Second Senior Bishop Defends Soho LGBT Masses

Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham has publicly defended the Soho Masses, and repeated the criticisms of our opponents that were made some months ago by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who said that those who wished to pass judgement should learn to just “hold their tongues”. Archbishop Longley, who heads the second most important diocese in England and Wales (after Westminster), said much the same thing in a notable interview with The Tablet:

Archbishop Longley has stern words for the (those opposed to the Masses). ‘The Church does not, as it were, have a moral means-testing of people before they come to receive the sacraments and it is very easy to jump to and come to the wrong conclusions about people when you don’t know them.

Soho Masses Congregation

The rule-book Catholics are apoplectic.

John Smeaton heads his post with the words

“Archbishop Longley Owes Faithful Pro-Life /Pro-Family Catholics an Apology”.

Lifesite News is equally alarmed

A group of pro-life and pro-family British Catholics have reacted with dismay this month as the “conservative” archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, has accused them of being “judgmental” in their opposition to an officially approved “gay” Mass that is ongoing in the archdiocese of Westminster………..The Masses are openly supportive of the “homosexual lifestyle,” with some of the organisers publishing materials on the internet in opposition to Catholic teaching on sexuality.

Daphne McLeod, who heads a group called “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (“For the Church and the Pope”) and organises the band who maintain the regular prayer vigil during the Masses, has written a long letter to The Tablet in response, objecting to being called “protesters”.

This is not a protest though that may be the way the homosexuals who organise these Masses describe it to the Archbishop. If he had spoken to any of us we would have explained that we are not protesting but praying in reparation for any sacrileges that might be taking place.

As it is we pray the fifteen mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and the Divine Praises in reparation, the Divine Mercy Chaplet for all sinners and, at six o’clock, before we end, the Angelus. Although small in number we know we are joined by many who cannot reach London but who pray with us in churches, in homes and in convents.

As there really is no sacrilege in faithful Catholics gathering to celebrate their inclusion in the Eucharist, there really is no need for Ms McLeod to pray in reparation. Instead, I urge the Soho congregation and their supporters to pray in reparation for the sacrilege of Catholics praying in opposition to other Catholics attending Sunday Mass.

Some historical notes are in order here.

The Soho Masses began some eleven years ago, with a monthly celebration by a tiny handful of lesbian and gay Catholics meeting in Camden, north London. Within an few years, numbers had grown, and the original venue became unavailable. The organisers made attempts to secure a proper home in a Catholic parish, but found no co-operation from diocesan authorities. Instead, they gratefully accepted the offer of a home in an Anglican church in Soho, the centre of London’s gay night-life. Groups like Prop Ecclesia became agitated that these Masses were not only held for the people they regarded as obvious sinners, but they were held in an Anglican church.  The Masses flourished. The frequency was increased to twice monthly, and the congregation grew to a regular 50 -60 participants per Mass. Still, the diocese resisted all approaches from the organisers for discussions on recognising their existence, or finding a suitable base in a Catholic parish.

Things changed quite suddenly after Pope Benedict assumed the papacy and appointed Cardinal Levada to head the CDF. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, who had for years been resisting all approaches from the Mass organisers for discussion or even correspondence on the matter, suddenly invited our Pastoral Council to meet with Bishop Longley as his representative, to discuss a move to a Catholic parish. I and the others involved in the extensive meetings that followed were astonished at the urgency shown by the diocese, in their anxiety to arrange the move as soon as possible. Can it be that this sudden and dramatic change in tone was unrelated to the changes at the CDF? In any event, we know that the CDF has been constantly informed of all the developments with the Soho Masses, which have now been operating for nearly four years as an explicit pastoral initiative of the Westminster diocese, and with the implicit support of the Vatican itself.

Ever since the move from the Anglican church to the Catholic parish, Ms McLeod and her supporters  have doggedly taken up position outside the church during Mass, praying the rosary and singing hymns in opposition to the “sacrilege” of openly gay lesbian or trans people attending Mass. In their opposition, they have drawn frequent and enthusiastic support from a range of conservative Catholic bloggers, who regularly lament that these Masses take place, and imploring the Church authorities to shut them down. The irony is that these critics, who see themselves as loyal Catholics and defenders of Roman authority, are criticizing what has been set up as a deliberate pastoral initiative by the Westminster diocese, apparently with the full co-operation (and possible encouragement) of the CDF in Rome.

 

Extracts from Archbishop Longley’s interview, taken from John Smeaton’s blog:

From the interview with Bernard Longley, archbishop of Birmingham, The Tablet, 11 December 2010:

“…Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor selected him to negotiate with a group of lesbian and gay Catholics who wanted a regular Mass celebrated for them, their families and friends. For some years the Mass had been celebrated in an Anglican church in London’s Soho and the cardinal felt it should be in a Catholic church instead. It was settled in 2007 that the Soho Masses Pastoral Council should be formed and would be responsible for organising a monthly Mass at the Church of the Assumption in Warwick Street. Conservative Catholics opposed to the Mass regularly gather outside to protest but Archbishop Longley has stern words for them. ‘The Church does not, as it were, have a moral means-testing of people before they come to receive the sacraments and it is very easy to jump to and come to the wrong conclusions about people when you don’t know them. I don’t know whether the people outside have made attempts to meet the people who are going to the Masses in Soho,’ he says. I question whether those protesting are making assumptions about those people’s lifestyles, to which the archbishop replies: ‘I would assume that is the case, and so it isn’t for any of us to make those judgements which, in conscience, people make before God and also within the sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of Reconciliation assisted by priests and other pastors within the Church. I think, at the end of the day, those sorts of protests are counterproductive and usually have the effect of hardening attitudes and polarising rather than fundamentally changing people’s minds.’

“Given his reluctance to make assumptions about the lifestyles of gay Catholics, it might be reasonable to assume that he would have no objection to civil partnerships. After all, the Archbishop of Westminster and president of the bishops’ conference, Vincent Nichols, does not oppose them. But Archbishop Longley thinks differently. ‘I am not in favour of it because it establishes a legally and publicly recognised relationship which is too easily confused with the sacrament of marriage. Obviously it’s not marriage, because a marriage is between a man and a woman, but I do think it is very easy for people to be confused about civil partnerships and marriage as if they were the same thing.’

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