) should be redistributed to Catholic use. Possibly the Christians Faith in England could be strengthened by a fair and lively competition over this ancient prize if carried out in a charitable, chivalrous and sportsmanlike manner. Ownership of property should not be the primary goal of English Catholics. Good stewardship on behalf of the Catholic Faith and the salvation of the English people should be their goal.

  • Brencel

    As Oddie rightly points out at the start of his article this is about obedience to conscience. He then gives his view. Let us leave it up to Nichols and all concerned to consult their conscience. It is between them and God as pointed out in Gaudium et Spes, Section 16:
    “…For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships…”
    The most authoritative teaching we have, an Ecumenical Council, tells us that this is between us and God; a matter of conscience. Of course, the teaching of the Church must be consulted for guidance, as per the Catechism of the Catholic Church No #1785, but then it is for each individual to decide in his conscience where he is “alone with God” on the correct course of action. And authoritative teaching tells us we must do what our conscience says ( CCC No # 1790 1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience…)

  • Charles

    This would require Catholics in England to let go of their attitude of persecuted victims and start focusing on future victories. The English Catholic must not assume that past defeat equals future defeat. One possible solution would be for a cooperation of both Catholic and Anglican dioceses where both denominations can share the Cathedrals.

  • Xtopep

    What makes these Masses “Masses”? Is the celebrant not sacerdos in aeternam?
    what makes a “homo Mass”?
    how are these Masses “egregrious abuses of the Church’s Sacraments”?
    And with what authority do you pronounce?