Gay Masses: Soho, San Francisco.

Earlier this week, California Catholic Daily carried a piece on San Francisco Pride, and the decision by the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer not to participate. However, the parish did advertise in the Pride pocket guide:
I completely fail to see why a Catholic paper should object to the proclamation of God’s love, but they and their readers were enraged by this. The immediate  trigger was the fact that the publication also included the usual gay ads, like a prominent back page one for a gay hook-up site. Is anyone surprised that some gay men use dating sites? However, it was clear that the real anger was directed at the simple existence of a Mass catering primarily to an out queer community.  I placed a comment – the first in the thread – and for my pains, had a response which suggested that I might be in league with some demon:
Terence Weldon appears on other sites as a rabid perverter of Holy Scripture. If he’s in league with some demon, then it’s a particularly depraved one.
(Relax, it’s not true.) What I found remarkable about the rest of the comments was their complete and utter lack of any thought or understanding, a simple parroting of clichés about the sin of Sodom, and the Sin that Cries Out to Heaven and the like: confirming once again, my firm conviction that what draws a certain type of Catholic to the Church is a simple desire to avoid any need for hard thinking on ethical choices, merely depending on following a rule book and the formulaic repetition of fixed prayers for “Salvation”, or for “favours” to be granted. This form of religion (it hardly counts as faith) is not that far removed from belief in magic.
Yesterday, a similar piece (but without any specific trigger) suddenly appeared in the Catholic Herald, lamenting “The  Scandal of the Soho Masses “.  Here too, the responses were sad, sharing much of the tone of those at CCD.  This was my initial response (I will place more later):
The Catholic Church equally teaches that contraception and cohabitation are grave sins. Why  not write about the countless Catholics who ignore those rules? Or about the priests who as confessors or spiritual directors will privately approve those decisions, when taken in good conscience?

The simple facts are that nobody has any business judging the interior state of another’s conscience, and that the history of the Masses has shown that they have drawn back to the Church many hundreds of people who had not seen the inside of a Catholic church in decades. Frequently, they come initially out of simple curiosity after hearing of us by word of mouth , or at London Gay Pride, but then return more regularly. Often, they then become more actively involved in a local parish closer to home as well.

One of the impressive features of the Masses is the depth of participation we have. I suspect that as a proportion of the total congregation, the numbers actively participating as special ministers, musicians, and in the increasing range of after-mass or outside activities is higher than in many conventional parishes. This is in spite of the very long distances some of us travel to attend, and the an often heavy involvement of some in home parishes. Discussion with our parishioners also demonstrates that the level of knowledge and interest in theology and church far exceeds what I have generally encountered in other parish settings.

The only scandal around these Masses is not that they exist, but that some bigots appear to believe they are doing the Lord’s work by trying to prevent other Catholics attending Mass. I am proud to have been associated with these Masses for the past six years, and hope I will continue to be for many more,.

The Catholic Church equally teaches that contraception and cohabitation are grave sins. Why  not write about the countless Catholics who ignore those rules? Or about the priests who as confessors or spiritual directors will privately approve those decisions, when taken in good conscience?

The simple facts are that no body has any business judging the interior state of another’s conscience, and that the history of the Masses has shown that they have drawn back to the Church many hundreds of people who had not seen the inside of a Catholic church in decades. Frequently, they come initially out of simple curiosity after hearing of us by word of mouth , or at London Gay Pride, but then return more regularly. Often, they then become more actively involved in a local parish closer to home as well.

One of the impressive features of the Masses is the depth of participation we have. I suspect that as a proportion of the total congregation, the numbers actively participating as special ministers, musicians, and in the increasing range of after-mass or outside activities is higher than in many conventional parishes. This is in spite of the very long distances some of us travel to attend, and the an often heavy involvement of some in home parishes. Discussion with our parishioners also demonstrates that the level of knowledge and interest in theology and church far exceeds what I have generally encountered in other parish settings. The only scandal around these Masses is not that they exist, but that some bigots appear to believe they are doing the Lord’s work by trying to prevent other Catholics attending Mass. I am proud to have been associated with these Masses for the past six years, and hope I will continue to be for many more.

Reflecting on this afterwards, I was struck by another feature of the comments thread: several people wrote of how they personally had been told directly by participants at the Masses that they were themselves sexually active. Huh? How did this come about? I hardly think that this is something that people would freely volunteer to a stranger at first meeting. In six years of attendance, I have never once had anybody volunteer information on their sexual relationships. The only way these people could have acquired this information, said to have been supplied by “several” people, is to have asked direct questions.

This is extraordinary. I would no more dream of questioning visitors to the Masses on their sexual views and activities than I would I would question married couples in suburban parishes on their use of contraception, or young unmarried couples if their relationships were sexual, or adolescent boys if they jerked off, or single men if they ever used porn.

Why, oh why, do these people think that their sexual  practices are strictly private matters, but our lives as openly gay, lesbian or trans are open to public scrutiny and dissection?

As I have noted in comments at both these publications, the only scandal of these “gay masses” is not they exist, but that some Catholics seem to believe they are somehow doing the Lord’s work by trying to prevent others from attending Mass. Now that really is a scandal that cries out to heaven for vengeance.

For a completely different, celebratory take on the importance of participating in gay worship, see these words of Rev Andy Braunston of the MCC , taken from “The Church” in  “Religion Is a Queer Thing” edited by Elizabeth Stuart.  (I carry a more extended extract in my companion post today, “Women-Church, Queer – Church, and House-Slaves.”)

The sad thing is that queer people are leaving churches in their millions. We don’t want to play by those rules any more. So what choices do we have? Many of us have adopted the ideas of Schussler Fiorenza  and created our own religious communities: queer-church. These take on many forms, from the world wide queer denominations (the Metropolitan Community Church), through to support and campaigning groups like the LGCM in Britain, Dignity and Integrity ans so forth in the USA.  There are also independent groups that function as churches in everything but name. The thing that unites us is the feeling that we are making the rules for ourselves.

We have many choices as queer Christians. we can see ourselves as house-slaves, who are just like any other Christians really, not wanting to cause a fuss or disturb anyone.  This strategy might work for a time, but will, I fear lead to frustration, as these terms will never be affirming or life-enhancing. Or we can let ourselves go on the exodus that God calls many of us to. ..There are dangers with the exodus – we might lose our way, we might get tired and want to want to go back.  There is a danger that whilst we have left Egypt, Egypt has not left us, and we might succeed only in creating carbon copies of what we have left behind – but the danger is worth it.

 

 

 

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