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….
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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