The director of public affairs at gay rights charity Stonewall has criticised the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales for banning a church from performing gay-friendly masses.

In a statement released yesterday, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols said the masses at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Soho, central London, were out of line with the church’s main teaching on sexuality

“The moral teaching of the church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life,” he argued.

In response, Ruth Hunt from Stonewall – who also happens to be Catholic – told the BBC: “It is a real shame he’s taken away an opportunity for gay Catholics to celebrate mass in a safe environment.

“Given what’s happened over Christmas, where there were vitriolic and mean messages from pulpit about same-sex marriage, there has never been a more important time to provide a safe space for gay Catholics to pray.”

She added: “The archbishop’s views on gay issues are well rehearsed and have nothing to do with the spirituality of some lesbian and gay people and their desire to express their faith.”

Archbishop Nichols attacked the government’s plan to introduce equal marriage in England and Wales and described it as shambolic during his Christmas Day message.