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Cardinal-designate Nichols should have the prayers and support of us all: but his elevation is being misrepresented by some elements in the English Church

Some commentators even take it as meaning that Pope Francis would have been in favour of the Soho Masses

By on Thursday, 16 January 2014

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols (AP)

Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols (AP)

“Archbishop Vincent Nichols to be made a cardinal. Let this be a fresh start” was the headline over Damian Thompson’s Telegraph blog on Sunday. Of course, he is right. I speak as one of those whom the Cardinal-designate once enjoined to “learn to hold their tongue”: and I now have no more to say on the subject of what all that was about, except that now I will indeed hold mine – all that is now, I hope, behind us: Rome has been satisfied that the Soho Masses are a thing of the past. Archbishop Nichols should now have the good will and prayers of all of us for a happy and fruitful future as leader of all English Catholics.

What worries me is not the archbishop, but the interpretation of his red hat (and of the motives of the Pope who announced it) which is now being put about by certain elements in the English Church who do not want a fresh start. It all fits in only too neatly with what the editor of this paper this week, in a must-read article in the Spectator, called “the gulf between what you might call the Fantasy Francis — the figure conjured up by liberal imagination — and the actual occupant of the Chair of St Peter”. Such people do not want to believe that Archbishop Nichols put the Soho Masses behind him: nor do they think that the Vatican of Pope Francis even wants him to.

The Guardian’s report of Archbishop Nichols’s elevation this week dredged up the Soho Masses (which, of course, it thinks were an excellent thing) and gives us, one more weary time, the liberal take on Pope Francis’s air-born press conference during his return from the World Youth Day. The Soho Masses, said the Guardian, were “staunchly defended by the archbishop” (the paper says nothing about the fact that he suppressed them). “In 2010,” the paper continued, “Nichols laid into critics of the Soho Masses, saying: ‘Anybody from the outside who is trying to cast a judgment on the people who come forward for communion really ought to learn to hold their tongue’. It was a sentiment [this is still The Guardian] echoed by Pope Francis, who last year declared: ‘If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?’”

Oh dear. And of course, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council (which still, it seems, exists) is delighted. Terence Weldon, a member of it, runs a blog called Queering the Church, in which he reveals, under the jubilant headine “Welcome CARDINAL Vincent Nichols”, the following, all of which will be embarrassing to the Cardinal-designate: this is something he could live without; these people, I fear, are determined not to let go of his coat-tails. Weldon reveals:

At the time of the move of the Soho Masses congregation to Farm Street, he has met with the full congregation at a reception after the first Mass, he has met with the full Westminster LGBT Pastoral Council, and with the current chair and vice-chair of Quest (and with an earlier chair, two years ago). He was also one of the first senior bishops to temper his public opposition to gay marriage, with a statement that there could be value in civil unions for same-sex couples.

LGBT Catholics should be grateful that we now have a friend in high places. He has already been named to the Congregation for Bishops, and will participate in the selection of new men for the office, and is likely to participate in time, in the next conclave to elect Pope Francis’s successor.

We welcome and applaud the new cardinal – Vincent Nichols of Westminster.

Those of you who are disquieted by this, however, should be reassured by the following: not only because it reminds us that the LGBT community as a whole is by no means convinced that Archbishop Nichols will indeed be a “friend in high places”, but usefully reminds us of what has been as it should have been in the Cardinal-designate’s exercise of his office.

Under the headline “Anti-gay marriage Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols to become Cardinal”, and the stand-first “Archbishop Vincent Nichols vociferously opposed same-sex marriage”, Pink News tells its readers that “Archbishop Nichols sanctioned a booklet that told Catholic teachers that they could be sacked for having a same-sex marriage or civil partnership” and that “in his 2012 Christmas message, Archbishop Nichols decried equal marriage plans for England and Wales as an Orwellian shambles. He said: ‘George Orwell would be proud of that manoeuvre. I think the process is shambolic’.” One of the comments beneath the Pink News report speculates that “It would appear from this appointment that old Frankie boy isn’t as gay friendly as first thought”.

Maybe Pink News’s take on Archbishop Nichols’s red hat is one sign of the beginning of the end for “the Fantasy Francis”: that wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Church; and it wouldn’t be a bad thing, either, for the future ministry of Cardinal Nichols.