Archbishop says he is reviewing 'circumstances' around the Masses after criticism

Archbishop Vincent Nichols has reaffirmed the Diocese of Westminster’s pastoral provision for gay Catholics following accusations that it provides a platform for dissent from Church teaching.

In a statement issued today, the Archbishop of Westminster “reaffirmed the intention and purpose” of the pastoral provision for Catholics at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street.

The pastoral provision, known colloquially as the “Soho Masses”, has attracted criticism since it was established in February 2007 by the archbishop’s predecessor, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. Earlier this month a short video of the bidding prayers at one of the Masses was posted on YouTube. Critics claimed that the prayers challenged Catholic teaching on homosexuality – a claim denied by the organisers.

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Archbishop Nichols said: “As we approach the fifth anniversary of the establishment of a pastoral provision for Catholics of a same-sex orientation at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, I would like reaffirm the intention and purpose of this outreach.

“That intention and purpose were clearly set out in the statement issued by the Diocese of Westminster in 2007 when the provision was started under the guidance of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor.

“Furthermore it is important to recall and study again the direction and guidance set out by Cardinal Hume in 1997.

“In order to appreciate the intention and purpose of this provision a close reading of these two documents is required.

“These documents outline three essential foundations: the dignity of all persons created by God, the moral principles concerning chastity and the Church’s teaching on sexual activity, and the pastoral care of Catholics who are of same-sex orientation. All who participate in the Mass are called to live the church’s teaching through an ongoing conversion of life.

“At the present time consideration is being given to the circumstances in which these Masses are celebrated to ensure that their purpose is respected and that they are not occasions for confusion or opposition concerning the positive teaching of the Church on the meaning of human sexuality or the moral imperatives that flow from that teaching, which we uphold and towards which we all strive.”

The archbishop’s statement ended with a note which said: “The language used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other Church documents is the term ‘homosexual’. I am also conscious that the abbreviation LGBT is preferred by many as a collective identification. Whatever language is used, it is worth bearing in mind that the Church ‘refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God and, by grace, his child and heir to eternal life’ (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, par 16).”

In response the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, the group that organises the provision, said that “increasing numbers” of gay Catholics had returned to the Church through the Masses.

The group said: “The Masses offer us a warm, joyful and inclusive occasion to share in communion with each other, with our families and friends, and with the whole Church, secure in the knowledge that we, too, have our place at the Lord’s table.

“Increasing numbers of LGBT Catholics who had been estranged from the Church have been restored to communion through the Diocese’s courageous witness to the dignity of all people.

“We also express our gratitude to the many clergy and lay people of the Diocese, and others, who support and sustain this ministry.”

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