A Church of Ireland bishop has bluntly warned that the church was afraid to speak out during the Republic’s gay marriage referendum debate and said that the church risks becoming “irrelevant” if it cannot articulate its views on such major social issues.
Bishop Kenneth Kearon told a church gathering that he was concerned at how Anglicans had struggled to speak up during the recent campaign.
According to a report in the Church of Ireland Gazette, Bishop Kearon told his first Diocesan Synod since his election to the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe that the Republic’s same-sex marriage referendum debate was “very commendable ... with both sides arguing well, yet respectfully, on very serious matters affecting the future of our country and the result was certainly decisive”.
But the bishop added: “I can’t say our church’s performance during that debate was equally commendable and I acknowledge my own part in that.
“My perception is that, as a church, we tried to keep our heads down and hoped that we wouldn’t be drawn into the debate.”
Over recent years, the Church of Ireland has been bitterly divided about the issue of homosexuality. Many members, particularly in Northern Ireland, believe that homosexual practice is sinful and explicitly condemned throughout the Bible.
But other members, particularly in the south, believe that homosexuality is normal and that same-sex relationships should be embraced.
The Bishop said: “Just as God, through the Incarnation, came alongside humanity in Jesus Christ, so too we, as a Church, need always to stand alongside people of every shade of opinion and situation.
“We did not do that during this referendum because, I believe, we didn’t know our own mind as a Church on these issues.
“This doesn’t mean we should be of one mind – certainly not – but we do need to understand and be able to express opinions in faith on important matters facing society; otherwise, we are simply irrelevant.”
The church did not campaign for or against gay marriage during the referendum.
Instead, the denomination urged its members “to vote according to their conscience”.