Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has announced that Masses in Soho organised for gay people are to end.
He also revealed that the church where the Masses took place will be entrusted to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
The fortnightly “Soho Masses” at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Warwick Street were established by the diocese almost six years ago. They were intended to be “particularly welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Catholics, their parents, friends and families”.
Archbishop Nichols said today that, while the Masses will stop, pastoral care of the community will continue at the Jesuit Farm Street church in Mayfair on Sunday evenings.
He also announced that in Lent Our Lady of the Assumption church will be “dedicated to the life” of the ordinariate. The archbishop said: “I hope 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.”
A statement from the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, which organised the Masses, said: “Following several weeks of reflection on the benefits and potential challenges which it represents to our pastoral outreach to the LGBT Catholic Community on behalf of the Diocese of Westminster, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council is pleased to accept Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ invitation to transfer our base of activity from the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory to the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Farm Street.
“We are also very grateful to the Jesuit Community at Farm Street for the welcome and hospitality they have offered there as well as to the Provincial and Superior of the Society.
“The purpose of the Soho Masses has been, and remains, to encourage the LGBT Catholic Community to participate fully in the life of the Church, the diverse body of Christ, through participation in the Mass, and through shared prayer. In this we have become victims of our own success, in terms of the number of people who have joined the Eucharistic community of our congregation.
“This means that, while the body of the church in Warwick Street is still adequate to our number, the lack of other facilities in the 18th-century building has become a limiting factor in organising social and pastoral activity and prayer, in particular for elderly, infirm or disabled people.
“We therefore look forward with much anticipation to the opportunity of using the greater space offered by the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and, since we have kindly been relieved of our responsibility of organising the Mass, to respond positively to the archbishop’s challenge to develop our pastoral work in this ‘new phase’ of our peripatetic existence.
“The Masses at Farm Street will, clearly, continue to be at the heart of our life in communion, and of our pastoral activity, and we look forward to participating fully in them. We are sure those priests with connections to Farm Street who have ministered to us at Warwick Street in the past will make us feel especially welcome.
“Our only reservation regarding the transfer of base is that our title becomes somewhat of a misnomer, in that we shall be in Mayfair, rather than in Soho. However, given the value of the title ‘Soho Masses’ we shall continue to use it.”
Statement from the Diocese of Westminster
2 January 2013
1. Many people come to the Church with the hope of finding understanding, compassion, mercy and truth. The Church endeavours to respond to their hope through the provision of pastoral care. For many years now the Diocese of Westminster has sought to extend the pastoral care of the Church to those who experience same-sex attraction. This care has been motivated by an awareness of the difficulties and isolation they can experience and by the imperative of Christ’s love for all. In recent years this pastoral care has focused on the celebration of Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Warwick Street.
2. Over these years, the situation of people with same-sex attraction has changed both socially and in civil law. However the principles of the pastoral care to be offered by the Church and the Church’s teaching on matters of sexual morality have not. First among the principles of pastoral care is the innate dignity of every person and the respect in which they must be held. Also, of great importance, is the teaching of the Church that a person must not be identified by their sexual orientation . The moral teaching of the Church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life. As I stated in March 2012, this means ‘that many types of sexual activity, including same-sex sexual activity, are not consistent with the teaching of the Church. No individual, bishop, priest or lay-person, is in a position to change this teaching of the Church which we hold to be God-given.’ (Catholic Herald article 17 March 2012). This is the calling to which we must all strive.
3. At this point, and after six years of the pastoral care offered at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, it is time for a new phase. Two considerations give shape to this new phase. The first is to recall that the original aim of this pastoral provision at Warwick Street was to enable people with same-sex attraction ‘to enter more fully into the life of the Church’ ‘specifically within the existing parish structures’ (Diocese of Westminster press statement 2 Feb 2007). The second is the importance of recognising that there is a distinction to be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the Mass. The Mass is always to retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church. This ‘universal’ character of the Mass is to be nurtured and clearly expressed in the manner of every celebration. The purpose of all pastoral care, on the other hand, is to encourage and enable people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances, to come to participate fully and worthily in the celebration of the Mass in the midst of the whole Church, the people summoned by the Lord to give him, together, worthy service and praise.
4. 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. 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. Such pastoral care will include support for growth in virtue and holiness, the encouragement of friendship and wider community contacts, always with the aim of helping people to take a full part in the life of the Church in their local parish community. It will not include the organisation of a regular Mass. In order to assist in this important work, I am grateful to the Jesuit Fathers of the Parish of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street who have agreed to make premises available on Sunday evenings and are ready to extend a welcome to this group. I have asked Mgr Seamus O’Boyle to continue to offer my support and guidance for this group.
5. At the same time, the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption is being dedicated to the life of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for their groups in central London. I hope 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.
6. These new arrangements are to come into effect during Lent 2013.
An account of how the “gay-friendly” Masses first began can be read here.