Cardinal Pell: All (including gays) Really Are Welcome

Cardinal Pell is not the first name that come to mind when one thinks of welcoming and supporting gay Catholics. However, this report from Australia shows some clear similarities with the clear expressions of support that we in the Soho Masses received last year from Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Bernard Longley.

The background is that the parish of St Joseph’s church in Newtown, Sydney has for some years hosted a monthly Friday Mass with a particular welcome for LGBT Catholics (not an explicitly or exclusively a “gay” Mass). Last year, a very vocal group of opponents made a lot of threatening noises, then seem to have quieted down. This year, responding to a charity appeal raising funds for accommodation for people living with HIV, they moved from threatening disruption to mounting a visible, noisy and intimidating presence outside the Church.

The renewed threat came on February 12 when Acceptance held a fundraiser for Stanford House – a short term accommodation service for people living with HIV – and was faced with people praying across the street.

One Acceptance member, who wished to remain anonymous, told SX “it was intimidating”.

“They were across the road in the shadows praying. I wouldn’t like to be the last person to leave the church,” he said.

– SX News

They no doubt see themselves as loyal defenders of the faith, and so expected support from the Cardinal in their attempts to have the “sacrilegious Masses” halted.

In the weeks preceding the threat, the fundamentalist group stalked Acceptance members taking photographs and video footage, threatening to show the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell.

– SX News

But they had a surprise coming: instead of siding with the objectors, Cardinal Pell wrote a letter affirming support for the continuation of the Masses, which was posted at the back of the Church, for all to see.

Headed ‘Welcome to the Catholic Church’, the letter specifically addressed the regular Friday night mass at the church, which is attended by LGBT members of the Catholic group Acceptance Sydney.

– SX News

I have not been able to find the full text of this letter on – line, but the extracts which were published in the SX report are worth noting:

“The Catholic Church welcomes all to come and pray in the church, particularly during the Mass and other communal liturgies.

“On Fridays at St Joseph’s Parish Newtown, Mass is celebrated for the spiritual benefit of those present and to foster mutual support and encouragement for all.  These celebrations are not sponsored by any particular organisation, but are for all to share.”

It is understood the letter, which outlines rules around receiving communion, was sent to all Parishes.

“Priests recognise that individuals make their own decisions before God on the reception of the Sacraments.”

– SX News

This emphasis on individual conscience over receiving communion repeats the approach of the Dutch Bishop last year which ended the impasse over the refusal of communion to an openly gay Carnival King, and the approach outlined by Archbishop Nichols when he was questioned last year about the (LGBT) Soho Masses:

In a BBC radio interview with Mark Dowd on “The Pope’s British Divisions”, …. he repudiated any suggestion that by allowing these Masses to continue, he was permitting people to receive Communion in a state of mortal sin. The clergy, he said have no business judging the soul of anyone who presents for communion – and anyone who does attempt to judge another should just STFU:

“anybody from the outside who is trying to cast a judgement on the people who come forward for Communion [there], really ought to learn to hold their tongue.”

Queering the Church

It also is the same approach described by Cardinal Mahoney, in a recent LA Times interview on the occasion of his retirement. (Cardinal Mahoney was speaking about pro-choice politicians, not gay Masses – but the principle, refusing to use communion as a weapon to police individual conscience, is the same).

While some of Mahony’s brother bishops appear as if they won’t be happy until they get the chance to deny Communion to elected officials who deviate from church teachings, Mahony has resisted taking that step. Why? Canon law, he notes, puts the responsibility for worthy receipt of the sacrament on the person approaching the Communion rail rather than on the priest.

“It isn’t for us to guess at what’s on someone’s conscience,” he said. Moreover, the cardinal mused, Christ gave Communion to Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper, though the apostle had, that day, committed his betrayal.

“You know, throughout the Gospels, Jesus never appeals to punitive measures to change anyone’s life….

LA Times

I am delighted that Cardinal Mahoney has based his response not only on Catholic teaching on the primacy of conscience, but also on the Gospels themselves. It really is high time that so-called “Catholic” (and other “Christian”) zealots who attempt to impose their views by force on all others, should likewise ask themselves: “What would Jesus do ?

There is nothing remotely Catholic or Christian in trying to drive people away from the Mass, or any other form of worship.

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Gay Clergy: Rev Peter Gomes (Gay, Black, Baptist, Republican) – RIP.

In the growing ranks of out and open gay or lesbian clergy, Peter Gomes was an anomaly: he was raised Catholic, but became a Baptist pastor. He was also African American, and a Republican. Not, in short, an obvious fit with the popular image of an American gay man. But (and this is important) he was able to recognize and publicly acknowledge his sexuality, and to reconcile it with his faith. This is an important reminder for us that there is no conflict at all between a gay or lesbian orientation and religious faith, or with conservative political philosophy. The only conflict is with those influential people in some churches and in some political circles who seek to impose their own interpretations of Scripture, or their own political prejudices, on everybody else – in disregard of the fundamental Gospel message of inclusion and justice, and the conservative principle of non-interference in private lives.

I have no personal knowledge of the life or work of Rev Gomes, other than the inspiring title of his book, “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?“. (The Gospel message is indeed scandalous, and should be read much more carefully by those who in their ignorance use it to promote their modern conceptions of so-called “traditional” family values, or untramelled capitalism).

Instead of extensive researching and writing a full assessment of Rev Gomes myself, I simply draw your attention to reports elsewhere.

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The Myth of Clerical Celibacy, Revisited

One of the key points in the recent declaration by German theologians (now joined by others, worldwide), is the urgency of ending the current insistence on compulsory clerical celibacy. This is my cue to revisit, and expand on, some points I have made frequently on previous occasions.

When I wrote a series of posts on the problem of compulsory clerical celibacy nearly two years ago, I listed several problems with the rule:

  • It is not based on Scripture, but in fact contradicts Paul’s clear advice that celibacy is not for everyone.
  • It was not the practice of the early church, and was not compulsory for the first twelve centuries of Christianity – over half of Church history
  • The rule, when it became fixed, was not introduced as a matter of pastoral care, but to preserve church wealth and power
  • Celibacy has never been required for all clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • It was swiftly rejected by the Protestant churches after the Reformation
  • It is still not required for all Catholic priests: it does not apply to those in the Eastern rite of the Roman church, nor to those who are already married, and are now converting from other denominations.
  • Many bishops and even national Bishops’ conferences have asked, either privately or formally, for the blanket ban to be relaxed.

I can now add some further observations that I was not then aware of:

  • Research shows that the majority of Catholics want an end to the policy.
  • As a young man, Joseph Ratzinger himself signed a document asking for the ban to end.
  • As pope, Benedict XVI has conceded that celibacy is difficult, but becomes possible when living in a supportive community of fellow priests. He can offer no advice on how it becomes “possible” for one who can not live in such a community, implicitly conceding that for many men, perhaps it is not (agreeing in this, with St Paul).
  • The only objection he raised in the interview to ending the rule was not not one of principle, but of practicality, saying there were questions as to how this could be arranged.

But the most serious difficulty to my mind, is that as a universal practice, even within the Roman rite, it is a myth – and a dangerous one. It is a myth, because it is a rule that is widely broken.

Ordinands: A Lifetime of Celibacy?

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Rethinking Church and Sexuality: London Conference

One of the features of last year’s extensive publicity over sexual abuse and Catholic clergy, was the appallingly inadequate preparation that priests received in their training for matters of sexuality – their own, or that of others in their pastoral care. To some extent, the attention given to sexual abuse over the past few years has dramatically improved the position for those currently in training, but much remains to be done. For evidence of this, we need only consider the response of some bishops to works such as “The Sexual Person” (by the lay Catholic theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler), which the US Bishops attacked simply because its findings conflicted with Church teaching – without any serious attempt to engage in the evidence and thoughtful reasoning the book presented. We can also point to the ignorance displayed by others who casually cite “nature” as support for Church teaching, when the overwhelming weight of evidence from the real world, whether in the animal kingdom or from human anthropology, flatly contradicts it, or who argue against “redefining” marriage, with no recognition at all of how marriage has been constantly redefined over the centuries, often directly by the church itself.

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Gay priests: Coming Out, Discovering Love – 2

Bart, a gay priest, continues his weekly series of reflections on the challenges and difficulties of coming out for a priest. In this week’s reflection, he begins to tackle the thorny issue of sexual activity:

Having laid down the groundwork by talking more generally about love (not simply love as eros), I will now enter the minefield. That a priest – of all persons – should wish to directly talk about sex is problematic enough. Throw the gay ingredient into the mix and we have a bomb in our hands. So be it! Let’s talk about sex.

I take it to be axiomatic when I say that we are sexed beings. By this I mean that humans are not simply spirits. We are embodied beings, we occupy space, and one of the major characteristics of this body is that it presents certain features that we commonly refer to as gender characteristics, male or female, or (more rarely) both. Clearly we are not asexual beings, just as much as we are not disembodied spirits. It is most unfortunate that in two thousand years of Christianity we have not wholly succeeded in coming to terms with both our corporeality and our sexuality. I suspect that the Catholic priesthood is the symbolic locus of this neurosis. Cue the film “Priest” (1994).

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Heed the Message of Christ: Queering Galatians

As we continue to consider the person of Jesus Christ, we must think also of what he expects of us. Above all he sends us out into the world to carry his message. This is what is meant by “apostle” – one who is sent as a messenger. We are all (or should be) apostles, and the world we are to carry the message to is our own, contemporary world, with its modern conditions and circumstances.

It is in this spirit that  Rev Steven Parelli, executive director  of Other Sheep, has posted an adaptation and paraphrase of Paul’s letter to the Galatians., that he prepared in the immediate aftermath of the Equality March in Washington D. C. This is a text that he once memorized in an attempt to fight against his same-sex attraction – but reassessing it in personal, modern terms has given it a very different complexion:

When I was in my freshman year of Bible college, I memorized most of the book of Galatians by heart (and filled five notebooks with personal study notes) ….for the purpose of helping me to overcome my “temptation” to same-sex sex (which I now realise is not a temptation but an orientation).

Last night while on the bus that brought us home from the National Equality March in Washington,  D. C., I went over chapter 1 of Galatians in my mind as well as read it from the NT Bible I had with me. …….Once I queered the very first word “Paul” as “we who strive for the equality rights of LGBT people”, I was off and running. And then the text spoke to me, as many texts from the Bible have spoken to other oppressed peoples of former and present times.

Apostles for Today

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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.

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