Wed 22nd Oct 2014 | Last updated: Wed 22nd Oct 2014 at 12:00pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

The Soho Masses are now to be discontinued; and the ordinariate has its ‘cathedral’; all we need now is to clarify Catholic teaching on civil unions

The Church of England accepts them: but the CDF has made it clear that we do not. But things seem a little ambiguous here. How come?

By on Monday, 7 January 2013

Archbishop Nichols (Photo: Mazur/

Archbishop Nichols (Photo: Mazur/

Two of the obstacles to the greatly-to-be-hoped-for appearance, some time soon, of the name of Archbishop Vincent Nichols in the Bollettino della Santa Sede, as one of those to be given his long-anticipated red hat at the next consistory – presumably along with such luminaries as Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia and Archbishop Müller, the new prefect of the CDF (who recently, we understand, had a somewhat tense private conversation, one on one, with Archbishop Nichols in Rome) have now been removed, by the suppression of the notorious Soho Masses and by the very welcome allocation of the church in which they have been taking place to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

The Holy Father has for some time been greatly displeased both by the continued scandal of Masses celebrated especially for a congregation which has repeatedly made clear its contempt for the teaching authority of the Holy See, and also for the English Church’s lack of support for the ordinariate, a body which has just as consistently demonstrated its entire loyalty to the Holy Father. So Archbishop Nichols’s announcement last week that, while the Soho Masses will come to an end (with pastoral care of the community continuing at Farm Street, the Jesuit church in Mayfair), and that in Lent Our Lady of the Assumption church will be “dedicated to the life” of the ordinariate, was a very welcome two-for-the-price-of-one double whammy. “I hope,” he obligingly said, “that the use of this beautiful church, in which the young John Henry Newman first attended Mass, will enable Catholics in the ordinariate to prosper and to offer to others the particular gifts of the ordinariate.” Entirely proper sentiments, and a lot better late than never.

That leaves one issue still to be dealt with, which Rome is unlikely to allow to go by default: Archbishop Nichols’s alleged continuing support for civil partnerships (despite the clear condemnation of them by the CDF), a topic which brings us to another interesting recent story, the latest chapter in the continuing story of Anglican disarray: the Church of England has now dropped its prohibition of gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops. The announcement, from the Church’s House of Bishops, would allow gay clergy to become bishops if they promise to be celibate.

This has pleased nobody, it seems: gay clergy say they don’t want to be celibate, and Conservative evangelicals say they will fight the whole thing in the general synod and elsewhere; some say they would physically prevent any gay bishop from even entering their churches.

My readers may remember that I have already argued, in the case of Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Alban’s (to whose personal integrity I can personally attest) that since he had declared his commitment to celibacy, there could be no objection, even though he has declared himself to be homosexual by inclination, to his appointment to the Anglican episcopate, since the C of E officially supports same-sex civil unions, and that the evangelical objections to the ordination of all those attracted to the same sex, whether celibate or not, were theologically illiterate. So you would expect me to support this latest decision (as far as I can support anything done by the C of E) as being at least consistent with its own assumptions about life, the universe and everything.

But I’m not sure, on reflection, that that necessarily follows (or, indeed, that my defence of Dr John was entirely sound). It looks dangerously like saying that civil partnerships are all right for other people but not for Catholics. But that’s not what the Church says.

What it says is that such partnerships are wrong in themselves, and particularly if they involve the right to adopt children:

“As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognised also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.”

And that, too, is what the Catholic Church in England has always argued: and if we don’t believe that, how come we closed down our adoption agencies rather than countenance facilitating adoption by gay couples? So, before the CDF finally says that Archbishop Nichols’s red hat can now go ahead (which we would all of course like to see) that’s one issue that has to be cleared up. Asked to clarify his position, he is on record as saying: “Clearly, respect must be shown to those who in the situation in England use a civil partnership to bring stability to a relationship”; he then said that while “equality is very important and there should be no unjust discrimination”, that “commitment plus equality do not equal marriage”. This was because “the key distinction between civil partnerships and marriage is that the former do not “in law contain a required element of sexual relationships”.

Well up to a point, Lord Copper. Marriage involves sex but civil partnerships don’t? Does anyone really believe that is so, in most cases? But wait: the archbishop did believe for a long time that those attending the Soho Masses were all celibate. I begin to see… All the same, the Catholic Church’s position on same-sex unions is absolutely clear. We just need to get that cleared up; then all will be well. But the matter mustn’t simply be left in the air. There are moments when ambiguity and uncertainty can do untold harm: and this is one of them. It is not permissible for Catholics to oppose gay marriage while (in order to avoid accusations of homophobia) saying that civil unions, as at present understood, are just fine. They’re not: not just for Catholics but for anyone; and especially for the children those in such unions have the right to adopt.

  • Lazarus

    We know the Soho Masses have been stopped. We know that there will be some changed provision for homosexuals at Farm Street. 

    We know that some gay activists are spinning this as ‘no change’ -but then they would say that wouldn’t they? I hope the changed provision will include genuine pastoral support to help people in live in accordance with the Church’s teachings, which is a struggle for all of us as fallen human beings.

    As Jabba says, everything else is speculation just now. At the moment the only clear facts are that the incitement to disobedience at the Soho Masses has been stopped, and the encouragement of faithful obedience to the Church that is the Ordinariate has been encouraged. Both of those are good. If it turns out that Farm Street is turned into a centre of dissent, that will be bad.

    It’s all very simple really.

  • liquafruta

    Alas the Church of England is not the only institution “mired in the sin of Sodom” as you put it. How many millions of euros and dollars have been paid out in compensation by Catholic Dioceses in Ireland and the USA as compensation to the victims of child abuse and rape by priests and nuns? (Or has that particular brand of sodomy failed to make it into your definition of mire?)

  • W Oddie

    True: but read the links provided, as I now have, and you will be seriously alarmed. Unlike paulpriest,  I have a trusting nature, and wish to think the best of those set over me. But it really could be that we have been taken in. Perhaps the handing over of the Church involved to the ordinariate lulled me into a sense of premature satisfaction at the archbishop’s apparent obedience. If he has pulled a fast one, I’m not sure what can be done, but his red hat at least should be permanently put a stop to. Archishop Mennini should certainly have someone monitoring what happens at Farm Street.

  • W Oddie

    Of course there are more important things in the Church. But the real priority, the evangelisation of a secular culture, will never be attained by a national church whose chief pastors are corrupt and diobedient. It is quite wrong to say that the Soho masses are unimportant. 

  • paulpriest

     ….and your point being?

    We neither say nor do anything…

    ..until all the factors, suspicions, substantive evidence and verbal confirmation from insiders is all irrefutably proven – when the rainbow banners are unfurled and ‘it’s raining men’ becomes the offertory hymn.

    We do nothing until it all happens – because anything else would be rude and uncharitable?

    Noah should not have put saw to wood nor hammer to nail until he heard that pitter patter of the wet stuff? Maybe he shouldn’t have started the Ark until he was absolutely certain and floods were reaching nose-level?

    It’s too late to parry an axe once it has chopped your head off – you counter the blow while it’s still swinging

    The vase is falling to the floor – about to be dashed into a dozen pieces…do you try to catch the vase or do you say ‘I don’t want to cause a fuss – and anyway I have a tube of superglue in the drawer’?

    All too often these scandals are left uncountered and unresolved for years [even decades - think CAFOD for a start]  and we all saw the warning signs and hints that the roof was caving in ages before it actually hapened
    …we didn’t need surveyor reports when we saw major conference lay figures and professional clerics taking pick-axes to columns, lintels and support walls.

    ..but instead we say and do nothing – out of some distorted notion of ‘good manners’ rather than recognising it for what it is – cowardice & formal and proximate material co-operation in sin by omission…

  • paulpriest

     It’s still not too late to be sorted, everyone can save face – even the old SMPC can be limited to a nominal but impotent posturing position to save face and not become belligerent antagonists…but Encourage [and their affiliated clerics] could be given the diocesan SSA pastoral remit. The ‘queering the Church’ brigade might not like it – but they wouldn’t risk losing the little they had left through antagonism.

    +Vin can save face and accrue some brownie points with the CDF & Nuncio with a few finely worded charitable [but coherent!!] letters, speeches or interviews where it’s made clear the opposition to the SSM legislation is grounded in the provisional dismantling and abolition of marriage itself; replaced with a universal ‘civil partnerisation’ – and is not a homophobic issue…[he can leave out the self-interested utilitarian appeals to consequences for the Church and Catholics to other commentators]

    A handful of spaced-out token gestures to the Ordinariate could allay any lingering disconcert over the motives and nature of the subverted politics behind the Warwick st handover – a few committee seats or a few diocesan events allocated there…all inspiring public apprehension that they’re a welcomed integrated aspect of the Catholic community.

    …and if he actually got off his backside and started to defend, advocate and promote Pro-Life issues instead of thwarting them through negligence, ineptitude and silence? He’d have a vast swathe of garnered support from Traditional Orthodox Catholics.

    I can’t understand why his advisers and underlings aren’t telling him this.
    Rather than wanting what’s best for the Archbishop and best for the Church they all seem to be looking out for number one and acting in ways which make their position and finances and influence more secure…

    ..and I think someone needs to tell His Grace that the National Pastoral Conference has been over for a third of a century…and the Blairs have been proven a busted flush…we’ve moved on..Worlock is no more and the we are churchers now wield zimmerframes and oxygen masks along with their collected workd of Kung & Joanie Chittister…so you can’t keep playing silly beggars like they were still an indomitable force within the Church….

    If he got his act together he’d have the whole national Church supporting him…and then we could truly work wonders.

  • Patrickhowes

    The one who should keep his opinions as to what goes on in the Anglican Church is you..As you have left there,leave it!It is not for you to comment on other faiths.Concentrate on the issues facing our Church.This is why they are paying you Sir!And you can keep your threats to silence me  as if you were some KGB secret agent.You have an aversion to anyone correcting you or challenging you.

  • Patrickhowes

    But why do you feel that you need a Church within a church?Surely we are all sinners and the Church places the attention on the sin and not the sinner.So your place is at my side within any parish.

  • W Oddie

    I can’t silence you. Your ignorant and ill-informed comments will still be posted. As for the Anglican Church, so long as the church of england is still established by law and its bishops are still part of the national legislature I have both the right and (since I really do know what I am talking about) the duty to continue commenting on its activities. 

  • W Oddie

    As for my supposed aversion to being corrected, I refer you to my comments under paulpriest’s corrections of this post. I know from experience that he is often well-informed, so I listen to what he says. I don’t listen to the ignorant and merely opinionated. 

  • Chrismanchester

    I wouldn’t say I feel the need for a church within a church.  However, the pastoral dimension for LGBT people is so lacking in most parishes that from time to time I find it important to worship and then meet afterwards with others who face the same issues around being gay and Catholic.  It is vital to have spaces where LGBT catholics can share their experiences in a supportive and safe environment.  Warwick Street provided this, and hopefully Farm Street will do so even more.

  • Patrickhowes

    So why is he so protective of the shoho crowd?’His own inclinations perhaps?

  • Patrickhowes

    Yes you did you lsitened to yourself and your own opinions.You informed us all naively that the Soho masses have ended and it would appear they have not!Do your homework before yr post!Cretin

  • Patrickhowes


    I appreciate that you may feel turmoil,pain and other feelings but I must admit I hate this label LGBT.You are as much a part of God´s Kingdom as anyone else.We are all sinners and some sins are worse than others.Catholic means universal and true and therefore you should not feel ostrasized.As a blogger has pointed out often heterosexual´s morals are worse and there is truth to thisNotfor this reason are we going to start masses and parsihes for those who cannot keep their pants up.The Catholic faith is a sacramental one and it is all about reperation and redemption as long as you do not commit mortal sins.It seems to me that you are actually creating your own stereotype.I appreciate that you might want spiritual directors who are sensitive to your feelings but Iam left with the feeling that ou have shot yourselves in the foot

  • JabbaPapa

    True: but read the links provided, as I now have, and you will be seriously alarmed

    Oh, people are *probably* right that the Gay Masses crowd will be carrying on business as usual, but I don’t really see the point of condemning anything unless and until it actually happens …

    … which doesn’t mean people can’t be worried that this will pure & simple mean a doubling of the number of Gay Masses in the diocese instead …

  • JabbaPapa

    Horrible trollery from patrickhowes …