The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols has been labelled as 'very brave' by the Soho Masses pastoral council chairman Joe Stanley, despite the Archbishop's controversial decision to end masses organised for gay people in Soho.
It follows Archbishop Nichols' decision to instead invite Soho Masses to transfer their base of activity from Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory in Warwick Street in Soho, to the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Farm Street in Mayfair.
The Archbishop of Westminster has described the relocation as a 'new phase' with an emphasis on pastoral care over mass, in a statement he said:
"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 aim is seen as a move away from a mass focused on gay people with the hope of integrating those with same sex attraction into general mass at the Jesuit run Church of the Immaculate Conception.
"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", said Archbishop Nichols.
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."
"Such pastoral care will include support for growth in virtue and holiness, the encouragement of friendship and wider community contacts, always with the aim of helping people to take a full part in the life of the Church in their local parish community. It will not include the organisation of a regular Mass."
The decision has been criticised by gay rights groups, with Stonewall's director of public affairs Ruth Hunt who herself is a Catholic told the BBC; "It is a real shame he's taken away an opportunity for gay Catholics to celebrate mass in a safe environment." Given what's happened over Christmas, where there were vitriolic and mean messages from pulpit about same-sex marriage, there has never been a more important time to provide a safe space for gay Catholics to pray."
But Speaking to Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour, Soho Masses pastoral council chairman Joe Stanley said he believed the decision to relocate the masses had nothing to do with the Archbishop's recent outspoken comments in which he described the government's plans to legislate for gay marriage as shambolic:
Gay masses have continued to be a contentious issue within the church, with the Telegraph columnist and religious commentator Damian Thompson describing the masses as "an embarrassment, a relic of old-style gay rights campaigning that scandalised large numbers of Catholics. To give this lovely 18th-century church to the Ordinariate is a huge boost for ex-Anglicans who are setting up their own structure, worshipping as Catholics in a style informed by Anglican spirituality. Archbishop Vincent Nichols should be congratulated".
However, Canon Pat Brown who was the Dean of Warwick Street and oversaw the introduction of the masses over 6 years ago and is now a parish priest in Pimlico has told Premier's Des Busteed there's also practical reasons behind the transfer:
In a statement on the Soho Masses Pastoral Council website, the organisation welcomed the plans; "Following several weeks of reflection on the benefits and potential challenges which it represents to our pastoral outreach to the LGBT Catholic Community on behalf of the Diocese of Westminster, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council is pleased to accept Archbishop Vincent Nichols' invitation".
We are also very grateful to the Jesuit Community at Farm Street for the welcome and hospitality they have offered there as well as to the Provincial and Superior of the Society".