THE most prominent gay member of the Church of Ireland has denounced a motion which the church’s general synod will debate tomorrow in an attempt to clarify the church’s teaching on homosexuality.
David Norris, who ran for the Irish presidency last year, is among 25 signatories of an open letter to the News Letter which calls on the decision-making synod to postpone its debate so as to “allow for real listening”.
Mr Norris, whose 1988 European court case led to homosexuality being decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland, was joined in signing the letter by Jeffrey Dudgeon, who took a similar case seven years earlier to decriminalise same-sex relations in Northern Ireland.
The letter comes as a blow to the attempt by Church of Ireland bishops to preserve the unity of the church, which has been under unprecedented strain since the revelation by this newspaper last September that the first serving Church of Ireland cleric, Dean Tom Gordon, had entered a civil partnership.
Conservative and evangelical members of the church believe that same-sex relationships are sinful and have been angered at the fact that neither Dean Gordon nor his bishop, Michael Burrows, were disciplined over the partnership.
But now a synod motion on “human sexuality” – which has the support of both a liberal and an evangelical bishop – has been rounded on by gay members of the church who believe that it goes too far in endorsing the views of those who oppose same-sex relationships.
The motion, if passed, would further push back a decision about the church’s position on homosexuality by asking a committee to bring a report on the issue to next year’s synod.
The motion is in three parts; the first part affirms that the church views marriage as “the only normative context for sexual intercourse”, something which has angered gay members of the church, some of whom believe that liberal bishops are now not doing enough to protect their interests.
The 25 signatories of the open letter say: “As Church of Ireland members, who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, we were not consulted as the Bishop of Down and Dromore and Archbishop of Dublin drafted the resolutions on sexuality before general synod this week, which stigmatises any sexual relationship outside opposite-sex marriage as not ‘normative’.
“Had we been, we would have been clear that writing 655 words about people in same-gender relationships without one good thing to say about us is unacceptable.”
The letter’s authors – who include former Alliance Party executive director Canon Ian Sherwood and Dr Richard O’Leary, from the pro-gay lobby group Changing Attitude – argue that those in “faithful same-gender relationships” cannot comply with restraining sexual intercourse to marriage and therefore could find themselves excluded from receiving Holy Communion.
The letter adds: “Resolution 8A provides a pretext to launch witch-hunts against gay clergy in liberal dioceses.
“This has happened in the Anglican Church in Australia since similar motions were passed by their General Synod in 2004.
“Although Resolution 8A has been drafted to say all things to all people, once an official statement of policy is passed, the intentions of its drafters are irrelevant. History is littered with motions and legislation that functioned in ways contrary to the wishes of their drafters.”
See Letters, page 18