The biweekly “Soho Masses” in London were celebrated for the “pastoral care” of homosexual Catholics, said the archdiocese, but as the English Catholic journalist William Oddie wrote in the Catholic Herald a couple of years ago, “It is now clear beyond peradventure that those who attend the Masses are nearly all what the archdiocese calls ‘non-celibate gay people’ who intend to continue to defy Catholic teaching. . . . The whole ethos of the Soho Masses is a committed denial of this teaching.”
The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has now closed it down and transferred the work of pastoral care to another church, while giving the church in Soho to the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the English branch of the group the pope established for Anglican converts. (Our Lady of the Assumption,the archbishop notes, is the church at which John Henry Newman first heard Mass.) Even though “the situation of people with same-sex attraction has changed both socially and in civil law,” the archdiocese explained,
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.
The Church is changing the arrangement for two reasons, the official statement continued:
The first is to recall that the original aim of this pastoral provision at Warwick Street was to enable people with same-sex attraction ‘to enter more fully into the life of the Church’ ‘specifically within the existing parish structures’ (Diocese of Westminster press statement 2 Feb 2007). The second is the importance of recognising that there is a distinction to be made between the pastoral care of a particular group and the regular celebration of the Mass.
The Mass is always to retain its essential character as the highest prayer of the whole Church. This ‘universal’ character of the Mass is to be nurtured and clearly expressed in the manner of every celebration. The purpose of all pastoral care, on the other hand, is to encourage and enable people, especially those who are in difficult circumstances, to come to participate fully and worthily in the celebration of the Mass in the midst of the whole Church, the people summoned by the Lord to give him, together, worthy service and praise.
The effect is to reassert the teaching of the Church without being too direct about it. That “must not be identified by their sexual orientation,” for example, also means “must not identify themselves by their sexual orientation,” which is to say, must not assume they can or must act upon their desires.
You are not first a homosexual, the archdiocese is saying to the people who attended that Mass. You are first and primarily a human being, and therefore someone called to chastity, and the proper expressions of your sexuality are defined and limited and do not include homosexual practice. Being homosexual is only the personal context in which you are called to be chaste, as being heterosexual is the context for most people. But it is not an identity that brings with it a way of life.
The assumption that “I am X, therefore I must do X” is the default one, even among Catholics, for reasons all of us can understand since most of us assume it when explaining our own actions. “I’m just a cranky old man” is a version, as is “I’m just not patient” and “I suppose I’m just too selfish to . . . “. The homosexual person has better reason to assume it than the cranky, impatient, and selfish, because his desires feel so natural and seem the same as everyone else’s only directed to somewhat different subjects. But still, as the archdiocese has said, you are not your sexual orientation.