BY MARK GREAVES
"GAY-FRIENDLY". Masses are to be celebrated twice a month at a church in the West End of London, the Diocese of Westminster has announced.
They have been arranged to replace "irregular" Masses that occurred without diocesan approval at an Anglican church in Soho, central London.
The Masses, which will take place at Our Lady of the Assumption in Warwick Street, were arranged after Masses for gay Catholics at St Anne's Anglican Church prompted accusations of sacrilege.
Complaints were also made that the Masses, which were celebrated by priests from all over the country, were used to campaign against Church teaching about sexual morality. But the diocese insisted that Masses at Warwick Street would conform to Church teaching and liturgical norms. Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, an orthodox Catholic lay group, expressed concern to Cardinal Ccrnnac MurphyO'Connor last year that the "sacrilegious" Masses were encouraging active homosexuals to take Holy Communion.
Chairman Daphne McLeod said the approved celebration of Mass at Warwick Street would continue to allow actively homosexual Catholics to receive Communion. "If they are openly living a gay lifestyle they are in mortal sin, and should not be receiving Communion. I cannot see why they cannot go to their parish Masses like everyone else," she added.
But Martin Pendergast, secretary of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, defended the St Anne's Masses.
'There is nothing that contravenes liturgical norms," he said. "It's certainly not some wild, progressive, mad kind of liturgy. Some people think we're quite conservative."
According to Mr Pendergast, the Masses have been celebrated for seven years, during which the congregation has grown from 20 or 30 to 100.
He accused "ultra-conservative" groups such as Pro Ecclesia and .Christian Order magazine of making claims about the Masses that were "almost beyond our imagination".
Westminster diocese reiterated the Church's position on homosexuality. explaining that homosexual inclination was not sinful, but condemning any sexual activity "which excludes openness to the generation of new human life".
It said: "The Church recognises that baptised persons with a homosexual inclination continue to look to the Church for a place where they might live in authentic human integrity and holiness of life." It added: "In seeking to meet these pastoral needs there would be no attempt to create separate congregations and exclusive services out of step with the Church's teaching."
The Mass will take place on Sunday at 5 pm twice a month and will be open to everyone. Celebrants will be drawn from the Diocese of Westminster with the approval of the Cardinal The Soho Masses Pastoral Council (SMPC), which organises the Masses at St Anne's for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) Catholics as well as their families and friends, welcomed the move.
"We rejoice that we are recognised as having a rightful place at the table of Christ's banquet," the SMPC said in a statement.
The Masses at Warwick Street were arranged, the statement claimed, after a series of meetings between the diocese and the SMPC. The statement added: "It is regrettable, however, that there was no direct conversation with the Catrlinal himself during the process. As a result, his statement may appear to reflect more the concerns of the Church's hierarchy rather than the lived experience of committed LGBT Catholics."
The statement criticised the diocese's "pseudo-clinical terminology" to describe Catholics who are not heterosexual, saying that it tended to "pathologise" people.
Such language defines "LGBT" Catholics as "problems to be solved, rather than recognising the contributions and gifts they bring to the building up of the Body of Christ".
The statement added: "Our forthcoming transition is not a closure, nor even a beginning, but rather a further step in the journey of God's pilgrim, rainbow people."