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Senior C of I clergy in ‘sectarianism’ row

01 November 2013


Doctor's round: relics of St Antony of Padua, which have toured Ireland and the UK, exposed on an altar in the RC Church of the Visitation, Fairview, in Dublin 

Doctor's round: relics of St Antony of Padua, which have toured Ireland and the UK, exposed on an altar in the RC Church of the Visitation, Fairview...

THE Archbishop of Dublin & Glendalough, Dr Michael Jackson, has sharply criticised what he sees as a deep-rooted sectarianism within his own dioceses, which saw themselves as "all-tolerant", he said.

Two former Archbishops of the dioceses, Dr Walton Empey and Dr John Neill, disagreed with Dr Jackson, as did the retired Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, the Very Revd Robert MacCarthy, who said that that had not been their experience in their terms of office.

"When I came here in 2011," Dr Jackson said, "my impression would have been of two dioceses which saw themselves as all-tolerant, all-liberal, all-inclusive." Since then, he said, he had become aware of resistance to "newcomers" to the Church, many of them immigrants who were already Anglican in their country of origin, or who became Anglican by conviction from other Christian traditions.

He said that he was astonished recently by the phrase "Polyester Protestants", referring to those who had "converted" to Anglicanism.

"It is reported to me by a member of the community in a prestigious institution used by cradle members of the C of I to describe fellow community members who are Anglicans by conviction," he said in the Irish Times on Tuesday.

"I also add that in my work throughout these united dioceses, people speak with me and write to me about the continuing hurt to which they are subjected from within the Church of Ireland community because they married someone of a tradition other than their own, most usually a Roman Catholic person."

Dr Jackson, in his address to his annual diocesan synod last week, had pointed out that he had experienced sectarianism in his childhood in Fermanagh. "I have learned through much bitter experience that exclusionary attitudes, and indeed sectarianism itself, is alive, not least in the Church of Ireland community. To me, this has been a deep and shattering sadness."

He said that the presumption by some that there was an inner and inaccessible identity that defines being C of I that was available only to those on the inside, and inaccessible to those regarded as "outsiders", runs in the face of an openly accessible Anglican life in the Church and its institutions.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, a former Supreme Court Judge in the Irish Republic and a prominent Anglican, said in a lecture last weekend, at the annual gathering of Changing Attitude Ireland (CAI), that CAI members might draw some hope for the future from Dr Jackson's remarks, which she said were "no bad thing".

It is thought that Dr Jackson's comments were related to the reaction to a decision that the C of I College of Education is to break its historic links with Trinity College, and join a new institute of education that also involves St Patrick's College, in Drumcondra, the Mater Dei Institute of Education, and Dublin City University.

Dr Empey, who was Archbishop of Dublin & Glendalough from 1996 to 2002, said that he was "deeply shocked" by Dr Jackson's comments. It was true, he said, that people were "deeply concerned" about protecting the Church of Ireland ethos in education, its links with Trinity College when it came to teacher education, and the possible deterioration of its ethos at Tallaght Hospital.

Such views, he said, were "not sectarian", but about maintaining "our ethos as a minority Church". He shared such views, he said, "but I do not think anyone could accuse me of sectarianism." He said that he was disappointed with what Dr Jackson had said. He also complained about "lack of consultation" on preserving the ethos of the College of Education.

Dr Neill, who was Archbishop from 2002 to 2011, agreed with Dr Empey: "Coming from Northern Ireland [as Dr Jackson does], it is easy to read everything to do with preserving ethos as sectarianism," he said.

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