Since 2007, Our Lady of the Assumption Church, in the West End of London, England, has held a mass for LGBT Catholics, but the tradition has come to an end after the Archbishop of Westminster, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the United Kingdom, declared it against the church’s views on sexuality.
Though open to all, the “Gay Mass”, as it was called, encouraged LGBT people specifically to come, offering them the ability to be open and honest in church and participate fully in worship. The twice-monthly mass began at a nearby Angelican Church, but the congregation felt a pull to find a Catholic site; after much discussion with local LGBT Catholic and Diocesan council, in February 2007, the Mass was transferred to Our Lady of the Assumption in Soho.
Documents were also exchanged between Westminster’s highest-ranking Cardinals and the Vatican, to assure the Church hierarchy that the LGBT-friendly services would be only a celebration of mass, not to challenge or question official church doctrine. The Westminster Diocese confirmed the stipulation in a statement released in December 2007.
Social approval of marriage equality continues to grow, with the House of Commons voting to back a same-sex marriage bill on February 6, but the Catholic Church’s official stance remains firmly against LGBT relationships, stating that the only acceptable sexual activity is that which can create new life.
“All things have an objective intent, which is the purpose which divinity had in mind when creating those things,” Carmichael Peter, a professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University, told 429Magazine.
“Thus the teaching of the Church with regards to the objective intent of sex is that it is, first and foremost, for the purpose of pro-creation. Whenever an individual’s subjective intent is in line with the objective intent for which something was created, then the individual’s action with regards to that thing is moral. However, whenever the individual’s subjective intent is not in line with the objective intent of a thing, then the individual’s action is immoral and perverse … in essence the individual is committing sin,” he added.
Neither the segregated-by-choice mass nor its sudden dissolution were a first in the history of the Catholic Church; there have been many instances where a group of devoted Catholics desired a place to worship but would not feel comfortable in a general crowd. The term for such a mass is “dignity mass,” but the church’s stance is against holding separate masses for special interest groups.
Almost invariably, when an archbishop hears about a dignity mass tradition, he orders it shut down. Some organizations, such as Dignity USA, defy this and hold them anyway, feeling that only having the option to attend a general mass denies some worshippers the respect they deserve.
Marriage equality remains highly controversial in Britain, but impending legalization has rapidly changed public option in its favor; a March 2012 poll by ICM Research showed that 45 percent of respondents, all English voters, were in favor of marriage equality, while 36 percent were against; a repeat poll in December showed that the number of supporters had grown to 62 percent and the number of opponents had fallen to 31 percent.
Among conservative voters, support is lower, but still a definite majority, with the same December 2012 poll showing that 52 percent of people who voted Tory, the UK’s conservative party, were in support of full marriage rights for LGBT people.