My Vatican Dossier, and Papal Backing for the Soho Masses

It’s official. I now have confirmation that somewhere in the depths of the Vatican, someone (indeed, more than one) has a dossier on me. More accurately, the dossier is on the nefarious doings of the Soho Masses, in which I am infamously involved, and the “homosexualist bloggers” (c’est moi!) that it includes and shelters. These dossiers (there seem to be multiple copies of one original) were not put together by a curial official, but by the interfering busybodies who ludicrously believe that in their determination to prevent a few hundred Catholic men and women from attending a Mass of their choosing, a Mass which has the formal approval of the Westminster diocese, and was initiated by the diocese with the full knowledge and co-operation of the Vatican at the highest levels, they are somehow acting “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (PEEP!)

It would be funny, if it were not in fact so sad.

…….two of us decided to go to Rome in October to discuss just these two points and the future appointment of sound bishops in this country. As usual we took dossiers with us illustrating the present position on the SOHO Masses and the officially approved religious instruction in most schools and parishes. We were kindly received in every Curia Office we visited and we went through our dossiers with the officials we met, leaving a set behind for their further study.

SOHO Masses. This dossier contained News Letters from the Church of Our Lady and St Gregory, Warwick Street, which showed encouragement to walk in the GAY PRIDE MARCH carrying banners proclaiming “Proud to be Catholic, Proud to be Gay”; promotion of books, talks and films by advocates of the homosexual lifestyle; the spread of these Masses as they are not being stopped; the recruitment of young Catholics to join them etc. We also included addresses of web-sites run by regular members of this congregation stating their hostility to Church teaching and their programme to spread this practice quite explicitly, with names of priests and bishops who facilitate all this. ……

(from the PEEP Newsletter, February 2011)

In the same newsletter, these dear misguided souls are fulsome in their praise for the Holy Father and his triumphant English visit. Their only regret here, is that neither he nor his spokesman, Fr Lonbardi, could bring himself to comment on the Soho Masses. They cling to their delusion that Pope Benedict must be privately opposed to these Masses, but maintains in public only a diplomatic silence.

Sadly, the SOHO Masses where openly practicing homosexuals who flaunt their, objectively, sinful life-style receive Holy Communion every first and third Sunday of the month, were ignored. The reporter John Burke……attended the Press Conference held by Father Frederico Lombardi during the Pope’s visit..and asked him about the SOHO Masses. Father Lombardi obviously knew all about them but he replied that he would not take that question “as they are not on the Pope’s schedule”! Remembering that the Pope is very particular about the reverence due to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, encouraging recipients to kneel and receive on the tongue as we used to, he must be just as unhappy about these openly sacrilegious Communions as the rest of us are.

Diplomacy may be the reason there is no action. Rome lives and breathes a diplomacy which restrains them from interfering directly with a serving bishop unless there is absolutely no alternative. They may instruct a bishop to take certain action and he may diplomatically procrastinate, delay, make excuses and eventually just do and say nothing. Then Rome will wait until he reaches retirement age and they replace him.

The most obvious flaw in these assumptions is that if the Pope had really wanted to replace “on retirement age” the bishop responsible for these Masses, he had a golden opportunity with the retirement of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, who initiated their transfer from an Anglican church to the present home in a Catholic parish. Instead of replacing him with someone wishing to shut them down, he appointed instead Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who has been notably more outspoken in public in favour of the Masses, and in open criticism of those who, like the people of PEEP, stand in judgement over them. (He also appointed to the second most important diocese in England and Wales the man who managed the hands on negotiations, Archbishop Bernard Longley, now in Birmingham).

For more telling evidence of direct papal involvement, we need some inside information. This I now share, as one who was involved in the negotiations that took place before the move, and have served on the Soho Masses Pastoral Council ever since.

Back when the Soho Masses were still operating from St Anne’s Anglican church, the organisers made frequent attempts to engage in direct discussions with the diocese to secure a base in a Catholic parish as a base, and to get formal recognition for the Masses. For a long time, these overtures met with no response. In April 2005, Pope Benedict was elevated to the papacy, and almost immediately appointed Archbishop William Levada, then heading the diocese of San Francisco, to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He took  up his new office later that year, and early in 2006, was appointed Cardinal.

In the context of “gay Masses”, a few things are worth noting about Levada. As head of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, he was closely associated with the gay supportive Masses in the Castro, at the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. It is inconceivable that in making this appointment, Pope Benedict, the previous head of the CDF, could have been unaware of this. It is also worth reflecting on Levada’s reported views on dissent, and on moral norms. On “dissent” , he very clearly dismisses the validity – but he has a very restricted view of the meaning of the term:

Catholic theology does not recognize the right to dissent, if by that we mean adopting conclusions which are contrary to the clear teachings of the authoritative, infallible magisterium and which are presented to the public in such a way as to constitute equivalently an alternative personal magisterium.[19]


So, what about “dissent” on moral issues, and specifically issues of sexual ethics? To meet his criteria for exclusion, these would need to be seen as “clear teachings of the authoritative, infallible magisterium” Do they qualify? No, clearly not.

“The human process of formulating moral norms is marked by an essential dependence upon the data of human experience…. The variabilities which marked the human process of its discovery and formulation made such particular applications inherently unsuited to be considered for infallible definition…. For such formulations must remain essentially open to modification and reformulation based upon moral values as they are perceived in relation to the data and the experience which mark man’s understanding of himself…. Even though there is nothing to prevent a council or a pope from extending [infallibility] to questions of the natural moral law from the point of view of their authority to do so, nevertheless the “prudential” certitude which characterizes the non-scriptural norms of the natural law argues against such an extension….The Church has never in fact made an infallible declaration about a particular norm of the natural moral law.”[20]


Or, in the words of (then) Cardinal Ratzinger to Sr Jeanine Grammick, “It’s not that order of teaching“.

So, Pope Benedict appointed to the highest doctrinal office in the Church a man who clearly recognised the possibility of disagreement, in good conscience, on matters of sexual morals. Within barely a year of his taking office (the twinkling of an eye in Vatican time), there was a dramatic change in the Westminster diocese and its response to the Soho Masses. Whereas for several years they had avoided our requests for meetings, suddenly it was they who were wanting to speak to us – and fast. When we received the first communication from them, in October 2006, we were startled by the urgency with which the diocesan representatives were treating the matter. When we met, somewhat hurriedly, for the first time, we were even more surprised at how quickly they wanted  not simply to reach an agreement, but to complete the move into a Catholic parish. In the end, we had a series of something like half a dozen meetings, I think at something like fortnightly intervals, stretching over the Advent and Christmas seasons and into January – not usually the easiest times to set up meetings with the clergy. Even then, it was obvious that the Vatican had a hand in this new urgency. It soon became clear to us that this was indeed so, and we later had absolutely solid evidence that Cardinal Levada himself was monitoring the Masses and their progress. We also have anecdotal reports from reliable sources that Pope Benedict may have had direct discussions with Cardinal O’Connor.

I am beginning to see a pattern here. I remember a conversation with James Alison after Mass, some months after Cardinal Ratzinger became pope. He observed that a feature of his then brief papacy was that it was remarkable for what he had not said – nothing at all (up to then) on Humanae Vitae. From there, James speculated that Benedict’s papacy would be characterized not by any marked shift in Vatican doctrine on homosexuality, but by a gradual moving away in silence from the hard-line of Pope John Paul II. This would act as a precursor to a more far-reaching, more sympathetic theology that could then follow.

I now believe that this is precisely what is happening. It is notable that in the five years of his papacy, he has still said very little to directly object to homoerotic relationships. He has very pointedly not repudiated Cardinal Schonborn’s suggestion that it is time to consider the quality of our relationships, and not dwell incessantly on the dreaded acts. His observations last year on condoms highlighted the possibility of a shift, however gradual, in church teaching and the gradualism inherent in his own theology. And just last month, his address on St Joan of Arc included some very clear references to the possibility of error among the leaders of the church, including  a suggestion of clear analogies between the circumstances of Joan’s time and the present.

Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice would be well advised to remember the aphorism, “Be careful what you wish for, as you may get it.” If they were to be granted their fervent desire for Pope Benedict to speak his mind on the Soho Masses, they could get the shock of their lives – they could well find him speaking up in support!


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One Response to “My Vatican Dossier, and Papal Backing for the Soho Masses”

  1. Paul Robert Says:

    Well, thank you, Terry, for that neatly laid out update on where homosexuality and the Church might be at. Nice picture of St. Peter’s too.

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