Quest, founded in 1973 and led by the journalist (and former Dominican friar) Mark Dowd, tells us that it ‘is a group for lesbian, gay and bisexual Catholics. Its purpose is to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ so as to sustain and increase Christian belief among homosexual men and women.’ A laudable aim, to be sure; unfortunately, the ‘gospel’ and the ‘Christian belief’ which they promote are not compatible with Catholic teaching.
This dossier aims to indicate more precisely what Quest does stand for, its relationship with the mainstream Church, and its potential for causing damage.
In parallel with many dissident organisations, some care is taken on the Quest website to avoid explicit rejection of Church teaching. The general public is only allowed to see edited versions of their newsletter, and are excluded from the discussion forum and other areas; and lest its Committee be identified from other sources as dissenters, they are identified only by their Christian names. But although these tactics make it harder to provide telling sound-bites, the secrecy itself tells us a lot about the organisation.
The first and obvious question about a Catholic organisation for the support of homosexuals is ‘Does it help its members and others to lead chaste lives?’ By contrast to homosexual support groups which do have this aim (such as the Encourage Trust), Quest gives absolutely no indication that this is its purpose. On the contrary, the first of their list of aims is ‘associating lay men and women who are seeking ways of reconciling the full practice of their Catholic faith with the full expression of their homosexual natures in loving Christian relationships’
We may safely assume that this in turn is understood in accordance with the views of their members, expressed in a survey it conducted in 2000 (the results of which are no longer available on their website, but are preserved here):
* Are you convinced by any arguments that you have heard to the effect that sex outside marriage is always wrong? 89 percent 'no'
* Do you agree that a homosexual orientation is a more or less strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil and thus must be seen as an objective disorder. 92 percent 'no'
* Should Quest work for change in official Church teaching on sexuality? 90 percent 'yes'
* Should it be part of the purpose of Quest to encourage its members to live chaste lives with no sexual activity? 81 percent 'no'
* Should Quest support legislation to recognise same-sex partnerships. 80 percent 'yes'
It is no surprise, then, to find Quest campaigning (in the spirit of the third question above) against exercises of the Church's Magisterium on sexual morality, and attempting to undermine the Church's actions informed by that teaching
Thus it rejected the Vatican's 2005 statement on admitting homosexuals to seminaries, here, calling it 'a backward step for the Church . . . It confirms that the Church pastors have failed to listen to the voices of modern medicine, science and psychology'.
Again, when Archbishop Vincent Nichols made a stand against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, this too came under official Quest condemnation here.
Finally, Quest made a long and detailed submission to the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales on the question of Civil Partnerships, attacking the position articulated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which condemned them. In the same vein, Mark Dowd, in his capacity as Chair of Quest, condemned the Scottish Bishops' opposition to Civil Unions (Catholic Herald, 3rd Feb 2006).
In short, Quest, like the RCCLGCM, is an organisation dedicated to 'normalising', within the Church, an immoral lifestyle. They may regard this lifestyle as necessary to the self-fulfilment of people of homosexual inclination, but they are mistaken: this lifestyle leads to unhappiness. This is the teaching of the Church, and it is confirmed by experience.
Quest has few credentials as a 'Catholic' organisation. After a few years in the national Catholic Directory, it has been excluded since 1998 by Cardinal Hume (their own account of the saga can be read here). Recently, a Quest event in the Liverpool University Catholic Chaplaincy was cancelled at the insistence of Bishop Kelly.
That is the good news. Mark Dowd has boasted that 'some bishops have remained privately supportive of Quest' (Autumn 2005 Quest Bulletin), and this sadly seems to be true. Quest is still listed in some Diocesan Catholic Directories as a 'Catholic' group; Masses are regularly said for local Quest groups in private houses, and increasingly these are happening in public churches. For example:
Leicester: the local Quest have had Masses in Dominican-run Holy Cross parish.
Nottingham: Quest reports in its Newsletter that Bishop Malcolm McMahon OP has actively encouraged them.
Bristol: a retreat for 'Gay Christian Men' is taking place in April this year in Emmaus House, Clifton, a centre run by La Retraite nuns; it is recommended by Quest as 'an opportunity for gay Christian men to share their stories in a spirit of mutual respect.'
Birmingham: the local Quest group has had Mass said for them in the church of St Catherine of Siena, Bristol Street.
Aylesford, Kent: Mass is celebrated for them (on the '5th Saturday of the month') in the Carmelite Priory.
Southwark: their upcoming conference is taking place in Digby Stuart College, part of the University of Roehampton, which is a Catholic foundation with a chapel; the same Archdiocese is allowing one of its priests to be Chaplain to the conference, and to celebrate Mass for them. Equally scandalously, Fr Michael Seed, a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster, is advertised as a speaker at the conference.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Quest Masses take place in St Partick's, Edinburgh and St Simon’s, Glasgow (see Catholic Truth Scotland Newsletters here and here).
Quest causes damage in three ways.
1. It is a 'Catholic' voice opposed to Church teaching, and Church policy, on all matters related to sexual morality, waiting to be quoted by liberals and anti-Catholics in the media. Like 'Catholics for a Free Choice', it can hope to embarrass Bishops and other Catholics by contradicting anything they say or do in support of Church teaching, and creating the impression that the teaching of the Church is uncertain, and may be about to change. The Chair, Mark Dowd, is a prominent journalist who makes regular appearances in the 'conservative' Catholic newspaper, the Catholic Herald.
2. It causes scandal to faithful Catholics who witness or hear about their events, and especially their Masses, which appear to give official endorsement to their rejection of Church teaching.
3. It gives its own homosexual members, attendees at its Masses and so on precisely the wrong pastoral advice. All humans afflicted by Original Sin are assailed by temptation; Quest holds out the false but alluring hope that in the case at least of sexual temptations, people who think of themselves as Catholics can just give in and 'express themselves'. This leads to sin and unhappiness: it is not charitable to anyone.
For bishops and priests to allow Quest and like-minded groups to take on a role in making pastoral provision for vulnerable people is for the shepherd to place the wolf in charge of the sheep.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is absolutely clear as to what the Church's own policy must be, in its document, 'The Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person', 1986: (See here for the full text.)
17: 'All support should be withdrawn from any organisations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely. Such support, or even the semblance of such support, can be gravely misinterpreted. Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the to the use of Church buildings by these groups, including the facilities of Catholic schools and colleges. To some, such permission to use Church property may seem only just and charitable; but in reality it is contradictory to the purpose for which these institutions were founded, it is misleading and often scandalous...'
This is unanswerable, and has the full support of Pope Benedict XVI, who was President of the CDF when this document was produced. This gives faithful Catholics all the ammunition they need to report any Quest activity which has implicit or explicit support from bishops or priests to the diocese, the Papal Nuncio and the Vatican.