When representatives of the then Soho Masses Pastoral Council met with their counterparts representing the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster to negotiate the move of the Soho Masses from the Anglican parish of St Anne’s to the Catholic parish in Warwick Street, one of the expectations put to us, was that the Masses should be purely “pastoral”, and not “campaigning”. We had no real difficulty agreeing to this, as the Masses never had been in any real sense “campaigning” – but I had serious difficulty in identifying precisely, what is the distinction between the two. That distinction might appear superficially obvious, but in practice is more blurred, as I well knew from my own experience of the Church under apartheid in South Africa. In the context of injustice especially, the pastoral is political, the political very often is pastoral, and sometimes its impossible to differentiate them.
For example, consider the church of Regina Mundi, the major Catholic Church in Soweto. Throughout the troubled times of struggle before the introduction of democracy, this church was regularly the venue for community prayer meetings and vigils for peace, and for political detainees and their families, and for numerous funerals for political activists and those killed by police or in political violence. Prayers, funerals, and ministry to prisoners are very obviously pastoral – but to the authorities, they were seen as political, to the extent that it was often joked, that the police could not understand who was this “Regina Mundi” that was such a troublemaker. (Regina was a fairly common given name for Black women, and “Mundi” can easily sound like a family name in one of the African languages).
At much the same time, a friend of mine, the Jesuit priest Fr Tim Smithan, developed some fame for his efforts as a peacemaker in his rural parish in Natal, a province which was then experiencing high levels of political violence (widely believed to be stoked and aggravated by actions of the police force). Peacekeeping also, is obviously pastoral – but in the context, was seen by some as “political”.
There were many, many other examples around the country of actions and words by Catholic clergy, laypeople and institutions that were primarily pastoral, but simultaneously political.
So it was with the Soho Masses. In all my time attending regularly, usually twice a month, I never heard anything during the Masses that could in any way to be said to be contrary to orthodox Catholic teaching, or campaigning against it. On the other hand, the simple fact that we were meeting together, worshiping in a Catholic Church as openly gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics, had a symbolic value which sent a powerful “political” message – as can be seen by the intense opposition it evoked from a small group of enemies.
So it is with this blog. It has never been my intention, or my practice, to “campaign” against Church teaching. That would imply I had some hope of achieving change, which I know is way beyond my capacity. Right from my opening posts, I have instead made it clear that my primary purpose is much simpler – to draw gay and lesbian Catholics (and other Christians) back into the life and sacramental practice of the church, without compromising on their personal sexual or gender integrity.
Necessarily, that requires at times criticizing some elements of Catholic teaching or practice – but always in a wider context. Sexual matters occupy a relatively low level in the overall hierarchy of Church teaching, and while I am critical of some elements of these (not by any means all), it is always within the greater structure of broader principles of teaching – on equality and inclusion, on justice, on respect and dignity, and on freedom of conscience.
So I find it depressing to be told, as I was recently, that I am not acceptable as a schools volunteer for Cafod, because I am allegedly “campaigning” against Church teaching. In my own mind, all I am doing is attempting to draw LGBT people back into the Church – and doing so by presenting alternative elements of Church teaching, and the Gospels, that are less familiar than the well – known offensive bits.
Now here’s another irony, arising from my exclusion from Cafod schools ministry. Because I’ve been falsely excluded on the grounds of so – called “campaigning”, when all I’ve been doing is attempting to write openly and frankly about matters of importance to queer Catholics, I’m now more determined than ever to campaign more actively. Because the problem, in this case, is not so much about sexuality, but about the right to free speech in the Church, much of that campaigning will be against the pervasive culture of clericalism that Pope Francis has himself criticized, but which remains so pervasive, and so intolerant of open and frank discussion within the Church.
One lesson from today’s Gospel reading, on the encounter at Emmaus, is that having met the risen Christ outside the bounds of the institutional Church, we have an obligation to take the authentic Gospel message back to those left behind – to re-evangelize the Church. Much of my energies up to now have been focussed on matters of sexuality and sexual ethics, which remains the first concern here at Queering the Church. However, to address much broader matters of importance to the Church as a whole, especially matters challenging abuse of power, in Church and outside it, I will be posting also at a satellite site, “From Emmaus to Rome“.