By Luke Coppen
A BISHOP faced mounting criticism this week after he attended a Mass celebrating a 25-year relationship between two prominent Catholic homosexuals.
Bishop John Crowley of Middlesbrough was expected to celebrate the Mass, which took place on Saturday June 9, in a private chapel in west London. But after a report appeared in a national newspaper describing the event as a "gay thanksgiving". he decided to sit among the congregation instead.
Bishop Crowley had been invited to celebrate the Mass by Julian Filochowski. director of Cafod, and Martin Pendergast, of the Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, to mark "25 years of friendship and commitment to justice".
The bishop was travelling to London when he became aware of the report which said the Mass flouted Church teaching by appearing to celebrate homosexuality. Following a discussion with Mr Filochowski and Mr Prendergast, Bishop Crowley decided not to preach or preside at the Mass.
The bishop continued his journey to Heythrop College, Kensington, where up to 200 people were gathered for Mass. Before the celebration began, Bishop Crowley walked up to the sanctuary, welcomed the congregation and then explained why he was not presiding.
He said: "In the light of some highly misleading press reporting today, and therefore because of the intense media interest which has now been aroused, and not least because we are in Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor's archdiocese who was unaware that this celebration was taking place, I want to make it perfectly clear at the outset that what is being celebrated at this Mass is, as the invitation card indicated, '25 years of friendship and commitment to justice'. It is simply that."
He continued: "Any suggestion that we are taking part in a service which seeks to undermine or challenge the Church's clear teaching on marriage and human sexuality is totally without foundation. Let me repeat, what we are now celebrating together is friendship and commitment to justice— nothing more, nothing less. However, in view of the changed circumstances caused by the press interest and the certainty that it will be interpreted in a totally misleading way I have decided not to be the celebrant at this Mass."
The bishop then returned to his seat to participate in the Mass, which was celebrated by Fr James O'Keefe, president of Ushaw College, Durham.
One member of the congregation, who did not wished to be named, said there was nothing unusual about the Mass. "I think you could have had Cardinal Ratzinger there and he wouldn't have batted an eyelid," he said.
A spokesman for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor confirmed that the Archbishop of Westminster had not given Bishop Crowley permission to celebrate the Mass in his diocese. He said: –The Cardinal has made it clear that the particular service held in Kensington on Saturday did not have his approval. Bishop Crowley has publicly clarified his own posi
tion and the Cardinal accepts what he said."
Bishop Crowley's spokesman, Fr Derek Thrnham, said the bishop, who travelled to Holland following the service, would not have attended the Mass if he believed it was celebrating a homosexual partnership.
He said: "Had he understood that they had a physical relationship, he would not have gone. He was very clear about that. He is not the least bit wobbly on the Church's teaching. He was very firm that at no time would he do anything to undermine it."
In a statement released on Monday, Bishop Crowley apologised for any distress the reporting of the Mass had caused. "If this misrepresentation has caused any distress to the Catholic community in
England and Wales, then I am deeply sorry," he said.
Daphne McLeod, chainman of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, said that Bishop Crowley's actions seemed "na:fve".
She said: "As a bishop of the Catholic Church, he should be more discerning in the future. He should be much more careful."
Confusion reigned at the start of the week over whether the event was connected to Cafod, the official aid agency of the bishops of England and Wales.
Spokeswoman Fiona Fox said the Mass was "absolutely not a Cafod event".
Heythrop College, however, claimed that it had only agreed to host the event because it believed it was a Cafod event to honour Mr Filochowski.
Fr John McDade, principal of Heythrop College, said: "At no time were we informed that the celebrations touched upon Julian Filochowski's personal life. This was not made known to the Heythrop College authorities."
Fr Turnham said that although Bishop Crowley had spent 14 years as Cafod's bishop chairman, he was invited to the Mass as a friend of Mr Filochowski and Mr Pendergast. "It wasn't an official Cafod celebration, but the kind of people involved were from the justice world," he said.
Bishop John Rawsthome of Hallam, who took over as bishop chairman last November, was also present at the Mass. In a statement issued on Tuesday, he said that he had gone in a personal capacity.
He said: "As chairman of Cafod, I should make it clear that the occasion was not a Cafod occasion but a gathering of friends, many of whom would be associated by their work in the developing countries of the world," Bishop Rawsthorne added that the statement read out by Bishop Crowley was also made on his behalf.
"I would not want to add to it, except to say that I also deeply regret any distress the misrepresentation will have caused to the Catholic community in England and Wales and pray that it will not have any adverse effect on the wonderful support people give to Cafod," he said.
Julian Filochowski, 53, became director of Cafod in I 982, after almost a decade at the Catholic Institute for International Relations.
He has been at the forefront of the campaign to cancel third world debt and last year led a delegation of campaigners to Rome for an audience with the Pope. He is also a trusted advisor to the bishops of England and Wales.
His partner, Martin Pendergast, is a veteran gay rights campaigner. He is a member of the steering group of the Catholic branch of the ecumenical Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, which publicly dissents from Church teaching on homosexuality. Until recently Continued on Page Two