Category Archives: Pastoral

Catholic Hierarchy Is a Shining Light in Dark Moment for LGBT Rights in India

Bondings 2.0

Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s Supreme Court reinstated a law that bans homosexuality as a “crime against nature” earlier this week, intensifying divisions between LGBT advocates and the religious communities they blame for this development. Catholic leaders have varied in responding to the Court’s decision, but there are hopeful signs as at least one bishop spoke out against the law.

Outlawing homosexuality in India dates to British colonial rule more than a century ago. Recent legal debates began after a New Delhi court overturned the law in 2009. Anti-LGBT organizations, including faith-based ones, have sought to re-criminalize homosexuality since then. The Supreme Court’s ruling now says it is up to the nation’s legislators to repeal the law if that is what is desired.

The Times of India reports that religious groups have welcomed the ruling, with leaders using extremely homophobic language and advocating “ex-gay therapy” in their statements. Relative to these, Catholic…

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Women Bishops: Canada, Ireland

Just as the Church of Ireland was consecrating its first female bishop, the Anglican Church in Canada was electing a woman bishop of its own.

(The Telegraph report of the Irish consecration of Bishop Pat Storey referred to her as the “first Anglican woman bishop”. This is not strictly correct. She is the first woman bishop in the UK or Ireland, but there have been several more in other provinces of the Anglican communion, including some recently appointed in South Africa and India, for example).

More women bishops

The Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada elected the Reverend Canon Melissa Skelton to be its ninth bishop on Saturday.

Press reports include:

Huffington Post Canada: Rev. Melissa Skelton Elected Bishop Of New Westminster

Douglas Todd Vancouver: Sun Rev. Melissa Skelton elected bishop of Vancouver-area Anglican diocese

Paul Sullivan Matro [Canada]: Anglican bishop brings branding skills

By coincidence the election took place on the same day as the Consecration Of The Revd Pat Storey As Bishop Of Meath & Kildare. Patrick Comerford, a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, where the service took place, describes the occasion in detail: A Memorable Afternoon at the Consecration of Bishop Pat Storey in Christ Church Cathedral.

via Thinking Anglicans

Pope Francis’ World AIDS Day prayer:

This year, World AIDS Day conincided with the First Sunday of Advent. Pope Francis paid attention to both, in his Angelus message. The scriptural message for the first reading yesterday concerned an end to war (“turning swords into ploughshares”), and Francis looked forward to a time when nations will co-exist in peace. But for World Aids Day, he also included an expression of “solidarity” for all those affected by AIDS, and a hope that they will all have access to the healthcare that they need.

English: The Red ribbon is a symbol for solida...

Continue reading Pope Francis’ World AIDS Day prayer:

Quest Conference 2012: Some Thoughts

Last weekend, I attended my first conference, where I was privileged to deliver one of the two addresses. During the course of the weekend, several people asked me for my thoughts on my first experience of conference. Although I am a member, and have been a supporter for some years, this was the first year that I was able to attend. In addition, my awkward geographic location, with a foot in both London and Brighton regions, but distant from both, means that I have not been able to get involved in local activities as much as I would have liked. The result is that during discussion on Quest itself and the decisions it faces, I felt something of an outsider. It is in that spirit that I offer here those thoughts – as a dispassionate, (relatively) outside observer, coloured by the insights I gained from researching, writing and delivering my presentation – “Blessed Are the Queer in Faith – for They Shall Inherit the Earth”.

Belsey Bridge Conference Centre
Continue reading Quest Conference 2012: Some Thoughts

Are Evangelicals Embracing LGBT Inclusion?

For years, there has been evidence that major sections of the US Mainline Protestant churches, and Protestant denominations in Europe, have been substantially reconsidering their attitudes to same – sex relationships. The evangelical churches on the other hand, like the Vatican oligarchs,  have seemed much more monolithic in their continuing opposition. Appearances can be deceptive. I have noted before a few indications that some Evangelical leaders, like some key Catholic bishops and theologians, and in the secular world, some conservative politicians in the GOP, are not simply reconsidering, but becoming active straight allies for queer inclusion in church, and social equality.

Jay Bakker: Not Your Typical Evangelical

At the Huffington Post, there is a useful analysis of the “Evangelicals’ Great Gay Awakening” by Cathleen Falsani, herself an Evangelical who writes that when as a student she learned that some of her classmates had come out as gay, her first response was to pray for them.

For most of my life, I’ve been taught that it’s impossible to be both openly gay and authentically Christian.

When a number of my friends “came out” shortly after our graduation from Wheaton College in the early ’90s, first I panicked and then I prayed.

What would Jesus do? I asked myself (and God).

That last question, so fundamental to young Evangelicals’ thought processes, was crucial. She realized that although Jesus in the Gospels is not reported as having said anything at all about homosexuality, he did say a great deal about love. So, she determined to love, and to love unconditionally, even as she remained unsure if homosexuality is indeed sinful.
Now, her views have been transformed – just like those of other younger Evangelicals – heavily influenced by a growing band of Evangelical theologians who are concluding, just like their more liberal Mainline counterparts, that the traditional view of homosexual relationships as strongly condemned in scripture is mistaken.  Much of her account is based on the new book Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society, by Jay Bakker, the son of Jim Bakker and the late Tammy Faye Messner. The arguments she repeats will be familiar to my regular readers:
  • Leviticus condemns (male) homosexuality – but likewise eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law. Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers. Deuteronomy calls for brides who are found not to be virgins to be stoned to death, and for adulterers to be summarily executed.
  • The New Testament words that are commonly translated in the Bible as “homosexuals/homosexuality” actually refer to male prostitution, and not to loving relationships.
  • The few texts that even appear to be critical of homosexuality are heavily outweighed by the abundant verses emphasising God’s love for all his creation. Bakker’s conclusion is clear: homosexuality is not a sin.
“We must weigh all the evidence,” Bakker writes. “The clobber scriptures don’t hold a candle to the raging inferno of grace and love that burns through Paul’s writing and Christ’s teaching. And it’s a love that should be our guiding light.”
Bakker is not alone among Evangelical leaders.  Falsani says that
Tony Jones, a “theologian-in-residence” at Minnesota’s Solomon’s Porch, one of the pre-eminent “Emergent” churches in the nation, echoes many of Bakker’s arguments. Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo, has been saying this kind of thing for years, despite her husband’s disagreement.
I have named several others in previous posts on these pages.
In the ongoing struggle to achieve full welcome and inclusion in church for queer Christians, the struggle on the ground may appear long and fruitless, with some small visible signs of progress overshadowed by the continuing hostility of so many. We must never forget though, that in the longer term perspective, progress has been remarkable over just the last twenty years – a mere blink of an eye in the time scale of salvation history.
Progress in the Mainline and European Protestant churches has recently become visible and noteworthy, but it is not that long ago that they too seemed to be intractable in their opposition. While the Catholic and Evangelical establishment views right now seem permanently fixed and unlikely to change, they are not really all that different from that of the more liberal groups twenty or thirty years ago, when voices for reform existed, but seemed to be a small minority, unlikely to make any impact.
The record shows that minority groups calling for reform have steadily increased in influence, and are achieving notable landmarks for inclusion one after another.
Is it really so unlikely that over the next twenty or thirty years, Catholics and Baptists will similarly see dramatic increases in calls for reform, and achieve some victories? We must take heart from this, and use it to boost our determination and fortitude as we continue to push for full LGBT inclusion – even in the face of apparent hopelessness, and some inevitable setbacks.

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A Theology of Gay Inclusion, Pt 7: “In the end we will be judged on how we have loved.”

In March this year, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the seventh extract:

‘In the end we will be judged on how we have loved.’

Many of the passengers on the 9/11 flights, when told they were going to die, phoned their families to say that they loved them. In former times, we might have thought that a better response would have been to beg God for forgiveness of their sins. I prefer the first, and I dare to think that God would, too.

If God is love, and if sex is loving, then sex between two people of different or the same gender can only be looked upon lovingly by God. The real sin would be to live without ever having had this contact with another human being.

Sacraments are places where God’s story and the human story meet. Not only do we need to tell the human story, but we need to tell it first; that was Jesus’ way of doing things and of teaching. The human story of some homosexuals is that awakening to their sexuality has meant taking responsibility for themselves and growing up. They say they have grown into better people for having taken the risk of giving and receiving love. A gay man said that, in experiencing being despised and rejected for being gay, he found that, ‘The ultimate sign of a person’s love is the figure of Jesus on the cross. The wound of homosexuality is not unrelated to Christ’s presence in the Passion. Through suffering, rejection and pain, people grow, change, and are transformed.’ Another said simply, ‘God wants us to be the people he created us to be.’ This echoes the saying of Saint Clement of Alexandria that, ‘We ought not to be ashamed of what God was not ashamed to create.’ Where is the Good News for homosexuals? Is it in the Wisdom of Solomon, ‘You [God] love all things that exist, and detest none of the things you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, O Lord, you who love the living. For your immortal spirit is in all things.’ (Wisdom 11.24-12.1, NRSV)

A Theory of Gay Inclusion, Pt 3: “It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.”

In March this year, Fr Owen O’Sullivan published an article in the theological journal “Furrow” on the inclusion of gays in the Church. The CDF seem to have found this article dangerous, and have ordered him not publish anything further without prior approval. In the modern internet age, this attempted censorship simply does not work: the original article has been published on-line in a series of posts at an Australian Salvation Army blog, “Boundless Salvation”. 

Here is the third extract:

 ‘It’s not wrong to be gay, but it is wrong to act gay.’

Is a homosexual, by reason of that fact, called by God to lifelong celibacy? The church says yes.

Imagine someone saying to a group of Irish people, ‘There’s nothing in itself wrong with being Irish. I’m not saying there is. But that doesn’t mean you may act on it. So, no more Guinness, going to Croke Park, singing rebel songs into the early hours of the morning, waving tricolours, no more craic. Close the pubs as occasions of sin, and, while you’re at it, would you please do something about your accent: it’s suggestive – of Irishness. I’m not asking you to deny your Irishness, far from it, just not to act on it.’ Would you consider the speaker to be nuanced, respectful and compassionate, or pedantic, patronising and arrogant?

Being homosexual and trying to be faithful to church teaching – is it a cruel joke? Would God tie a starving person in a chair, put a plate of food in front of them, and say, ‘Your self-denial… will constitute for you a source of self-giving which will save you’? (See CDF Letter, n.12.)

The church requires abstinence of the homosexual. To abstain from the physical expression of sexuality means, for the homosexual, abstinence from the truth, from reality, from identity, from recognition, perhaps also from family, and surely from love. Sexuality is not an optional extra to our humanity; it’s an integral part of it. An alcoholic is invited to abstain from alcohol – yes. But alcohol is not an integral part of anyone’s humanity; it’s an optional extra.

Official teaching invites a homosexual to a strange limbo-like existence where being and doing are required to be separated. It says there’s nothing in itself wrong with being a homosexual – as long as you don’t act like one. There’s nothing in itself wrong with being a bird, as long as you don’t fly. How can that be an honest or a healthy way of living?

The distinction between being homosexual and doing homosexual acts is phoney. It’s like saying, ‘Your sexuality is part of you; but you must not be part of your sexuality.’ Have we forgotten that the Incarnation brings matter and spirit, body and soul into one in the human-divine body of Jesus? The Incarnation is God’s answer to dualism.

Being and doing are not as separable in life as they might seem in a lecture hall. But, even in a lecture hall, Saint Thomas Aquinas said, ‘Agere sequitur esse in actu.’ (Summa contra Gentiles, 3.53, 69.) If my Latin is not too rusty that means, ‘Doing follows being in action.’

Homosexuals who try to be faithful to church teaching are in danger of distorting themselves, like left-handed people forcing themselves to use only their right hands; they are in danger of developing a Jekyll-and-Hyde mentality, suppressing what is true about themselves. The statement of the CDF that, ‘Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral’ applies here. (Letter, n.15)

The pastoral rhetoric about respecting homosexuals is meaningless at best when the associated moral rhetoric undercuts a homosexual’s personhood. It means that homosexuals are neither in nor out, neither persons nor non-persons, but tolerated somewhere on the border.

“Speaking the Truth” on Catholic LGBT Inclusion

Regular readers here will know that the infamous CDF document on “homosexuals”, Homosexualitatis Problema (better known as then Cardinal Ratzingrer’s Hallowe’en letter), is not my favourite Church document.  Nevertheless, it does include some important features, which many people in the Catholic Church too easily forget.
In its closing paragraphs, the document reminds us of the words of Scripture: “Speak the truth in love”, and “The truth shall set you free”. It is disgraceful that the document itself ignores its own advice here, but no matter: the advice itself is sound, and there are an increasing number of Catholics, lay and clerical, who are making up for the CDF omission, by speaking the truth in love on LGBT inclusion in church. The latest to do so is  Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), in an address October 21 at King’s University-College, a Catholic institution based at the University of Western Ontario. In doing so, he reminded us of the other neglected portion of the CDF letter – the exhortation to treat “homosexual” persons with dignity, compassion and respect.
I regret that the only report I have been able to find of Huckaby’s address is from Lifesite News, which is not usually renowned for its sympathy with progressive causes in general, or LGBT Catholics in particular. Nevertheless, they quote some sections verbatim, which are worth taking on board:

“The somewhat charitable act of simply reminding gay and lesbian people that they are children of God is not the same as working to achieve justice and inclusion for them,” said Jody Huckaby.  “As children of God, they and we all deserve better.”
Huckaby, who was raised Catholic and attended Catholic colleges, appealed to the Church’s insistence on the dignity of every person and the duty to serve the disadvantaged.  He called for the Church to make the fight for homosexual rights a key component of its social justice work, on the same level as the fight against racism, sexism, and poverty.
In his talk at King’s, Huckaby quoted the Church’s teachings on homosexuality extensively, particularly the Catechism of the Catholic Church and various letters from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) while he was head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Discussing the Church’s call for homosexuals to practice chastity, Huckaby said that while the Church prohibits unjust discrimination, “the bottom line remains that for gay and lesbian people the only way to live in grace within the Catholic Church is to live celibately and with this as their cross to bear.”
“In fact, for those who choose not to be celibate, they are sinful and somehow playing a role in the discrimination that they receive,” he continued.  “Almost to the point that it seems that they might deserve what happens.”
After reading one section of the catechism he stated, “So this time around, we were taught that gay and lesbian people are intrinsically disordered, and that their actions – which one may argue, in this case, are indivisible from the person – are not to be approved.”
“All of the credible research indicates that being gay is not a choice, nor can one successfully change his or her sexual orientation from gay to straight,” said Huckaby.  “Therefore, no one should be made to feel that they have been forsaken by God because of one part of who they are.”
He condemned the Church’s vocal stand against “the battle for marriage equality,” citing various letters and campaigns from the U.S. Bishops’ Conference and various U.S. dioceses.  Further, he praised certain groups that have already been “building bridges of inclusion” within the Church, in his view, such as Dignity, the New Ways Ministry, and the newly-formed Catholics for Equality.
Huckaby was introduced by Fr. Michael Bechard, the college’s chaplain.  King’s principal, Dr. David Sylvester, defended the address when questioned by LifeSiteNews early last month.
As a Catholic who is challenging Vatican doctrine on same – sex relationships, Huckaby is hardly alone. The orthodox teaching of the institutional church has been criticized for decades, by theologians like the Jesuit (as he then was) John McNeill and Daniel Helminiak; by scripture scholars like William Countryman and Jack Rogers, and by historians like John Boswell, Alan Bray and Mark Jordan, who have demonstrated from historical records that present teaching is contradicted by the actual practice of the Church in earlier times.  
The teaching has also been widely challenged by organizations for lesbian and gay Catholics themselves, such as Dignity (USA), Quest (UK) and Acceptance (Australia) – and by Huckaby’s own organisation (PFLAG), by the pastoral outreach New Ways Ministry, and by the newer groups Catholics for Equality and Equally Blessed. More generally, research has repeatedly shown that most ordinary Catholics disagree with Vatican teaching. Collectively, Catholics themselves simply do not agree that same sex relationships are morally wrong, and in many countries (including the US), they are even more supportive of legal recognition of same sex unions than the population at large.
What I find striking about this address is not the familiar words or arguments themselves, but the venue – a Catholic college. Just as in so many Protestant denominations, formal theological discussion of the place of queer Catholics in the Church is starting to move beyond quiet discussion or mutterings among those most directly affected, and deeper into the formal structures of the Church. We have seen this in the cautious suggestions for reform, and a shift in emphasis from the homosexual “acts” to the relationships and respect and dignity urged by an increasing number of Cardinals and bishops, in a steady flow of important books by theologians who are not themselves gay, by the extensive list of learned papers delivered at this year’s Trent conference on theological ethics  – and by the number of Catholic colleges and journals which are increasingly willing to make space for these discussions. The move to more open discussion and reconsideration remains a minority one for all that. The lesson from the Protestant denominations though, has been that once open-minded study and discussion begin, minds are changed and movement occurs. If the reconsideration has not yet begun in the Vatican, we are not yet hearing of it – but I am certain that we soon will.

Recommended Books:

Sexual Ethics
Farley, Margaret: Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Salzman, Todd A. and Lawler, Michael G: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)

Scripture and Homosexuality

Countryman, William L: Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today
Countryman, William L: Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church
Countryman, William L: Forgiven and Forgiving
Helminiak, Daniel: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality
Rogers, Jack Bartlett: New Testament and Homosexuality
Scroggs: New Testament and Homosexuality

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“Out of the Shadows, Into the Light”:Blessed John Henry Newman, Soho “Gay” Masses

Last Sunday I went up to London for one of the regular LGBT – oriented “Soho Masses”. Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had conducted the beatification service for Cardinal John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman is now officially Blessed John Henry – and so the liturgy used our Mass was, quite appropriately, the newly minted liturgy for his festal day.

Portrait of Cardinal Newman by John Millais

When I first wrote about Newman a year ago, I wrote that he has particular significance for gay Catholics, on account of his deep commitment to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, and his writing on conscience.  That initial post was simplistic: I did not then realize how sharply opinions on John Henry divide, specifically on his ideas of conscience and loyalty. While some progressive Catholics celebrate and promote (their understanding of) his championing of conscience, some conservatives see this as entirely a misrepresentation of his understanding of conscience, which should rather be read in the context of his parallel championing of church authority and loyalty.

For a long time, I have been wary of writing anything further – although for a time I was trying unsuccessfully to put together something on the “paradox” of Newman. Now, after a flood of information and commentary leading up to the beatification, I stick by my original assertion. Blessed John Henry Newman indeed of great importance for queer Christians, with even more reason than I originally recognized.

Newman’s legacy is paradoxical: he is claimed simultaneously as hero by progressive Catholics for his stout defence of conscience, and by conservatives for his defence of authority. He is touted as a gay saint over his highly publicized deep relationship with Aubrey St John – and “defended” as obviously heterosexual because he was celibate, and so obviously not giving sexual expression to any same- sex attraction.  All of these deserve further consideration, and have received plenty elsewhere.

For now, I want to limit my own observations only to two additional ways in  which Newman’s career is particularly relevant for queer Christians, and especially the LGBT Catholic congregation of the Soho Masses, by prefiguring our own position.

We too live in a paradoxical state, with the official position of the Vatican (and many other leading religious bodies) urging noble ideas of treating us with dignity, compassion and respect – yet in their own actions they frequently do the exact opposite. They urge us to follow and to speak the truth – but when we do, we may find ourselves paying a heavy price. They have attempted to silence people like John McNeill and Jeannine Gramick for their attempts to speak the truth, a Canadian altar server was refused ministry for his, Michael B Kelly and many others have lost their jobs in Catholic schools and colleges, simply for telling the truth of their lives. The CDF reminds us that “the truth will set you free”, but for Catholics in Church employ, too often it simply sets us free of that employment.

Newman spent most of his life as priest under attack from all sides. It was only late in life that he began to receive recognition for his achievements as a theologian, when he was suddenly promoted from parish priest directly to cardinal, and eventually beatification. I believe that we as a queer Christian community are following a similar path, from persecution and exclusion, to ever-increasing inclusion – and even respect for what we can teach the wider church. We see this most clearly in denominations like the mainline Protestant groups that have already accepted the principles of full inclusion and equal treatment for queer Christians and clergy, or who are openly debating these issues – but we are also starting to see some embryonic signs of the same thing in the Catholic Church.

This was most dramatically illustrated for out Soho Masses community by the blaze of media publicity (mostly favourable) we received in the build-up to Newman’s beatification. We have been operating for over eleven years now, and for over three years in a Catholic parish as a formal pastoral initiative of Westminster diocese, and so under the patronage of the head of the Church in England and Wales. We have experienced continuous low level mutterings from some conservative opponents, but otherwise very little publicity, with not even a mention on the diocesan website.

This changed dramatically over the past few weeks. In addition to substantial coverage in BBC television and radio programmes, there were additional British reports in a range of newspapers and magazines. Coverage has since gone global. At last Sunday’s Mass, we had reporters present from Spanish national radio, Croatian radio, Czech Television – and Gaydar radio. (Gaydar is a major UK gay dating website, with an on-line radio service).

“Out of the shadows, into the light”, indeed.

Related articles on John Henry Newman

A “Culture of Life” and Ferment in the UK Church.

In the UK, as in the US, we have a vociferous band of self-appointed guardians of the faith, who regularly wail about departures from Catholic orthodoxy, wherever they perceive it. Most of the time, I prefer to ignore their bleatings. Just recently though, I have been paying more attention, as they are now meeting strong resistance where it counts.

Daphne McLeod leads a group and website called “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (acronym PEEP, which I think is rather fun). She and her group are responsible for the regular protests outside the London Soho Masses, about which she regularly complains to all she can think of, from the Archbishop of Westminster to the Vatican. (We know that she has sent a barrage of submissions to both – much of it based on distorted information.) Her objections, however, are falling on deaf ears – at all levels.

…..it is rather surprising to find Archbishop Nichols now claiming, when he does reply to letters from concerned Catholics, that they are, by their own description only of a homosexual orientation …. who struggle to be part of the Catholic Church and conform their lives accordingly!

Can he really believe this against so much evidence to the contrary ? Doesn’t he realise that faithful Catholics with this orientation who are really striving to follow Church teaching don’t want to call attention to themselves with special Masses? Some of these noble souls have contacted us to express the distress these Masses with their sacrilegious Communions cause them while they, who really deserve it, get so little pastoral care.

Recently the Holy Father told Bishops in Rome You have the duty to teach, with audacity, the Truth. Hopefully he will tell our bishops to once more start guiding their flocks responsibly by issuing Pastoral Letters and Ad Clerumsinsisting that true and only true Doctrinal and Moral teaching is given in our parishes and schools again.

This hope is unlikely to be realized, as she admitted to Lifesite News

Daphne McLeod, the head of the Catholic campaign group Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, told LifeSiteNews.com that the situation has not improved under Nichols. The Soho Mass group, she said, is “getting worse, more brazen. They’re spreading and have groups now to attract the young people.”

McLeod has organized prayer vigils outside the church where the homosexualist events are held. “I see these nice young people go in there and I’m sure they don’t know how wrong it is. They’re not being taught about it in Catholic schools.”

McLeod’s organization has written to and visited Vatican officials begging that the situation be addressed. “We write to Rome all the time, we went to Rome, with all those dossiers and nothing was done. We spoke to Cardinal [Francis] Arinze [then-head of the Vatican’s Congregation of Divine Worship and Sacraments] and he said, ‘I’m not going to do anything about the Soho Masses.’” (emphasis added).

– Lifesite News

John Smeaton, director of SPUC, (“Society for the Protection of Unborn Children”) wrote an incoherent piece last month in support of the PEEP campaign against Soho Masses, arguing that the bishops could somehow help the unborn by stomping on gay and lesbian worship. The same theme was then picked up by Edmund Adamus, diocesan director of pastoral affairs, who was breathlessly described in the press as one of the country’s “most senior” Catholics, who lamented the UK “culture of death”, which for which he cited as supposed evidence, the advances for equality legislation:

A leading adviser to the Archbishop of Westminster has blamed abortion and gay rights for turning Britain into a “selfish, hedonistic wasteland” which has become “the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death”.

Edmund Adamus, director of pastoral affairs at the diocese of Westminster and an adviser to Archbishop Vincent Nichols, said Parliament had turned Britain into a country which is more culturally anti-Catholic than nations where Christians are violently persecuted such as Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan.

This is theological shorthand which, in fairness, doesn’t mean quite what it appears to do, but it is palpable nonsense all the same, as Paul Vallely made clear in a useful riposte at the Independent. More interesting to me than the argument and its flaws, was the response. Vallely concluded his piece with the prediction:

All this is spectacularly unhelpful on the eve of the papal visit. The Catholic Church has insights to offer the rest of society about the dangers of putting materialist individualism before the common good; about social justice at a time of spending cuts. It has good questions to ask about the relationship between laddish culture and attitudes to women and sexual violence.

But that will not be heard above the indignation generated by Mr Adamus’s incitement to cultural war. He is no doubt about to get a major ticking off.

This was prescient – the anticipated ticking off came swiftly:

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster has distanced himself from an aide who said gay rights and the commercialisation of sex had turned Britain into a “selfish, hedonistic wasteland” and “the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death”.

The comments from Edmund Adamus, director of pastoral affairs at the diocese of Westminster and an adviser to the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, have angered gay rights and secularists groups and provoked embarrassment among the Catholic hierarchy weeks before the pope visits Britain.

Senior figures, including Lord Patten of Barnes, have been keen to stress that the UK, while secular, is not anti-Catholic and that the pope is not flying into hostile territory.

A spokesman for Nichols said the views expressed by Adamus “did not reflect the archbishop’s opinions”.

I confess to some special interest, and some schadenfreude, here. My understanding is that it is Adamus, exercising his authority as head of pastoral affairs for the diocese, who steadfastly refuses to allow the diocesan website to make any reference to the diocesan initiative which gives pastoral backing to the Soho Masses. Is too much to hope that this rebuke is a sign of further sidelining  to come? (I understand that Adamus was scheduled to appear on BBC Ulster’s Sunday sequence programme this week – but did not appear. Is the first sign of some muzzling?)

With the papal visit now less than a fortnight away, the British media are increasingly obsessed with print and broadcast stories on the Catholic church. The BBC alone will have a radio report by Mark Dowd, an openly gay ex-Dominican and member of our congregation, on Thursday morning this week, and a TV programme on Thursday evening, which will include material on our Masses (for which I was one of the interviewees. It remains to be seen if I make it onto the screen, or end up on the cutting room floor.) Next week Wednesday, there will be a programme by Dowd on “The Trials of Benedict” – which the Scottish primate Cardinal Keith O’Brien has decribed (unseen) as a “hatchet job” on the church.

Unlike Cardinal O’ Brien, I do not want to comment definitively on the content of programmes before they have been aired. However, I suspect that they will demonstrate something very different from the “culture of death” described by Adamus: I hope and believe that they could well show instead a British Catholic Church which is vigorously, ebulliently, alive – and that one side of that life and vigour is a willingness to speak up and engage with the world, instead of simply regurgitating slogans from a nineteenth century Catechism.

I will be waiting with interest the programs to come – and will report on them here.