DEAN Tom Gordon – whose civil partnership last summer led to the current Church of Ireland debate about homosexuality – should state whether he is in a sexual relationship, Bishop Harold Miller has said.
In his first public comments about Dean Gordon’s position, Bishop Miller said that he saw some merit in the Church of England’s regulation which makes clergy in civil partnerships give their bishop an assurance that they are celibate.
Bishop Miller also said he did not believe that Saturday’s motion reaffirming the church’s teaching on marriage would make any difference to the possibility of both Dean Gordon and his bishop, Michael Burrows, being brought before an ecclesiastical court over the affair.
“There are several aspects of the situation with Tom Gordon,” he said. “I can only work from the explanation that he himself gave on Sunday Sequence and what he said was that he explained his situation to his bishop and explained what was going to happen, I think those are the kind of words which he used.
“I presume that the first bit [relates to] his relationship to that point which he says everybody knew about – I don’t think that’s true.”
When asked whether he knew about Dean Gordon’s relationship, Bishop Miller said: “Did I know about it? There are rumours that go round the Church of Ireland, like any other place, but what does knowing mean?
“I wouldn’t really have been very much in touch with Tom Gordon. Tom’s at the other end of the country and was in Dublin before...”
However, he added: “I do think that it is a serious situation, obviously a serious situation. You can see what has happened in the church – and I think it would be very helpful to hear some clarification about the situation.
“I mean, I don’t know, for example, if Dean Tom Gordon would be prepared to clarify the situation and say: I am not living in a sexual relationship. That may well be the case.”
In the Church of England, a compromise between liberals and evangelicals was struck several years ago whereby clergy could enter civil partnerships so long as they informed their bishop and assured him that it was a celibate relationship.
Though many in England are unhappy at that situation, the Church of Ireland did not implement any rules whatsoever.
Bishop Miller said he would like to see a similar rule to that in the Church of England being introduced in Ireland: “It may well clarify it. I think that in the Church of Ireland you’re also working with two different civil jurisdictions with different kinds of legislation and, for example, there is an opt out clause for the church in Northern Ireland which I gather is not the case in the Republic, so there’s all sorts of civil aspects to it as well.
“But the basic question that you’re asking is, I think: Where are things now?
“I would think that Tom would be going away from synod and reflecting and saying: Where do things fit with this?”
So is Saturday’s motion the definitive teaching of the Church of Ireland to make clear whether a cleric can be in a civil partnership or is it a step towards such clarity?
“I think that it is a step towards getting clarity,” he said.
“As I understand it, there is only the one situation that I am aware of. There may be others that I am not aware of – and I think that, as you say, the Church of England has a position that if a minister is in a civil partnership that person has to make it clear to their bishop that it’s not a sexual relationship.
“The Church of Ireland has not yet made that clear and there’s no doubt about it that this does not, as it were, finalise the clarity on that but it does bring together the kind of material from what we already believe that would come to bear on that.
“In other words, that sexual intercourse is only properly within marriage, that marriage can only be defined as between one man and one woman for the Church of Ireland, so same-sex marriage is out and that outside marriage what is asked of people is that they live chaste lives.”