A Westminster diocesan initiative to extend a special welcome to lesbian and gay Catholics at a regular Mass has proved so successful that Cardinal Vincent Nichols would like it to be rolled out nationwide, his lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) liaison priest has said.
The Masses, at the Jesuit Farm Street Church in central London, replaced the more controversial, so-called “gay Masses” that were designated for LGBT Catholics at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Soho until 2013.
Key to the transition was that the Farm Street Masses are an extension of the diocese’s pastoral care for gay people. LGBT Catholics join the regular congregation at the 6.15 p.m. Mass on Sunday evenings twice a month and meet afterwards for a social gathering in the parish hall.
Fr Keith Barltrop, who was appointed chaplain to the LGBT community by Vincent Nichols earlier this year, said that the cardinal would like to see the Farm Street Masses as a model for other parishes in his archdiocese. He added that the idea could be taken up by parishes in other dioceses.
The Farm Street Masses are similar to those said for the LGBT community in Chicago and Los Angeles. Martin Pendergast of the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council said that any move to expand the model would be dependent on interested parishioners taking the lead.
Looking ahead to the October synod on the family in Rome, Mr Pendergast said his group was currently drawing up a briefing paper which it hoped Cardinal Nichols and Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, the delegates to the synod from England and Wales, would take with them and feed into the debate. A major line of argument in the paper, he said, would be a move to encourage the Vatican to undertake a “serious review” of the vocabulary it used in relation to homosexuality.
“Two terms which have been used by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in regard to homosexuality are ‘objective disorder’ and ‘intrinsic moral disorder’,” he said.
“But these are inaccurate and theologically quite inappropriate – and the people who are most hurt by this sort of language are the parents of children who come out as gay. What does it mean to them to hear their children described in those terms?” he added.
Meanwhile the head of Stonewall, Ruth Hunt, a cradle Catholic, said she did not see her being gay “as in any way contradictory with my faith, which was an integral part of my life – of who I am.”
In an interview with The Tablet, Ms Hunt, who attends Mass in Brixton, south London, said she was “bemused” by Catholics who insist there is no room for gay people and their relationships in the Church.
“This leads to an ever-widening chasm for some people between a strongly held [Catholic] belief in God and a very real sense of rejection from our Church,” she said.
Above: Mgr Barltrop and Farm Street church
Some time ago, the Roman Catholic Church in England came under criticism for holding, on a regular basis, what was then call ‘gay Masses’ for LGBT Catholics in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Soho. Since that time, the location has changed to the Jesuit Church in Farm Street, London, which now hosts LGBT people as the regular 6.15pm Mass on alternate Sundays, offering hospitality at a social gathering in the parish hall after the service. This has been part of the pastoral outreach to Gay people by the R.C. Diocese of Westminster.
This initiative has been actively encouraged by the Cardinal of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, who has recently expressed the hope that such hospitality to Gay people might become more common in other parishes in England and Wales. How different this pastoral approach to LGBT people is from that of the leadership of the Church of England, which is still contemplating whether, or not, Gay people are welcomed to its churches!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand