A CHURCH of Ireland clergyman has denounced the head of the denomination as a "false teacher".
Responding to Archbishop Alan Harper's controversial comments about homosexuals on Friday, the Rev Clive West said that he did not believe the Archbishop was guiding the church properly.
Mr West, a prominent evangelical member of the Church and former rector of All Saints church in south Belfast, said he believed many in the denomination shared his view.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme yesterday, he said of the Archbishop: "He's a bishop; he's a guardian of the faith but the question is: Is he guarding the faith or is he a false teacher? I think he's a false teacher."
But the Rev Patrick Comerford, director of spiritual formation at the Church of Ireland Theological College, defended the Archbishop and said it was "a disgraceful comment to come from a Church of Ireland priest".
The Rev West responded: "We are asked to search the scriptures and Paul praised people who searched the scriptures.
"If Archbishop Harper is at variance with the scriptures then I don't follow Archbishop Harper."
And he added of the Archbishop of Armagh: "He brands people who don't agree with him as 'fundamentalists' or 'literalists'.
"He made a famous speech at Clonmacnoise shortly after his election which was a disgraceful speech in my view."
On Friday Archbishop Harper re-opened the slow-burning row over the Church's position on homosexuality.
In a largely intellectual speech, which appealed to influential 16th century Anglican theologian Richard Hooker's method of interpreting the Bible, the Primate of Ireland said his Church may have to re-assess the relevance of St Paul's writings on homosexuality in the light of possible scientific discoveries.
"It has not yet been conclusively shown that for some males and some females homosexuality and homosexual acts are natural rather than unnatural," he said.
"If such comes to be shown, it will be necessary to acknowledge the full implications of that new aspect of the truth, and that insight applied to establish and acknowledge what may be a new status for homosexual relationships within the Church."
However, a spokesman for the Church of Ireland subsequently sought to clarify what the Archbishop had meant in his speech and denied that he was implying an approval for same-sex marriage.
"The Archbishop does not call for a particular outcome (in the debate on homosexuality]. The Archbishop's address draws no parallels between same-sex relationships and marriage," the spokesman said.