North-South CofI split over same-sex vote

Mo­tion to soft en stance re­jected after Synod de­bate

Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALF McCREARY

AN ap­par­ent north-south di­vide in at­ti­tudes to­wards same-sex unions has emerged within the Church of Ire­land as its an­nual Synod voted against a pro­posal to soften its view.

Al­most ev­ery de­bate speaker from North­ern Ire­land op­posed the mo­tion which called for more pub­lic and prayer­ful un­der­stand­ing of those in same­sex re­la­tion­ships be­fore the gov­ern­ing Gen­eral Synod voted by 176 to 146 against. Rev Barry Forde of Con­nor dio­cese said “there is a the­o­log­i­cal is­sue at stake”, while Rev Trevor Johnston of Con­nor de­scribed the mo­tion as “im­pos­si­ble” adding that “in­built into it is dis­crim­i­na­tion against those who didn’t act on their same sex at­trac­tion”.

A NORTH- SOUTH di­vide emerged within the Church of Ire­land last night as Synod mem­bers voted down a pro­posal to change its at­ti­tude to same-sex unions.

The an­nual gath­er­ing re­jected the mo­tion to soften its stance and un­der­stand­ing on same-sex mar­riage, and its re­la­tion­ships with mem­bers of the gay and les­bian com­mu­nity. How­ever it has tasked the Bish­ops with ex­am­in­ing the fur­ther the­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences, with a view to propos­ing a way for­ward.

After a wide rang­ing and mov­ing two-hour de­bate at the an­nual meet­ing in Lim­er­ick, the gov­ern­ing Gen­eral Synod voted by 176 to 146 to re­ject the mo­tion, which was aimed at de­vel­op­ing a pub­lic thanks­giv­ing ser­vice for legally mar­ried same-sex cou­ples. There were 24 ab­sten­tions.

The breakdown was as fol­lows- clergy 56 for, and 72 against; laity 90 for and 104 against. There were nine clergy and 15 laity ab­sten­tions.

Al­most ev­ery speaker against the mo­tion was from North­ern Ire­land with Rev Trevor Johnston of Con­nor dio­cese de­scrib­ing the mo­tion as “im­pos­si­ble” adding that “in­built into it is dis­crim­i­na­tion against those who didn’t act on their same sex at­trac­tion”.

Canon Mau­rice El­liott of Down and Dro­more dio­cese also spoke against, say­ing he be­lieved pass­ing the mo­tion would be “im­mensely detri­men­tal” to part­ner­ships with other churches in the Angli­can com­mu­nion, and Rev Barry Forde of Con­nor dio­cese said “there is a the­o­log­i­cal is­sue at stake” and that the mo­tion “im­pinges on Canon 31” con­cern­ing the church’s tra­di­tional teach­ing on mar­riage.

Rev Ali­son Calvin of Kil­more dio­cese – which strad­dles the bor­der – said at times “I feel I am be­ing bul­lied. It’s not fair that my deeply held con­vic­tions are por­trayed as those of a nar­row-minded bigot”.

Speak­ing for the mo­tion Rev Bren­dan McCarthy, of Kil­more dio­cese, said he had come to be­lieve he had been wrong con- cern­ing LGBT peo­ple and that he had been in part a cause of their pain, “un­in­tended but real”, while Rev Gil­lian Whar­ton of Dublin dio­cese claimed the same ar­gu­ments which had been used to op­pose women priests were now be­ing used on same sex is­sues within the church.

This is the lat­est de­vel­op­ment in a long-running con­tro­versy, after a Church com­mit­tee pre­sented its re­port on “Hu­man Sex­u­al­ity in the Con­text of Chris­tian Be­lief ”, which took four years to com­plete.

The mo­tion was pro­posed by Dr Leo Kil­roy from Wick­low and sec­onded by Rev Brian O’Rourke from Port­laoise. It asked the church to de­velop “sen­si­tive pas­toral ar­range­ments for pub­lic prayer and thanks­giv­ing with same-sex cou­ples” at key points in their lives, in­clud­ing mar­riage.

The mo­tion also called for an ac­knowl­edge­ment by the church of the “in­jury felt by mem­bers who en­ter into lov­ing, com­mit­ted and legally recog­nised same­sex re­la­tion­ships, due to the ab­sence of pro­vi­sion for them, to mark that key mo­ment in their lives pub­licly and prayer­fully in church.”

The findings of the Com­mit­tee which pro­duced the Church’s ma­jor Re­port on Hu­man Sex­u­al­ity and Chris­tian be­lief high­lighted the deep di­vi­sions in the Church and in the Com­mit­tee.

Last year the Com­mit­tee pro­duced a re­source pack to aid dis- cus­sions at dioce­san level, but ad­mit­ted that only the Dio­cese of Meath and Kil­dare had held dis­cus­sion groups.

The Se­lect Com­mit­tee rec­om­mended that the Bish­ops should fur­ther ex­am­ine the the­o­log­i­cal is­sues in an at­tempt to find a way for­ward. The re­port was ac­cepted unan­i­mously by the Gen­eral Synod, and the whole is­sue has now been passed over to the Bish­ops to chart a way for­ward for next year’s Synod.

Speak­ing to the Belfast Tele­graph last night, Canon Ian El­lis, ed­i­tor of Church of Ire­land Gazette, said: “The tone of the de­bate was re­spect­ful on both sides of the dis­cus­sion and the de­bate was very sen­si­tively chaired by the Arch­bishop of Ar­magh, Dr Richard Clarke.

“While I be­lieve that cou­ples who en­ter into such same-sex re­la­tion­ships need to be re­as­sured both that the Church re­spects their love and care for each other and that they are not barred from re­ceiv­ing holy com­mu­nion, I be­lieve that the kind of pub­lic litur­gi­cal cel­e­bra­tion that was en­vis­aged in the mo­tion could eas­ily have given rise to con­fu­sion over the Church of Ire­land’s teach­ing that mar­riage is be­tween one man and one woman.”

Scott Golden, of Chang­ing At­ti­tude Ire­land, a church group which favours lib­er­al­i­sa­tion, said: “We hope peo­ple will see this not as a de­feat, but as a de­bate to be re­vis­ited. It’s en­cour­ag­ing to note that views are chang­ing.”

Rev Trevor Johnston (left) and Scott Golden of Chang­ing At­ti­tude Ire­land

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