Stuart Reid Charterhouse
‘Isay,” I said unctuously. “I hope you don’t mind my calling you Dorothy.” “Not at all,” said Mrs Daphne McLeod, chairman and Acting Honorary Treasurer of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. “Except that my name is not Dorothy.” My inner Homer Simpson cringed in embarrassment. Doh!
Daphne and I were being given a lift by Mrs Caroline Hurst, secretary of PEEP, from Warwick Street, Soho, to Victoria Station, the three of us having met earlier at a vigil outside the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, where a Mass was being said for homosexual Catholics, their families and friends.
It was a strange afternoon. I hadn’t been to Our Lady of the Assumption for 30 years. It is a lovely 18th-century church, and hasn’t been mucked about much. The sanctuary still looks sacred. There are altar rails. On this particular Sunday the church was almost full for the “gay-friendly Mass”, one of two celebrated there each month with the blessing of Westminster diocese. The congregation was smart casual. Near the front I saw a baby buggy. Towards the end of the sermon, a young Asian couple arrived, a man and a woman. The woman was wearing a crop top. Before I could clap my hands over my eyes, I noticed that she had perfectly formed hips. It was not what I had been expecting to see.
The sermon itself was non-threatening. The priest spoke rather dismissively of divisions between true and false believers. It is a popular riff, but can give the wrong impression. Nobody likes the religious police, but, as the priest will have known, you can’t be a Catholic if you do not believe that some things are true and others false, that there is heresy and there is orthodoxy. It’s one thing to ignore the rules, quite another to deny their validity. If you don’t believe what the Church teaches on homosexuality – or on oppressing the poor, or on cheating at bingo – the dignified, the honest, the sane thing to do is to leave. Nobody’s keeping you.
I left Mass after the Creed, and joined the vigilkeepers on the pavement opposite. To begin with I worried that someone I knew might walk by or pop out of the church. There were eight of us, and we were led in prayer by Daphne and Caroline, both of whom knelt on the pavement. A tough fellow with bulging muscles came swaggering around the corner, and jumped at the sight of the kneeling oldies.
He need not have been frightened. These people do not bite. They were there not to condemn sinners but to pray in reparation for any sacrileges that might be taking place in the Church. “We hope that one day we will all meet in Heaven,” says Daphne. Homosexuality is anyway a heavy cross to bear, and none of us has the right to be smug or judgmental, least of all people like me.
That’s not to say, however, we should not be critical of the mess the Church has landed itself in. When at the beginning of 2007 Westminster diocese agreed to the bi-monthly Masses at Warwick Street, it condemned all forms of homophobia, as you might expect. At the same time, however, it declared that gay sex was “objectively disordered”. There was thus to be “no attempt to create separate congregations and exclusive services out of step with the Church’s teaching”, and the diocese quoted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “Departure from the Church’s teaching or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care, is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.” Westminster has been ignored, however. You don’t need to ask members of the Warwick Street congregation personal questions to know that the “gay-friendly Masses” are out of step with Church teaching. These Masses are organised by the Soho Masses Parish Council. One of the pillars of the SMPC describes himself as “Catholic, gay, partnered” on his website (linked to on the SMPC website). He also writes about his homoerotic imaginings during a retreat in South Africa. He claims that he “was quite literally not just in conversation with Jesus Christ as a friend, but with Him as a lover, and with Mary during frequent rosaries as the mother of my boyfriend”.
Westminster finds itself in a bind. By continuing to support the Soho Masses it is giving scandal to many loyal Catholics, and at the same time underwriting what can only be described as a gay agenda. But if the diocese were to condemn the Masses, the press would howl with pious indignation: how dare these paedo-defending priests condemn nice Catholics who only want to do what comes naturally? The press would of course be reflecting the views of the great and the good. In polite society it is not easy to defend Church teaching on homosexuality, yet that is what we are called on to do. Why won’t the Church back us up? How can Archbishop Vincent Nichols allow Soho Masses to speak on behalf of the Church, however tangentially?
The leader of the Church in England and Wales is a compassionate man, but in this case his compassion is surely misplaced. Shortly after I’d been to Warwick Street, I spoke to a young homosexual and convert who told me that in tacitly condoning the gay agenda, Westminster was employing “false compassion”. It was “uncharitable and cruel”, he said, since it encouraged homosexuals to accept an identity, a “differentness”, that many of them rejected. In rejecting that identity himself, in conforming to Church teaching and embracing a chaste life, he had found “freedom and happiness”.
So... At Victoria station I walked Daphne McLeod to the ticket barrier. She was carrying a huge bunch of gladioli that Caroline Hurst had given her for her 83rd birthday. What a woman! I did not have half her energy when I was half her age. She and I disagree on some things – not long ago in this column I was critical of her choice of speakers at a PEEP conference – but in her goodhumoured zeal she puts most of us to shame.