The Catholic Masses with a particular focus on the pastoral needs of LGBT Catholics, their families and friends have now come to an end – and the Soho Masses community is preparing for the next phase in their growth and development, the transition to greater integration in regular parish life, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Farm Street, Mayfair.
It’s time to step back and examine some of the misinformation and outright lies that have mischievously been sown around these Masses, and about the move to Farm Street.
Is the Catholic Catechism a Gay Political Manifesto?
One of the odder objections raised to the Soho Masses in Warwick Street, was that on special occasions, they would drape a rainbow flag, or a set of rainbow coloured ribbons, over the lectern, or at the base of the altar. I had never really understood the particular intensity of the objections to this, until quite recently I came across a reference to the flag as a “political statement” – repeated this week, by a woman from the Catholic Herald who was interviewed for the BBC “Inside Out” program on the Masses. Now I can better understand the thinking – but that does not make it valid. The rainbow flag is a statement of identity, not a program of any political action. It is not associated with any political party, and does not promote any particular law. It is sometimes used to celebrate legal victories, especially over marriage equality, but the equal marriage cause is not universally agreed on by all LGBT people. The flag does not in any way belong exclusively to marriage activists. It is a symbol, not a political manifesto – so what does it symbolize?
The primary symbolism of course, is simply for diversity, just as as many other groups and movements have adopted the rainbow for the same reason. Specifically, the colours are generally accepted as representing:
- orange: healing
- yellow: sunlight
- green: nature
- blue: harmony
- purple/violet: spirit
What could possibly be the objection to any of that? Opponents sometimes insist that the rainbow flag is a symbol of sexual decadence, or a rejection of conventional morality and religion, but that is simply not true. It’s worth noting, in that respect, that early versions of the flag included two other colours – pink for sex, and turquoise for art / magic – but both those were deliberately discarded. long ago. Sex is specifically NOT part of the flag symbolism.
The flag certainly does not carry with it a specific political program, but some of the symbolism certainly has political implications.These however are limited, mild, and entirely in keeping with the Catholic Catechism.
The most important demands implied in displaying the flag, are for respect and freedom from discrimination. From the Catechism, ( 2358), we have “
They (i.e. homosexual persons) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
In addition to this clear statement in the Catechism we have from the CDF Pastoral Letter (Homosexualitatis Problema) the same emphasis on freedom from discrimination (and violence), and the right to be treated with respect.
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. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
This element of Church teaching, so often neglected and ignored by the opponents of LGBT inclusion in church, was pointedly restated by Archbishop Nichols in his January statement announcing the end of the Masses at Warwick Street, and the transition to the community’s integration with the Farm Street parish:
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.
So perhaps the objection is just this, that by associating with the flag, we are identified by a sexual identity? That’s not the same thing at all – to associate with a part of one’s identity (which will always and necessarily be multi-faceted) is not the same as being identified by others with that identity, to the exclusion of all else. Besides, the Catechism clearly advises us to accept our sexual identity:
2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.
If the rainbow flag is a political statement, then the Catholic Catechism is a queer manifesto.
And let us not the other important rainbow symbolism – that given in the Bible, as of God’s covenant with his people – all of them.
The Sin in the Opposition to the Masses
The other blatant lie widely promoted as a reason for the end to the Warwick Street Masses, is that they were stopped because they were allegedly in contravention of Church teaching.
It is absolutely not true that these Masses were stopped because the Archbishop found they contravened Church teaching. There is nothing whatsoever in the January statement to justify the claim He made it clear in a letter to the congregation, that he appreciated the value of the Masses in the past:
In coming to this decision I am appreciative of the way the work of your Group has developed most recently, offering opportunities for study, prayer and retreats. I thank all who have taken a lead in this.
– but also, that they had been, and would continue to be, controversial:
However, it is also true that the celebration of Mass on these occasions in Our Lady of the Assumption Church continues to be contentious and, as far as I can judge, will not cease to be so.
This begs the question – wherein lay the controversy?
It is certainly not that they were contravening Church teaching, as alleged, or Archbishop Nichols would certainly have raised that with us, privately in advance, in his January public statement, or in his letter to the congregation. The fact that he did not, corroborates the often repeated statement from the organisers that right from the start, there was an agreement that the Masses would be pastoral, not campaigning – and they kept to that, scrupulously.
Those who insist that they were in contravention, are woefully in ignorance of the whole of Church teaching – which is far wider than the prohibition on certain genital acts, which everybody knows. In addition to the clear Catholic teaching that homosexual persons should be treated with “dignity, respect and compassion”, should be welcomed in church and should not be subject to any unjust discrimination, as shown above, teaching also includes the acceptance that to be homosexual is not in itself sinful, and is clear that the primacy of an informed conscience overrides all else. Furthermore, it insists that nobody, but nobody, has the right to judge the state of another’s conscience.
If anybody is in contravention of teaching in this sorry affair, it is those misguided opponents of the Masses who objected loudly and persistently, that those attending the Masses were in a state of mortal sin – a claim they had absolutely no justification for making.
- Soho Masses Transition Begins: We Are Sent Forth (queeringthechurch.com)
- Archbishop Nichols’ Letter to the Soho Masses Congregation (queeringthechurch.com)
- What’s “Really Happening” with the Soho Masses? (queeringthechurch.com)
- Soho Masses: Can We Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time? (questgaycatholic.org.uk)
- What Are YOU Doing, to Promote LGBT Ministry? (queeringthechurch.com)
- Beginning the Lenten Journey: Take the Rainbow Bridge to God.
- Epiphany: Soho Masses Community Celebrate the Feast of Coming Out (questgaycatholic.org.uk)