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Limerick Conference Promotes Homosexual Practice

Reform Ireland had asked the four Irish signatories of the Haines Pastoral Statement about what they meant by the ‘full inclusion’ of homosexuals into the life of the Church. It seems that one of the Bishops who signed that statement, Edward Darling of Limerick, has given us a clear answer by the content of a recent retreat for clergy in his diocese. The full and unabridged report of that conference is printed below:



Bishop Darling with Canon Gene Robinson
Bishop Edward Darling with Canon Gene Robinson

Dingle in October has become the annual refresher for the clergy of the Diocese. As well as fresh air and camaraderie, there is always the opportunity for spiritual and intellectual refreshment, and this year’s Conference certainly didn’t disappoint.

It has been said that sexuality is at the heart of human identity. That being so, it clearly must be at the centre of Christian thought, emotions and prayer and for the pastor and priest a subject of sharpened sensitivity. This is surely an area where the maxim “know thyself”, applies pointedly to the spiritual leader and counsellor in the parish.

Following on from last Summer’s Lambeth Conference great debate on human sexuality, - highlighted for many by the eruptions and arguments on homosexuality – the subject was taken up by the Dingle Conference, for which tribute must go to Bishop Edward. The Bishop has of course already initiated another great theme of Lambeth, Third World Relief focused through our particular Millennium Project, shared with the Companion Diocese.

You might say it was Companion Dioceses to the rescue at Dingle – for the fascinating, fundamental and fraught business of understanding ourselves and our neighbours as sexual beings. Canon Gene Robinson from the Diocese of New Hampshire gave three addresses under the general title: “Human Sexuality – Gift from God or Pandora’s Box?” It would be understating it to say, the general effect of his contribution was enormous.

Canon Robinson, a senior figure in his diocese, is a ‘practising homosexual’ in the sense that he is in a permanent relationship with his partner Mark. His story is one of a man who was married with two daughters, but who ended that relationship amicably with his wife. They continue to be good friends while his ex-wife has entered a new relationship and their two grown-up children enjoy the love of both homes. Indeed the girls are very fond of Gene’s partner and he of them.

This is the bare bones of the story merely to show where the speaker was coming from, as it were. It wasn’t and isn’t all sunshine. Gene relates how from childhood he knew he was different and of the pain and suffering he went through; of the pressure to try and deny his sexual orientation and “go straight”, of his succumbing to this in his friendship with his wife to be, leading to a prolonged marriage, which in many ways seemed normal and happy but, nevertheless came to an end after deepened awareness of his homosexual orientation became too much. In no sense was he practising as a homosexual and he met his one and only partner after the break-up of his marriage.

He is totally against the sort of promiscuity which is often linked with the life of gay people. (and not unknown amongst heterosexuals!) Equally he defends the right of gay people in his position to enjoy full conjugal rights within the partnership. He sets his unorthodox relationship in the context of a more enlightened and liberated interpretation of creation and God’s loving relationship and desires for his children.

In other words sex is to be seen as a gift from God and not, as nearly every culture emanating from the Judeo-Christian has mistakenly believed, a thing ultimately to be feared. So good in fact that it, in his opinion should, generally, be kept for the proper setting of trust within marriage or a permanent relationship.

Canon Gene dealt seriously with holy scripture to make his case and this impressed us along with his Christo-centric faith and humble wish to have Christ glorified through his life. His approach was a million miles away from the polemical rantings which were heard on both sides at the time of the Lambeth Conference. He had the ears of everyone at the conference because he had the charisms of deep integrity, courage and humour, allowing him to meet every challenging question put to him.

Anyone who could arrange with his wife to have a blessing ceremony on the break-up of their marriage – and an exchange or return of rings! – has to be listened to. That was an emotional story and so too was the moment when, for once, this humble but fluid leader broke down, as he recalled the graceful acceptance of him by his own Bishop Douglas, when no-one else including his own kinfolk seemed to care and the affirmation which that gave him.

The marvellous point from this contribution by our Companion friend New Hampshire was that his story of rejection and pain in the fraught area of human relationships and sexuality is that Grace won. However we struggle to understand his story and his stance on homosexual practice, no one in the room could think of anyone who had impressed them so much.

12th Nov 2000

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