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Sexuality debate exposes divisions

15 March 2012

by Gregg Ryan, Ireland Correspondent

A conference on sexuality, con­ducted by the Church of Ireland House of Bishops for General Synod members, last weekend, has been criticised for its lack of “meaningful gay participation”.

It was attended by representatives from groups in the Synod who op­posed same-sex clergy partner­ships and gay marriage, as well as mem­bers of the pro-gay group Changing Attitude Ireland. In a letter published by the Irish Times on Wednesday, however, Gerry Lynch, a parishioner of St George’s, Belfast, and the Northern Ireland spokesman for Changing Attitude Ireland, wrote that he had “turned up . . . unin­vited”, after having “spent months trying to ensure” gay participation, “and had failed”.

“Not a single LGBT . . . person worshipping in a Church of Ireland parish addressed the gathering.” He suggested that gay Christians’ “experi­ence of the Church of Ireland was too uncomfortable for our leaders to hear”, and that thousands were “living in terror that they will be discovered and that discovery will lead to ostracism”.

An editorial in the Times praised the conference as “a positive start”, but also criticised its lack of involve­ment of gay people. It said that other Churches in Ireland should also “face the truth” about homosexuality, as, at the moment, their policy “is not merely dishonest, it perpetuates intoler­ance towards this most vulnerable group”.

The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper, and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, were upbeat about the debate and seminars at the confer­ence, which was held in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, but it was emphasised that the aim of the gathering was for dialogue around the contentious subject rather than a solution to the questions posed.

“This was not about proposals or policy-making; it was to provide an opportunity for representative groups coming from different per­spectives to air their views,” a spokes­man said. He said that it was likely that the topic would be aired at the General Synod in May.

Members who represented Re­form, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, who oppose changes to the official position of the Church on gay issues were in attendance.

Not everyone was satisfied that the conference achieved its aims. The Rector of Killowen, Coleraine, in Northern Ireland, the Revd Donard Collins, accused the bishops of lack of leadership, and produced the results of a questionnaire taken in his parish. All of those canvassed (64 parishioners) rejected same-sex relationships among lay Christians and clerics, and agreed that the Bible condemns such practices.

Mr Lynch also said: “I think the Church needs to be talking about some of the things they didn’t talk about at the weekend, like homo­phobia, and the bad treatment which gay men, and women especially, experience.”

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