Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholics say they will continue to celebrate a regular mass despite being banned from their current venue by Archbishop Vincent Nichols.
Nichols, the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, said yesterday (2 January) that the 'Soho Masses', aimed particularly at LGBT people, may no longer take place at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory in London's Soho district.
The Soho Masses have long been a focal point for Catholics favouring the equal inclusion of LGBT people in the Church. They have also drawn protests from socially conservative Catholics.
The Archbishop has previously been willing to defend the Soho Masses as long as they do not explicitly host teaching contrary to the Roman Catholic Church's position that sex should take place only within mixed-sex marriage. He is now rumoured to have pressurised by the Vatican into taking a harder line.
Several LGBT Catholics have pointed out that the Archbishop has not banned the masses outright and will allow them to take place at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Farm Street, Mayfair.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council declared they were "very grateful to the Jesuit Community at Farm Street for the welcome and hospitality they have offered there".
They added, "The purpose of the Soho Masses has been, and remains, to encourage the LGBT Catholic Community to participate fully in the life of the Church, the diverse body of Christ, through participation in the Mass, and through shared prayer."
Several participants have said that the church in Farm Street will be a better venue, as the facilities are more spacious and accessible.
Despite the new venue, the move has been interpreted as a victory for socially conservative Catholics. The right-wing Catholic commentator Damian Thompson hailed Vincent Nichols' decision, calling the Soho Masses "an embarrassment".
Significantly, the church in which the Soho Masses took place is to be given to the Ordinariate, an organisation for ex-Anglicans within the Roman Catholic Church. Many of them left the Church of England over its support for women priests and relative openness towards LGBT people, meaning they are likely to be more conservative than many other Roman Catholics.
Father Bernard Lynch, an openly gay Roman Catholic priest who helped to found the Soho Masses, described the Archbishop's decision as "devastating". He told the Independent newspaper that the Soho Masses were "a beacon of light in a very dark church when it comes to LGBT people".
But gay Catholic blogger Terence Weldon, a regular participant in the Soho Masses, urged LGBT Catholics and their supporters not to regard the move as entirely negative. "With that relocation will come significant opportunities for further growth and expansion," he insisted.
Writing on the Queers for Jesus website, Weldon added, "If we can make a success of developing a new model at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, we should find that although the 'Soho Masses' may end, Catholic LGBT ministry will be strengthened, and expanded."