BY SIMON CALDWELL
A BISHOP has been urged to step down from leading a rosary procession in London after he arranged the celebration of Masses especially for homosexuals.
Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a conservative Catholic lay movement, wrote to Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Longley of Westminster to warn him that he faced the threat of vigilante action if he led this year's Rosary Crusade of Reparation.
Daphne McLeod, chairwoman of the group, said she had no advance word that the bishop would be heckled or accosted but said similar incidents had happened in the past when people were deeply annoyed.
She wrote to the bishop to say that there were others "who are outside our control, who feel very strongly about you arranging these outrages and then walking in reparation for them".
She said: "They might be led to take some positive action which would be very unfortunate."
Mrs McLeod said that a number of Catholics had contacted her to say they were furious that Bishop Longley — a favourite to succeed Cardinal Corrnac Murphy-O'Connor, who must offer his resignation to the Pope on his 75th birthday in August — had "facilitated" the celebration of fortnightly Masses at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Soho, for gay people and their families and friends.
Many traditionalists believe that the Masses are being used to campaign against the Church teaching that gay sexual acts are morally wrong.
They say that churchgoers have arrived under banners which read "Proud to be LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered), Proud to be Catholic", that gay literature is disseminated, that such events as the Gay Pride march are publicised and that priests routinely give Holy Communion to people who make no secret of the fact that they are living homosexual lifestyles.
Mrs McLeod said the Church was guilty of sanctioning "openly gay Masses and people are receiving sacrilegious Communion".
She told Bishop Longley that he had let loose "evil" in a beautiful church — the Bavarian and Portugese embassy chapel during penal times — and that that his presence at the head of 2,000 people walk ing from Westminster Cathedral, Victoria, to Brompton Oratory, Knightsbridge, would "make a mockery" of an event held to atone for sins committed against "Our Blessed Lady and her Divine Son".
"We are in touch with faithful homosexuals who do strive to follow the Church teaching and they assure us that they would never attend such a Mass," said Mrs McLeod, a retired headmistress.
"They go to Mass in their own parishes quietly and with no publicity. They have asked us to try to stop this practice but, of course, we have no authority to do that. As a bishop you have the necessary authority to stop these Masses altogether and we are all praying that you do, very soon."
She added: "If you don't stop your episcopal approval of these sacrileges then I would advise you to step down from leading the Rosary Crusade of Reparation because, in the circumstances, this leadership would be totally inappropriate."
The procession takes place on October 13, the date of the final alleged apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.
A statue of Our Lady of Fatima is carried by officers of the Catholic Police Guild while girls in First Communion dresses scatter rose petals ahead of worshippers waving banners and praying the rosary. The statue is crowned at the end of the march.
Although it is well attended, the event is seldom led by a member of the Catholic hierarchy and Bishop Longley will be the first English prelate in more than a decade to do so. His involvement indicates a willingness on the part of the bishops to unite the disparate factions of the Church.
The same desire is likely to have underpinned the decision by Cardinal Connac MurphyO'Connor to delegate responsibility for the "gay-friendly Masses" to Bishop Longley in an attempt to end a dispute which had raged since "irregular" Catholic Masses for gays began at St Anne's Anglican Church in Soho shortly after the death of Cardinal Basil Hume in 1999.
Priests from all over the country had been celebrating Masses at St Anne's without the permission of the Cardinal, whose efforts to regulate them were vigorously resisted.
But in February the Cardinal and the Soho Mass Pastoral Council, which organised the services, finally agreed to move the Masses to the 18th-century church in Warwick Street, on the western fringe of Soho.
Although the arrangements are due to be reviewed after six months, activists are already pressing for identical services in other dioceses with large urban areas such as Salford, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff and Leeds. Meanwhile groups of Catholics opposed to the decision have begun to picket the church whenever the Masses are held.
The latest controversy has erupted just a week before the BBC broadcasts a service from a San Francisco Catholic church which has been described as an "inspiration" to gay and lesbian Christians around the world. The prayer service from the Parish of the Most Holy Redeemer, in the city's largely gay Castro district, will be broadcast on Sunday morning on BBC Radio 4.
James Alison, a homosexual British Catholic theologian and author of /s it ethical to be Catholic? — Queer perspectives, will be preaching.
A spokesman from the Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in Britain said: "It is the style of ministry and liturgy at places such as Most Holy Redeemer that influenced many of us familiar with these parishes and so inspired us to develop the kind of parish-set ministry with LGBT Catholics that we now celebrate in central London."
Neither Bishop Longley nor a spokesman for the Rosary 'Crusade were available for comment.