Lifesite News reports that Cardinal Nichols has recommended to the priests of Westminster diocese that they should “make use” of Quest in ministering to “those with same-sex attraction”.
In a communication a little over a week ago to priests in the Archdiocese of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols recommended that they make use of the organization Quest to minister to “those who live with a same-sex attraction and are often very anxious about their journey to God and their relationship with the Church.” The letter was leaked to LifeSiteNews.
“Quest, which was founded in 1973, is a national organisation providing support for LGBT Catholics, their friends and families,” Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, stated in his letter. The Cardinal is the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Quest is the only nationwide British organisation for LGBT Catholics, of which I currently serve as deputy chair. Lifesite is notoriously anti-gay, and for years have been vigorously hostile to us. They are conspicuously not pleased with Cardinal Nichols’ letter. I’m therefore wary of commenting in any depth on their report, without confirmation of its accuracy, but if it is correct that the cardinal has indeed recommended to his priests that they make use of Quest in ministering to lesbian and gay Catholics, that is great news indeed, For many years, relations between Quest and the English bishops was at best strained, with no formal recognition, let alone contact. In recent years there has been some improvement in specific locations. This reported letter will improve things not only for Westminster, but also more widely: Cardinal Nichols is president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. No doubt, other bishops will be willing to follow his lead.
There are only two brief, direct quotations from the reported letter in the Lifesite report – but both are notable, for different reasons. In the first, he says that ““those who live with a same-sex attraction and are often very anxious about their journey to God and their relationship with the Church.” This precisely describes the reason that specific ministry to LGBT Catholics is needed – they are indeed very often anxious about their relationship with the Church, and far too often fear, sometimes with good cause, that attempts to join in the sacramental life of the church may lead to hostility or outright rejection.
The second direct quote accurately describes the purpose and functioning of Quest. “Quest, which was founded in 1973, is a national organisation providing support for LGBT Catholics, their friends and families,” Quite so – the primary concern is providing pastoral support, in many forms including retreats, worship, conference, publications, the website and social functions.
It is not true, as Lifesite claims, that “But Quest’s support for Catholics experiencing same-sex attraction entails an outright rejection of Catholic sexual morality. ” There is much in Catholic sexual morality that Quest fully supports. In particular, fully they support much of Catholic teaching specifically applicable to lesbians and gay men – that they should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, for instance, and that any form of violence or malice, in speech or in action, should be strongly opposed.
Where members of Quest do take issue with Church teaching applies only to details of teaching relating to sexual acts. Where we disagree, is in recognising that there is far more to loving, committed relationships than just what we do with our genitals. When we enter such relationships, we do so in full accordance with the established church teaching on the primacy of conscience. We note, too, the observation some years ago by Christoph Schonborn, one of the most senior cardinals of the church and also an eminent theologian, that it is time for the church cease its obsession with same- sex genital acts, and focus instead on the quality of the relationships.
It was clear from the two Family Synods of 2014 and 2015 and Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” that followed it, that even though there was very little specific attention to the issue of lesbian and gay Catholics, the majority of bishops and Pope Francis himself want to see for them a stronger welcome and pastoral support in church. Pope Francis has written that this must be by means of accompaniment, discernment and the interior forum.
Cardinal Nichols letter, if accurately reported, is fully in accordance with the lead from Pope Francis and the synods. One disappointment though, is that there appears to be no mention at all to the problems faced by transgender Catholics. That’s not a surprise: although there has in recent years been some notable progress towards an improved welcome and pastoral support for lesbian and gay Catholics, from the Vatican and in many local churches, support transgender people and understanding of the issue still lags far behind,
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