Sunday, February 18, 2007

Westminster's Homosexual Mass in the Telegraph

The Telegraph's reportage of Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's permission for a 'Homosexual' Mass in his diocese is perhaps more interesting for its ineptness than the story itself. It begins:
Homosexual rights campaigners have gained permission from the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales to hold Mass for gay parishioners.
While the Church has allowed celibate gays to receive holy communion, traditionalist Catholics believe that practising homosexuals should be barred from the sacramental rite because their way of life defies Church teaching.
We see a false dichotomy between the position of 'The Church' who allows 'celibate gays' to receive Holy Communion and the 'traditonalist' position of barring 'practicing homosexuals' from 'the sacramental rite' - whatever that might mean. So far as I can understand it, both the position of 'the Church' and 'traditonalists' is identical - no one in a state of grave sin should be receiving Holy Communion.
Now, there is certainly a disagreement between Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and some Catholics ('the traditionalists') regarding the propriety of Masses organised by an organization for homosexuals - but this opening paragraph manages to totally miss the point of disagreement and totally mis-state the theological problem.
A statement from the diocese stressed that the move did not represent a shift in Church teaching, which says that homosexual practice is a sin and that non-celibate gay people should not be given communion.
However, traditionalists fear that by endorsing these services the Cardinal has implicitly sanctioned "sacrilegious" Masses and that it may make it far easier for practising homosexuals to take communion in church. It is also thought that the move could act as a blueprint for other dioceses to follow.
Now, maybe we're moving closer to the nub of the issue - I'm not sure whether the quotes around the word sacrilegious mean that it comes from some statement issued by the 'traditionalists' or whether they are simply 'scare-quotes'.
Certainly, I think that there's a valid cause for concern here - groups of the faithful organising Masses for themselves has a vernerable history in the Church - but it should be evident that organizations that are unfriendly to the Church or who obstinately reject Her magisterium should not be facilitated in the organization of Mass as such an activity runs counter to the unity and communion of the Church which should be the presupposition and consequence of every Mass. Is it quite correct to describe a validly & licitly celebrated Mass which is organised by a group hostile to Christian teaching as sacrilegious? I'm not sure that it's technically sacrilege... but nor is it a totally inappropriate use of the word.
I'm also somewhat puzzled by the statement that it may make it far easier for practising homosexuals to take communion in church. Maybe one of these shadowy traditonalists did express that concern, but anyone with an ounce of sense should know that there's no really practical difficulty for a 'practicing homosexual' to 'take communion' (what a horrid term!) at any Mass he goes to. Unless he's a notorious public sinner there is no practical likelihood that any priest or EMHC is going to know that someone who shows up to Mass is a 'practicing homosexual'. Maybe the Telegraph is labouring under the misapprehension that the Inquisition is in the habit of keeping a register of 'practicing homosexuals' and regularly challenges them as they approach the altar for Communion.
In any event, no one can reasonably argue that the proposed Masses make it 'easier' for practicing homosexuals to receive Commuion, but the article suceeds in giving the impression that the Church is regularly in the habit of obstructing homosexuals who wish to receive.
Sources close to the Cardinal said he was keen to authorise the services in order to be more inclusive of the gay community. It represents an attempt to end tension between the Cardinal's office and the Soho Masses Pastoral Council, an influential group of gay Catholics who had campaigned to have their own services formally recognised by the Church.
They will hold their first official service at Our Lady of the Assumption in Soho, London, next month after having met for the past eight years in an Anglican church in west London.
I do think it behoves us to remember that the Church is called to minister to homosexuals and the whole debate should hinges on whether these Masses are going to be an occasion for the spreading of the Gospel and the assistance of those who strugle with same-sex attraction or whether it's a tacit recognition of unchristian principles and an endorsement of a lifestyle which runs contrary to the teaching of the Church. There are groups out there who minister in a faithful manner to homosexuals. Is this the case in this particular situation?
I'm not encouraged by the fact that they have been holding unrecognised or unoffical services for the past eight years.
[One could start a whole other debate about whether similiar pastoral solicitude has been offered to Catholics attached to the older form Mass, for example... But let's not start that debate now.]
Finally, right at the end of the story, we get something which sheds a little light on what exactly this debate is about:
Senior Catholics fear the Cardinal's decision will upset traditionalists. He had previously received complaints that the unofficial Masses held under the auspices of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement were being used to campaign for a change in the Church's teaching on homosexual practice.
"Homosexuals can attend their own parish church, so having a separate and distinct Mass looks like they are trying to make a statement," said Michael Akerman, of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a traditionalist Catholic group.
At last! An actual quotation from one of these shadowy traditonalists. One has to wonder why we haven't seen anything of the substance of the traditionalists' arguments until the very end of the article. Needless to say, the whole 'spin' of the article is about the political dimesnion - namely the Cardinal's dilemma of whether to offend traditionalists or homosexuals... but the real meat of the story is only obliquely presented in the last paragraph. This isn't about whether practicing homosexuals can physically receive Holy Communion (they can... I'm not aware of them being hauled away from the Communion line...) or whether they should receive Holy Communion (they should not, and the Church's discipline here is unambiguous) but about whether this Mass is a genuine pastoral iniative which will help homosexual people in their struggle to live a Christian life or whether it is some kind of political abuse of the Mass for the sake of promoting a form of 'gay rights' agenda which is antithethical to the Gospel.
It always fills me with huge suspicion when I read religious reportage in the secular press... They seem to miss the point so frequently that it necessarily causes one to wonder how much of anything one reads in the press one should believe.
:Amy Welborn posts from the diocesan statement and gives her insightful commentary.

1 comment:

Londiniensis said...

What a wizard spiffing idea! Special masses for groups of sinners. Why has nobody thought of this before? (Not in the Conciliar documents? Never mind, it's surely in the spirit of Vatican II.)

But practising homosexuals are such a minority, why not ministry to the more numerous sinners - how about fornicators or thieves? Well perhaps not - the former would be too ashamed to turn up and the latter are all hiding from Inspector Knacker. Back to square one.