CoE bishop at gay clergy row meeting

Archbishop Alan Harper
Archbishop Alan Harper

A CONSERVATIVE Church of England bishop has attended a meeting of Church of Ireland clergy increasingly unhappy at their church’s response to a minister’s same-sex partnership.

There are few details about where Monday night’s meeting, which was first revealed by this newspaper last Thursday, was held, or how many were present.

However, the News Letter understands that the meeting included an address by Bishop Wallace Benn, a leading figure on the right of the Church of England.

The Bishop of Lewes is chairman of the advisory council to the GAFCON primates, a group of traditional Anglican leaders from around the world who are opposed to clergy in gay unions and believe Anglicanism is becoming too liberal.

The visit by the 64-year-old, who is originally from Dublin, comes amid suggestions by some parishes that they may seek alternative bishops, believing that the Church of Ireland’s 12 bishops have been too relaxed about Dean Tom Gordon’s civil partnership.

Last week the church’s leader in Ireland, Archbishop Alan Harper, told the News Letter that Irish bishops would not welcome any “intrusion” by episcopal colleagues from outside Ireland. Instead, the Irish bishops have set out a process which will take about six months in an attempt to be clear about what the Bible teaches on homosexuality. That will include a major conference next spring to discuss — but not decide — on what the church’s position should be.

In an editorial this week, the Church of Ireland Gazette says that church is in “quite alarming circumstances”.

The Gazette, which is editorially independent of the church, raises concerns about the length of time which the church plans to take to decide its position on the issue and warns that it must learn from the bitter divisions which have opened up in other parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that, as a result of this whole scenario, the Church of Ireland’s very unity is imperilled,” the editorial says.

“For that reason, it is somewhat concerning that the bishops refer to a need for yet further study and research on related biblical, theological and legal issues, because such could be a charter for years-long argumentation. We need to study such matters, but we also need to do so expeditiously.”

The editorial adds that in other Anglican churches the gay debate had seemed “interminable”. It says that the Windsor Report, which in an attempt to ease tensions led to the Anglican Covenant, had bought more time “but more time turns out to have been precisely not what was needed”.

“Now, the communion has reached breaking point and we have two primates’ meetings and a whole new Anglican church in north America. The dragging on has been because, of course, the Anglican Communion cannot legislate for the communion as a whole.

“However, the Church of Ireland can legislate for the Church of Ireland, and so a clear regulation of the issue before us is needed urgently if we are not to find ourselves in a situation resembling that of the Anglican Communion in all its woes.

“The Church of Ireland probably can contain itself for the process which the bishops have outlined, but it will be difficult.”