Organizers of masses for gay Catholics have denied the Archbishop of Westminster's decision to scrap the services in Soho, London, was motivated by homophobia.
The so-called Soho Masses at the Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Warwick Street were started six years ago to 'welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Catholics, their parents, friends and families.'
But in an announcement yesterday (2 January), Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the LGBT-led services were to end at the church in Warwick Street and the group would join the congregation at Mayfair's Jesuit Farm Street church.
The statement by the UK’s most senior Catholic cleric, who has been a vociferous opponent of same-sex marriage, led many to assume the move was an attack on gay worshippers.
However, Soho Masses Pastoral Council chairman Joe Stanley claims the church's lack of adequate facilities was becoming a 'hindrance' to their work in serving the community.
He added that although they will no longer organize their own masses, he expects they will make a 'full contribution'.
'I’ve already had a couple of emails from Farm Street saying we are very welcome and they will do their very best to make us feel at home,' Stanley told Gay Star News.
'The purpose of the masses has always been as a way back into the church for people who want it.
'We’ve always regarded the Soho Masses as a stepping stone for people who can meet and get comfortable with the church again in the community and then go back to their own churches and say quite proudly, “I’m a gay Catholic and I’m taking part in the rights of this parish, get over it.”
'Mixing with the congregation in Farm Street is not going to be a problem at all. I don’t think there’s going to be any major issue on that front.'
However, Stanley admits the location of the new church is not ideal. He points out that Mayfair lacks the pubs, cafes and restaurants found in Soho which many of the gay congregation enjoyed socializing at after services.
He added: 'On the other hand I think it will allow people to do a lot more socializing within the church building itself.'