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The Creeping Acceptance of Same-sex Relationships in the Church of Ireland

Though the majority of the Church of Ireland Bishops at Lambeth 1998 affirmed their allegiance to the biblical and traditional Christian understanding of human sexuality by voting for Lambeth Resolution 1.10, over the six years since then, there seems to be a creeping acceptance amongst the House of Bishops and amongst some clergy of the validity of same-sex couplings.

Interestingly, the seeds of this were sown at that 1998 Lambeth Conference, when three of the current Irish bishops, Richard Clarke of Meath, John Neill (then of Cashel and Ossory and now Archbishop of Dublin), and Robin Eames, the Archbishop of Armagh, signed the Haines Pastoral Statement issued by the pro-homosexual lobby group 'Integrity', calling for the 'full inclusion' of homosexuals. In that letter they pledged to their practicing homosexual 'brothers and sisters' that they would 'work for your full inclusion...'

The following year, October 1999, Edward Darling, then Bishop of Limerick, invited Canon Gene Robinson, (later the first openly 'gay' bishop of New Hampshire, USA), to be the speaker at his diocesan retreat. In the November 1999 edition of the Limerick Diocesan Magazine, the report of this retreat showed the clear sympathy and support that Gene Robinson received for his pro-homosexual stance by the clergy of that diocese. Far from being biblically challenged about his openly homosexual lifestyle, his actions were both supported and applauded, for by the time he had finished, the report stated that 'no-one in the room could think of anyone who had impressed them so much.'. Indeed, such was the support for the stance adopted by Gene Robinson, that the new Bishop of Limerick, Michael Mayes, attended the consecration in New Hampshire in November 2003. On his return to Ireland, Bishop Mayes publicly called on the Church of Ireland to recognize gay relationships 'as a fact of life'. He said Bishop Robinson was "innocent of any wrongdoing and he is entitled to be left in peace" (Sunday Times, December 7th 2003). Furthermore, according to the same article, Archbishop Neill of Dublin supported 'wholeheartedly' Limerick's Diocesan links with New Hampshire.

Creeping acceptance of the validity of same-sex couples was also evidenced in September 2002, when the Tuam Diocesan Website announced that the Very Reverend Patrick Towers of St. Nicholas', Galway had performed a same-sex blessing in that church. Indeed he went on to publicly defend his actions, speaking on radio shows and to newspapers. Despite calls by the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy (EFIC) and Reform Ireland for Mr. Towers to be disciplined by the Bishop of Tuam, Richard Henderson, he was not publicly rebuked by any of the Church of Ireland hierarchy. This reluctance in itself was evidence that the Bishops were beginning to move away from Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10

It was no surprise therefore, when in September 2003, the House of Bishops of the Church of Ireland issued a Pastoral Statement, which endorsed the kind of views espoused by Towers, Mayes, and now Archdeacon Linney as amongst valid responses to same-sex couples and blessings. But the letter indicated division within the House of Bishops over the issue. For example, Bishop Ken Clarke of Kilmore along with Bishop Ken Good of Derry and Bishop Harold Millar of Down and Dromore publicly voiced their deep concerns over the consecration of Gene Robinson, whilst others, such as the Bishop of Connor, Alan Harper, caused a storm amongst many of his clergy by his comments in September 2003 on local radio which seemed to support the validity of faithful same-sex relationships. Richard Clarke in an article in the Irish Times in November 2003, also had problems in calling faithful same-sex relationships 'inherently wicked'. Further evidence of growing acceptance of such lifestyles was reflected by the Bishop of Cork, Paul Colton, in his 2003 Christmas Day sermon where he called on the church to ask 'gays' for forgiveness for the way in which the Church of Ireland had supposedly treated them.

In the light of this, the comments of Archdeacon Linney look like an attempt to spearhead an agenda for the acceptance of same-sex relationships as valid lifestyles within the church. It is worrying that to date, no rebuke has been issued by the Archbishop of Dublin. Indeed the Archdeacon's talk is unashamedly posted on the Dublin Diocesan Website. All this indicates a creeping acceptance of same-sex relationships, which may soon see an Irish Diocese follow the example of the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada and officially allow the blessings of same-sex couples in Church of Ireland parishes.

23th March 2004

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