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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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.