ARCHBISHOP Alan Harper has moved to stop a growing number of Church of Ireland parishes speaking out against the first civil partnership involving a minister.
Amid open speculation from some senior church figures about a split on the issue, the archbishop yesterday asked the church’s influential standing committee to “curtail” discussion on the Very Rev Tom Gordon’s same-sex union.
Archbishop Harper, who is seeking to avoid the legal and financial disputes which have blighted the Anglican church in the US after it split over the issue, appealed for “great care” in speaking about the issue until the church’s bishops decide on a way forward.
While gay rights campaigners have welcomed the Rev Gordon’s partnership, a growing number of churches in Northern Ireland are publicly distancing themselves from the controversial move.
Last week 10 parishes in the Portadown area published a statement rejecting the same-sex union, revealed by the News Letter last month, and saying that it was “a move which many people of the Church of Ireland are unable to accept”.
Yesterday, in a statement read to the standing committee, the church’s top decision-making body beneath the general synod, the archbishop said: “The fact that the Very Reverend Thomas Gordon, Dean of Leighlin, entered a civil partnership on 29 July last has created a new situation for the Church of Ireland.
“In many parts of the church, the matter is seen as controversial. In such a situation it is important that great care be taken in anything that may be said.
“The archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland had planned to devote a significant amount of time in residential
consultation on matters to do with same gender relationships in the autumn of 2011.
“This decision was taken in the light of changes in the membership of the House of Bishops since the bishops last
discussed these matters in 2002-2003, the introduction of equality legislation and civil partnership legislation in both jurisdictions in Ireland, and the progress on the discussion of these issues within the Anglican Communion which led to the Anglican Covenant which the general synod agreed to subscribe at the May session 2011.
“The new situation and reactions to that situation have added urgency to the work that the bishops are taking in hand. I am, therefore, requesting that general discussion of these matters in the standing committee should be curtailed to enable the bishops to begin their discussions and suggest a framework for future discussion at representative level.”
Archbishop Harper added that he wanted to reiterate that “the Church of Ireland does not regard a civil partnership as matrimony and that there are no proposals for the provision of rites of blessing for same-gender relationships”.
He added: “I also wish to say that, as fellow human beings, homosexual people are entitled to be accorded the same respect and dignity as others.”