Saturday, 4 February 2012

Gay Marriage: divided witness (2)

I have not in the past commented on the "Soho Masses", and this for two reasons. The first reason is that I have been anxious not to join in with a chorus of "bishop bashing", particularly a chorus aimed at Archbishhop Nichols. The second reason is that the sources that have been most vociferously critical on the matter are not sources that I feel able to rely on with regard to factual accuracy and with regard to correctly understanding the issues at stake. Since I have no direct knowledge of the events at Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, I have found myself unable to judge as to the accuracy or otherwise of their reports. [Some might not like reading this, but I think they might need to reflect on how they can make themselves more credible as sources to people like myself.]

But at the level of a witness to Catholic teaching about marriage and sexuality, there is a problem. That problem arises from the disparity between the theory of the "Soho Masses" and what actually happens. As Fr Tim points out at the end of his post Gay Mass Bidding Prayers video:
The Catholic Church in England and Wales will have no credibility in opposing legislation for gay marriage while this is allowed to continue in the heart of London.
It is interesting, though, to look a bit more closely at the theory. This can be found in three documents: the statement issued by the Diocese of Westminster on 2nd February 2007 concerning its outreach and ministry to homosexual persons, the statement of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council of the same date and the short press release from the Diocese in December 2007. All three can be downloaded from the foot of this page at the Soho Masses website.

First, the section headed "Underlying Principles" from the first Diocesan press release, posted here in full:
The Mission of the Church is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ and to minister to all people in his name. All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected. (Catechism of the Catholic Church par 1700-1702). In understanding this teaching, the Church teaches that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church par 2358). The Church utterly condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, violence, harassment or abuse directed against people who are homosexual. The Church recognises that "it is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs." (Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons). The Church’s pastoral outreach 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. Being welcomed and participating in their local faith community is the foundation of spiritual support that the Church offers to them. Full and active participation is encouraged.

This full and active participation takes place within the context of the wider Church and specifically within existing parish structures and pastoral services, always of course in accordance with the Church’s teaching and liturgical norms. 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.

That teaching has been laid out in successive Church documents including the recent document of the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, Cherishing Life, which states that in so far as a homosexual inclination "can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered." (Cherishing Life par 111). That document goes on to say that a homosexual inclination "must never be considered sinful or evil in itself …..The Church teaches that sexual intercourse finds its proper place and meaning only in marriage and does not share the assumption common in some circles that every adult person needs to be sexually active. This teaching applies to all, whether married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual, engaged, single through choice, widowed or divorced. Everyone needs to develop the virtue of chastity so as to live well in his or her own situation." (Cherishing Life par 113).  
The Cardinal and his auxiliary Bishops would like to make it clear at this time, that they are openly expressing the teaching of the Church regarding homosexuality, following the statement made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which says, "Departure from the Church’s teaching or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care, is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral." (Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, par 15). It is in the light of this that the Diocese is seeking to provide pastoral care for homosexual Catholics.
It is also useful to note this paragraph from the second press release from the Diocese, issued after the review of the provision in December 2007:
Recently, there has been a review of the provision that has been provided and, as a result, Mgr. Seamus O’Boyle has been appointed Parish Priest. He will be responsible for ensuring that all pastoral provision is given with due catechesis and formation according to the mind of the Church.
The response of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council makes clear their disappointment with the press release of the Diocese, though it welcomes the practical outcomes of the discussions preceding it:
It is regrettable, however, that there was no direct conversation with the Cardinal 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 and their pastoral and spiritual needs. The continued use of narrowly defined, pseudo-clinical terminology to describe people of diverse sexualities, while closely reflecting Vatican usage, tends to pathologise people, focusing almost entirely on the Church’s teaching regarding sexual activity outside marriage. It also mistakenly reinforces the myth that this worshipping community is exclusive to a specific sexual orientation rather than being an inclusive expression of the Church, gathering all sorts and conditions of people.  
There is a risk that such language defines LGBT Catholics, their parents and families, as persons with problems to be solved, rather than recognising the contributions and gifts they bring to the building up of the Body of Christ, the rich catholicity of the People of God. It may focus more on the grief and anxieties of human existence than on the joy and hope of a Church trying to live with integrity in contemporary society. Being proudly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered, and proudly Catholic is at the heart of this community of faith.
This response is significant in two respects. It makes clear, though in an implicit manner rather than by way of explicit denial, that those involved in the Soho Masses Pastoral Council do not accept the teaching outlined in the Diocesan press release - the last sentence of the response cannot be understood in any other way. There are different underlying principles being used by the two parties to the discussions, and by way of their explanations of the practical outcome, namely the provision of the Sunday afternoon Masses; and a certain amount of wishful thinking on the part of the Pastoral Council as to what the outcome might have been from a direct discussion with Cardinal Murphy O'Connor. The response also signals to those who would criticise the Diocesan authorities that the teaching of the Diocese on same-sex attraction has been made clear, and is in line with the teaching of the universal Church. Perhaps this section of the Diocesan press release could be given more publicity than it is.

What are the issues at stake in resolving the divided witness that exists as a result of the Masses at Warwick Street? My own view would be that a Diocesan/Episcopal response is only going to be part of the answer. Those priests who celebrate the Sunday afternoon Masses, and the parish priest, also have a responsibility to make the provision with the due catechesis and compliance with Church teaching that is expected by the Diocesan press releases. One thing that those concerned about the divided witness being offered cannot legitimately do, however, is move the discussion to the level of whether or not particular individuals are, or are not, in a state of grace.

The need to end the divided witness is somewhat urgent in the present political situation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I support gay marriage because they are the servants of the Most High. I support gay marriage because I am gay. Anyway. God bless all of you. Thank you.