On November 11th, Cardinal Nichols wrote to all the priests of Westminster diocese about the need for ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics (which he refers to as “those who live with a same-sex attraction”).
The actual content of this letter is brief and somewhat bland, but it makes two important observations.
The first is the opening paragraph:
Among the many sensitive and pastoral issues around today is the situation of those who live with a same-sex attraction and are often very anxious about their journey to God and their relationship with the Church. .
Quite so. Quest members know this well. As the Emmaus workshop at our 2014 conference in Scarborough showed very clearly, this is extremely sensitive and serious. Although some of our members are able to maintain a strong relationship with the sacramental life of the church in their local parishes, others have been deeply wounded, even scarred by rejection and hostility experienced, or feared, from the church. For these, the church has been a clear impediment to their relationship with God, an obstacle that they struggle to overcome – with the help and support they receive from Quest.
The letter then goes on to note three “initiatives in the Diocese which try to respond to the tensions that are often felt in this matter”, listing Courage, Westminster LGBT Catholics – and Quest, which he describes as “a national organisation providing support for LGBT Catholics, their friends and families”.
This is great news for Quest. When first founded in 1973, we had a constructive relationship with the English bishops, including a listing in the official Roman Catholic Directory for England and Wales from 1992 to 1999. That was ended by Cardinal Basil Hume, because of the organization’s public dissent from Church teaching that called homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered.” (It is notable that by now, even conservative bishops such as Cardinal Blaise Cupich acknowledged at the Rome family synod, that the language of “intrinsically disordered” is not helpful and should be discarded).
This removal from the directory and the generally strained relationship with the bishops that followed, left many priests wary of co-operating with us, and encouraged others, including hostile groups such as Lifesite News and others to launch direct attacks on us as allegedly “not Catholic”. This recognition by Cardinal Nichols, as archbishop of Westminster and also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, will surely make it easier for other bishops and priests across London and the entire country, to meet with us, and cooperate in our shared desire for improved pastoral support for LGBT Catholics.
This support for Quest expressed by Cardinal Nichols has not come out of the blue. The Emmaus workshop itself, was a response to a meeting he had earlier held with our chair, Ruby Almeida and her then deputy Michael Bennett at Quest’s request, to discuss the need for greater pastoral support. At that meeting, he acknowledged the previously strained relationship between the bishops and Quest, but expressed the hope that we could now move beyond that. He suggested that the story of Emmaus might be a fruitful passage for Quest to reflect on. We did, and prepared materials for a conference workshop on the theme. Before conference, we sent him a report on our planned material, and afterwards Ruby and then deputy Nick Burchnall met with him again, to present a copy of our report on the workshop (also published on this website here). More recently, Ruby has had numerous conversations with Monignor Keith Barltrop, as the cardinal’s representative in matters of LGBT pastoral support. There can be no doubt that this public acknowledgement of the value of Quest, is a result of continued hard work over several years.
Nor is this improvement in relationships with bishops restricted to Westminster. Ruby and other Quest members have also been active in meeting with bishops in several other dioceses. The most publicly visible results have been in Nottingham diocese, where extended discussions with the bishop resulted in a cathedral Mass of welcome for LGBT Catholics and their families, as part of the 2016 Year of Mercy, and a follow-up Mass in a parish church just last month. There have been further discussions with bishops in several additional dioceses. While these have not yet yielded public initiatives, we are confident that there will be results in time.
We also note the developments in some diocese, without direct involvement by Quest. Before the Nottingham Cathedral Year of Mercy Mass, there had been an earlier one for LGBT Catholics, their friends and family in Brentwood cathedral, also as part of the Year of Mercy. More recently, Middlesbrough diocese launched a continuing initiative for LGBT pastoral support, starting with a Mass in York.
For over forty years Quest have been providing much needed pastoral support to LGBT Catholics, through retreats, pilgrimages to Walsingham, worship opportunities in our local groups, our annual conferences, our regular Quest Bulletin, this website, social functions and simple fellowship. Much of the time, this has been in the face of active resistance from some in the institutional church. We should welcome this slow but steady expansion of LGBT ministry in selected dioceses, and look forward to continuing our work, now in greater co-operation with the bishops and support from them and their teams.
- Mount St Bernard’s Retreat – 2018
- Nottingham Diocese Mass for LGBT Catholics
- Middlesbrough Mass for LGBT Catholics
- Return to Walsingham 2017
- Quest Advent Retreat at St Cuthman’s
- Catholic Bishop says Mass for LGBT+ at Nottingham Cathedral