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Church of Ireland's sexuality report is allowed more time

15 May 2015

Gregg Ryan reports from the Church of Ireland's General Synod meeting

Church of Ireland

A view of the hall: the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, addresses members of the Church of Ireland's General Synod

A view of the hall: the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, addresses members of the Church of Ireland's General Synod

THE church select committee established at the Church of Ireland's General Synod in 2013 to report on human sexuality - which includes the issue of same-sex marriage to be voted on by referendum in the Irish Republic later this month - has been given a further two years to complete its work after a motion was passed at the Synod.

This is despite a widespread concern in the Evangelical wing of the Church that there could be lasting division, largely along North-South lines, among the episcopate, on the issue that was described by one speaker as "the elephant in the room"; and the forebodings of an unnamed "senior member" of the hierarchy, predicting a possible schism in a comment to a Northern newspaper.

In a room next to the venue for the Archbishops' annual press conference, members of the pro-gay group Changing Attitude Ireland were listening to the retired Archdeacon of Dublin, the Ven. Gordon Linney, explain why he had changed his mind in favour of a "Yes" vote, while the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, was dismissing the idea of schism to the media, pointing out that there were always divergences of opinion within the Church, but that this did not stop members' agreeing to disagree agreeably.

"We are not a church community which, for the most part, makes official declarations as to how people should vote," Dr Clarke said. He went on to say that churchpeople needed "to decide before God what they believe will truly be for the common good, the good of all."

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said that Irish Anglicanism did not work in a prescriptive way. "It is not our way of working. I wouldn't in any way go as far as to say that the absence of a public statement [on the referendum] betokens internal division."

The acceptance, without debate, of the motion allowing the select committee two more years did not succeed in holding back the ongoing tide of comment. A week before the Synod, 43 clergy signed a joint letter to The Irish Times endorsing same-sex marriages, a move openly supported by the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne & Ross (the Rt Revd Paul Colton), and the Bishop of Cashel & Ossory (the Rt Revd Michael Burrows).

They were rebuffed by two Belfast priests: the Revd Dr Alan McCann (Connor), and the Revd Tim Anderson (Down) in a letter to the Church of Ireland Gazette accusing them of "teaching error". The two priests called on them "to repent of this, and to teach what the Church has taught about marriage according to scripture".

They referred to the 2012 affirmation of the General Synod that "The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord's teaching, that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help, and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity."

The resolution further states: "The Church of Ireland recognises, for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31. The Church of Ireland teaches therefore that faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse. Members of the Church of Ireland are required by the Catechism to keep their bodies in 'temperance, soberness and chastity'. Clergy are called in the Ordinal to be 'wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Jesus Christ'."

Dr McCann and Mr Anderson wrote: "By this resolution, the General Synod declared very clearly that heterosexual marriage was and is the God-ordained sphere for sexual relationships, and is alone the 'normative' context for such relationships.

"In recent days, two Irish bishops have publicly declared and taught contrary to the plain teaching of scripture and to the teaching of the Church of Ireland. This is despite the vows and promises made at their ordination and consecration to uphold the Church's teaching and to refute error."


VAT is 'punitive'

A motion submitted by the Very Revd Maria Jansson (Cashel & Ossory), and proposed by Bobbie Symes (Cashel & Ossory), called on both jurisdictions to reduce or eliminate VAT on restoration works relating to buildings deemed of importance to the cultural heritage of the nation. The VAT on all renovation and structural work for listed buildings was punitive at 23 per cent, it stated. "This situation will become untenable."

The motion was carried unanimously.


Charter adopted 

The Church of Ireland has adopted a charter, "Dignity in Church Life", after a process initiated by the House of Bishops to create a statement reflecting the importance of Christian values in interpersonal relationships.

The charter was developed by a group composed of clergy and laity, and will lead to the implementation of policies ranging from long-term illness among clergy to a procedure for clergy grievance.

The Bill was proposed by the Bishop of Derry & Raphoe, theRt Revd Ken Good, and Kevin Bowers (Meath), and states that "In the knowledge that relationships in church life . . . can be imperfect, the Church of Ireland is committed to building and supporting harmonious relationships in church life across all its structures, upholding the right of all equally to be treated with dignity and respect."

Bishop Good described the charter as a "statement about Christian discipleship. It is aspirational in nature, expressing the need for harmonious relationships and dignified behaviour in church life.

"It also acknowledges that disagreements can occur. . . When such difficulties become apparent, it states that attempts at reconciliation must be actively pursued."


DUP Bill opposed 

A rally opposing the "conscience clause" Bill sought by the Democratic Unionist Party was attended by more than 1000 people at Belfast City Hall on Saturday.

The Bill seeks to protect businesses such as Ashers Bakery (News, 2 April) if they decline to accept custom on religious grounds.

The DUP has emphasised that it would not allow firms to turn away customers because they were homosexual.

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