NEARLY 500 Church of Ireland members – 50 of whom are clergy – have signed a petition opposing same-sex relationships, it has emerged.
The intervention comes as the church’s ruling General Synod prepares to meet in Dublin today to debate the issue and follows anger from gay rights activists at what they see as the slow pace of change within the church.
The News Letter was yesterday contacted about the petition which was started by the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy late last year but is only now being made public on the day when the synod is due to discuss “human sexuality”.
The fact that the petition has been signed by 50 Church of Ireland clergy demonstrates the strength of feeling among Irish evangelical Anglicans on the issue of homosexuality, something which they believe the Bible clearly states to be sinful.
Significantly, although most evangelicals in the church are in Northern Ireland, the statement also contains several signatures from south of the border, including two from Cashel and Ossory – the diocese where Dean Tom Gordon, whose civil partnership has prompted the church debate after being revealed by the News Letter, ministers.
There may even be an attempt at the synod to force Dean Gordon’s bishop, Michael Burrows, to appear before an ecclesiastical court for allowing the civil partnership.
The petition says that the signatories are dismayed at the civil partnership of Dean Gordon, which has “strained the very fabric of our church’s unity and witness”.
It says: “We want to highlight the hurt and distress these actions have caused to many in our parishes, leaving them uncertain about the position of the Church of Ireland in relation to sexual morality.
“We write to disassociate ourselves from any implied or perceived acceptance of sexual relations outside of marriage and to reassure parishioners that Church of Ireland teaching has not been changed by this precipitous action.”
The petition says that “the mind of Christ has been clearly revealed on matters of human sexuality”, and adds: “We particularly call upon bishops to fulfil their calling and office by taking appropriate action to restore the witness and unity of the church, in the truth and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Among senior clergy to have signed the motion are Archdeacons Philip Patterson and Craig McCauley.
Today the synod will meet in Dublin to debate a motion in three parts proposed by the Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, and seconded by the Bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller.
The first part of the motion, which affirms that the church views marriage as “the only normative context for sexual intercourse”, has angered some. An open letter signed by 25 gay members of the church including Dublin Senator David Norris claimed it could lead to those in same-sex relationships being excluded from holy communion.
See tomorrow’s News Letter for full reports on the synod debate.