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Put gay bishops and the Soho Masses together and this is what you get

2013 January 11
by Paul Vallely

What has changed when it comes to gays and the church in the past 10 years? A decade ago Jeffrey John was forced to decline a position as Bishop of Reading after an outcry over the fact that he was gay. His declaration that he and his partner were celibate did little to lessen the hoo-ha. Celibacy was not enough. Yet now the Church of England has decided that celibacy is quite sufficient thank you.

Over in the Roman Catholic church the tide is moving in the opposite direction. The Soho Masses for gays and their families which were approved by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor have just been banned by his successor as Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. In a move heavy with symbolism he has handed the Soho church in which they took place to the Ordinariate set up by Pope Benedict XVI to poach disaffected Anglicans, many of whom disapprove of the ordination of women let alone gays.

It is not, in either case, the theology which has changed, but rather the psychology.

Anglican opponents of celibate gay bishops seem motivated by distrust: “they may say they are celibate but can we believe them?” The Roman Curia, which one conservative Catholic recently described as “absolutely paranoid about homosexuality”, on the surface appears to assume bad faith too.

Weasel words are common in politics but we should not expect them in theology. Roman Catholic apologists have talked about the dilemma of ministering to a group which feels separate without endorsing its members’ separateness. Gay Masses risk the growth of a ghetto mentality which is the opposite of Catholic universalism. So ending them is a welcome into the embrace of the whole church rather than an act alienation. Separate worship can only be justified as a transition, as for incoming ethnic groups, like Poles for example. Quite why this ghetto argument is not applied to the Latin Mass Society is unclear. Nor does it address the fact that the Soho Masses are held only fortnightly to allow attendees to worship at their parish Mass on the other two Sundays.
So why these changes?  It is hard not to suspect that Church of England bishops have acted out of embarrassment at the ridicule poured upon the Church when it rejected women bishops. The fact that the measure failed – despite a Yes from two out of three houses in the synod and 42 of 44 dioceses – looked to the rest of society like gerrymandering which has damaged the Church’s integrity.

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