A gay rights group has accused the Presbyterian Church in Ireland of clamping down on a Presbyterian minister who expressed support for same-sex marriage.
In May the Republic voted by 62 per cent to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to legalise it by a popular vote.
In the wake of the news, German-born Rev Christina Bradley of Armagh Road Presbyterian Church in Portadown spoke out to welcome the vote, prompting an investigation by her denomination.
Earlier this month a statement was read from the front of her church by clerk of session Ivan Conner – while Mrs Bradley sat watching.
The statement informed her congregation that their minister had “no intention of bringing the Church into disrepute”.
It went on to “affirm Mrs Bradley’s compassionate pastoral concern for people inside her congregation and in the wider community”.
It added: “The congregations of Armagh Presbytery seek to be places where all people are welcomed and cared for, including those with same-sex attraction.
“The Presbytery reaffirms its belief in the brokenness and sinfulness of humanity and rejoices in the forgiveness and transforming grace freely given through Jesus Christ.”
But yesterday Church of Ireland minister Canon Charles Kenny of lobby group Faith in Marriage Equality (FIME) hit out at the denomination’s actions.
Canon Kenny said he “was dismayed that such pressure had been put on the Presbyterian minister to recant”.
He claimed that “the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was trying to shut down discussion in the Church on the inclusion of its gay and lesbian members”.
And he added that he “knew members of the Presbyterian Church, lay and clergy, who were affirming of gay people but were too frightened to say so”.
The canon went on to predict that “the action of the Church would send a very damaging message to its gay members and make the Presbyterian Church in Ireland an even colder place for them and their families”.
He added that in 2013 Justice Minister David Ford stepped down as a Presbyterian elder at Second Donegore Presbyterian near Templepatrick while being investigated for pro-gay marriage comments.
In February a member of the Church protested that he had asked for clarification on the review after 22 months, but had been given a “very evasive” response.
At the time, a spokesman for the Church said it was an internal matter and no conclusion had been reached, while Mr Ford declined to comment.
It is understood that the matter has still not been formally resolved.
The Church last night declined to respond to FIME.
In the wake of the Republic’s gay marriage referendum in May, the Portadown Times asked Rev Bradley for her views on the matter.
She responded: “The referendum wasn’t a debate on the institution of marriage as the basis of human society as we know it, but about ending discrimination.
“Who is the state and who is the church in a democratic society? It is the people. The people (of the Republic) have voted by an overwhelming 62.1 per cent majority to be inclusive and compassionate.
“This warm-heartedness is good to see in a world which is often a cold place as much for women in leadership as it is for gay and lesbian people in churches. I welcome the yes vote.”
Rev Bradley has previously challenged views about female ministers in her Church.