BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE VATICAN gave its blessing to new fortnightly "gay-friendly" Catholic Masses in the heart of London, it has emerged.
Cardinal William Levada, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, personally authorised the services in Soho in an attempt to end a dispute which has raged since "irregular'. Masses began at St Anne's Anglican Church in Soho shortly after the death of Cardinal Basil Hume in 1999.
The original idea was to offer pastoral care to gay Catholics and their families and friends.
But some Catholics had described the Masses as sacrilegious because they were being organised by people who explicitly rejected Church teaching that gay sexual acts are morally wrong.
Catholic priests from all over the country were also celebrating the Masses without the permission of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster.
Attempts to regulate the Masses were vigorously resisted and the Masses grew in frequency and the numbers of people who attended them increased.
Cardinal Levada found a way through the impasse by moving the Masses to Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Warwick Street and insisting that they must conform to Church doctrine.
He had sought a solution to the crisis for months and eventually agreed a document by the archdiocese after a series of revisions.
Mark Dowd, chairman of Quest, a pastoral support group for gay Catholics, said the document had been rejected by the Vatican "about 10 times".
"But it was finally approved by Cardinal William Levada himself," he said.
Mr Dowd added that Quest might soon write to bishops with large settled gay communities in their dioceses, such as Salford, Birmingham, Nottingham and Leeds, to ask for "gayfriendly" Masses to be established there, too.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor had received scores of complaints that the Soho Masses were used to campaign against Church teaching about sexual morality. Catholics also protested directly to the Vatican.
However, announcing the agreement Cardinal MurphyO'Connor said that gays who looked to the Church for 'a place where they might live in authentic human integrity aid holiness of life" would not be ignored.
"In seeking to meet thee pastoral needs there would be no attempt to create separate congregations and exclushe services out of step with the Church's teaching," he addeJ.
The decision to allow tie continuation of the Masses ws nevertheless criticised ly Daphne McCleod of the orthidox Catholic campaign grotp Pro Ecelesia et Pontifice.
"If people are openly livig a gay lifestyle they are in monl sin, and should not be receiviig Communion," she said.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connr was also rebuked by the Sob Masses Pastoral Councl (SMPC), the group that initiated the Masses almost eigt years ago.
"We rejoice that we at recognised as having a rightfi place at the table of Christ banquet," the SIVIPC said in statement.
"It is regrettable, howeve that there was no direct conve &Ilion with the Canlinal hirasi during the process. As a resul his statement may appear reflect more the concerns the Church's hierarchy rade than the Lived experience : committed LGBT [lesbian, ge bisexual and yansgenderc: Catholics."