Bishop silent on CoI gay row

Right Rev. Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel and Ossory
Right Rev. Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel and Ossory

THE Church of Ireland bishop who backed the civil partnership of Dean Tom Gordon has again declined to comment on the issue which threatens to split the church.

Amid continuing tension between conservatives and liberals in the church, another request for an interview with Bishop Michael Burrows — who has criticised the Northern Ireland media’s “preoccupation” with the story — was met with a polite refusal.

In an email to the bishop — who is Dean Gordon’s boss and on the liberal wing of the church — the News Letter asked for an interview in an attempt to get his side of the story, which has featured a string of outspoken denunciations by Anglican clergy of both the bishop and the dean.

As the bishop of Cashel and Ossory, the Rt Rev Burrows is senior to Portadown-born Dean Gordon, who now ministers in Carlow. According to Dean Gordon, the bishop appointed him last year in the full knowledge of his 20-year relationship with talented musician Mark Duley and was aware of their intention to enter a civil partnership once the Republic’s law changed.

The bishop replied to our request: “While I appreciate your approach and sensitivity, my policy all along has been to avoid giving interviews to the public media. For the sake of consistency I think this has to remain my line, not least while the discussion process outlined in the recent bishops’ pastoral letter is put in place.”

Dean Gordon has also declined to comment further.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a meeting on Monday which was addressed by Church of England bishop Wallace Benn saw about 80 clergy turn out to express their opposition to the development.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy (EFIC), which organised the meeting in Belfast, said that the meeting was attended by about double the number of clergy who normally attend its meetings.

EFIC chairman the Rev Trevor Johnston said that the Scriptures consistently opposed same-sex relationships and that Dean Gordon’s partnership would make it “very difficult” for the church to remain united.

The next day, the Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper, addressed the largely conservative Armagh diocesan synod, laying out the church’s policy that marriage was viewed strictly as between a man and a woman and that the church did not sanction nor bless same-sex unions.

He added that the bishops would be discussing the issue in the New Year and asked them to keep counsel until the general synod next April. The archbishop received a standing ovation.

A friend who attended the reception following the ceremony at the men’s home in Headford, County Galway, said: “Tom Gordon is happy and busy in his parish and has the backing and support of most of his parishioners. All he wants to do is continue the work and he has no thoughts of resigning.”