I don’t like writing successive blogs on the same subject, it makes one look obsessive. But my last post and various responses to it have increasingly brought me up against a nasty question, which I need seriously to address as a matter of urgency: have I mistaken as to the real meaning of Archbishop Nichols’s recent démarche in apparently “stopping” the Soho Masses?
Those most closely involved certainly seem to think so. “RIP Soho Masses: Long Live Soho Masses!” swaggers the headline on the website “Queering the Church”. On his own website, Protect the Pope, which I always take seriously, Deacon Nick might almost be addressing me personally: “An appeal to The Catholic Herald and Catholic clergy bloggers,” he ends his last PTP post. “Please don’t be taken in by the spin, and report what’s really going on behind the transfer to Farm Street. Why aren’t you reporting that the Soho Masses Pastoral Council has not been disbanded? This is the Gordian knot that has not been cut.”
Well, Deacon Nick is quite right to bring that crucial fact to our attention. Not only is it true: the SMPC itself is jubilant about the whole thing, and is even, unwisely perhaps, and I hope prematurely, actually bragging about precisely that, as though it were (as it may well be) a great coup: “The opposition are crowing with delight,” boasts SMPC member Terence Weldon, in an article headlined “To Soho Mass Foes: ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’”, that we (their “foes”) suppose that the Soho Masses are being shut down – “but we are not. We are simply being moved, to a situation which in many respects offers far more opportunities for … further growth and development. We will be meeting not just twice a month, we will have far better meeting facilities, we will have far superior structures and opportunities for growth in faith and spirituality, and for meeting and engaging with other Catholics, many of whom could thereby become straight allies.”
And they won’t have the responsibility of organising fortnightly Masses: they’ll just take over the weekly Mass already provided. Weldon goes on to draw attention to the words of Archbishop Nichols’s statement: “I am, therefore, asking the group which has, in recent years, helped to organise the celebration of Mass on two Sundays of each month at Warwick Street, now to focus their effort on the provision of pastoral care.”
Terence Weldon comments: “Now, look again at the words of his statement: ‘The group which has helped to organise…’ that’s the existing SMPC, including me, as he knows only too well (the opposition have reminded him, frequently, of the ‘heretic and homosexualist blogger’ in our midst).”
He again quotes Archbishop Nichols: “This includes many of the activities which have recently been developed and it is to be conducted fully in accordance with the teaching of the Church.”
“Ah!”, ripostes Weldon, “Precisely, those activities that I described, in my posts and in my letter [to the archbishop]“?
“Such pastoral care [the archbishop’s statement again] will include support for growth in virtue and holiness.” “Is this threatening to you?” Weldon asks Soho Mass attenders. “I don’t think so… So – what about that ‘faithful to Church teaching’?
“It’s instructive to note also, what +V did NOT say.”
Weldon then outlines this as follows (I reproduce it verbatim, complete with his original bullet points):
“ • He did not “abolish” the SMPC (“Soho Masses Pastoral Council
• He said that we would not “organise” the Masses – he said absolutely nothing about contributing to them, making them our own, ensuring their relevance to our needs, singing, reading etc. (my emphasis)
• He said absolutely nothing condemnatory of the Masses or of our behaviour and activity.
• He did not withdraw our status as the Diocesan Pastoral Provision.
• His [statement] did not respond directly to the points I initially raised in objection to the move – … but careful reading of his text shows that he heard them.
• He did not say that he was under pressure from Rome – in fact the only remotely relevant comment he made to me is that Archbishop Müller is a very reasonable man.
“I would add,” continues Weldon, “he did not define ‘virtue and holiness’ – leaving that to our own interpretation. [my emphasis]. Nor did he spell out what he meant by “church teaching”. If he meant by that (which I think is unlikely) spelling out the Catechism rules on sexual behaviour, I would be entirely prepared to present, fully, what those rules are, provided that this is done on a completely non-discriminatory way.” In other words, in a way which makes it clear they don’t have to pay any attention to them.
Have we — have I — been taken in by the “stopping” of the Soho Masses? Are they simply being moved across town, and given improved facilities and greater frequency? That is the real question. I would, of course, like an answer to it from some authoritative person in the Westminster archdiocese though I don’t suppose I will ever get one.
But I have already had my answer from the SMPC. Meanwhile, have a look at this, from the Quest website: it’s an article entitled “Epiphany: Soho Masses Community Celebrate the Feast of Coming Out”. It ends with the following words: “We’re here, and not going away. Not under sentence of execution – but moving on, into a new and stronger, probably expansionary phase of our development.”
We can’t say we haven’t been warned.