For almost six years, fortnightly “Soho Masses” have been offered in the London borough of Westminster that were designed to be “particularly welcoming” to LGBT Catholics and their friends and families. But Archbishop Vincent Nichols has now announced that the Masses will cease and the group that organized them has been asked to focus on pastoral care. Nichols’ announcement features a unique admission about Catholic teaching, which is to deny that a person’s sexual orientation is part of their identity:
Over these years, the situation of people with same-sex attraction has changed both socially and in civil law. However the principles of the pastoral care to be offered by the Church and the Church’s teaching on matters of sexual morality have not. First among the principles of pastoral care is the innate dignity of every person and the respect in which they must be held. Also, of great importance, is the teaching of the Church that a person must not be identified by their sexual orientation . The moral teaching of the Church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life. As I stated in March 2012, this means ‘that many types of sexual activity, including same-sex sexual activity, are not consistent with the teaching of the Church. No individual, bishop, priest or lay-person, is in a position to change this teaching of the Church which we hold to be God-given.’This is the calling to which we must all strive.
The Catholic Church has always refused to acknowledge the existence of gays and lesbians as a community, instead focusing on “persons with same-sex attractions.” Indeed, its Courage ministry, which demands that gay Catholics be chaste if they wish to honor their faith, draws a distinction between “the confines of the homosexual identity” and “a more complete one in Christ.” Using the same shaming tactics as ex-gay therapy, Courage’s mission implies there can be no such thing as a gay Catholic. Still, Nichols’ candid explanation that people should never be identified by their sexual orientation demonstrates how disinterested the Church is in accepting even the most basic realities of sexuality.
The LGBT group Stonewall rebuked Nichols’ decision, responding that “it’s a real shame he’s taken away an opportunity for gay Catholics to celebrate mass in a safe environment.”