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Schism looms for the Church of Ireland: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 16, 2011 p 6. September 16, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland.
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Bishop Michael Burrows

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Schism within the Church of Ireland could split the church between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland, church leaders fear, in the wake of revelations the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory permitted the Dean of Leithlin to register a same-sex civil union.

The Primate of All-Ireland, the Archbishop of Armagh Dr. Alan Harper told the Sept 11 “Sunday Sequence” programme of BBC Radio Ulster he was “very, very concerned at the potential for division” within the church over homosexuality.  He also conceded that clergy criticisms over a leadership “vacuum” among the bishops were “a fair comment in all sorts of ways.”

His remarks follow revelations published last week in the Belfast News Letter that the Dean of Leighlin, the Very Rev. Tom Gordon, had solemnized a civil union with his partner in July.  Dean Gordon told the “Sunday Sequence” on Sept 2, he had notified Bishop Michael Burrows the ceremony would take place beforehand, and added that his “sexuality” was common knowledge in the Church of Ireland.

Dr. Harper said that while a change to church discipline had taken place in the Diocese of Cashel and Ossory, there had been no change in the Church of Ireland’s formal position on human sexuality, which teaches faithfulness in marriage and chastity in singleness.

In 2003 the bishops agreed to maintain the church’s historic teachings, whilst maintaining collegiality that respected the diversity of views of its members.  Since that time, Britain and Ireland had introduced legislation permitting same-sex civil unions, and the General Synod endorsed the Anglican Covenant.  The composition of the House of Bishops had also changed, he noted, necessitating further discussion.

“What we do not have is a broad consensus for change. There is a need for discussions, first in the House of Bishops and then in the General Synod,” Dr. Harper said, adding the bishops had “determined to revisit the discussions of 2003 in meetings this autumn,” he said.

The Archbishop declined to take a stand on the issue.  His role as primate, he averred was to mediate the bishops’ forthcoming debate over human sexuality, and not pre-empt discussion by taking sides.

By acquiescing to the Very Rev. Tom Gordon’s civil partnership, Bishop Burrows had pre-empted debate, conservatives charged.  The host of “Sunday Sequence”, Michael Crawley said the Archdeacon of Down, the Ven. Philip Paterson, had told him Bishop Burrows should resign.

The Anglican Chaplain to Queens University Belfast, the Rev. Barry Forde, told the BBC he was disappointed how quickly some had stressed the North/South divide over the issue.  The problems had arisen because individuals, not dioceses, had acted outside of the church’s traditional norms.  But he agreed “this is going to be very fractious.”

Canon Ian Poulton told the BBC he shared the concern over the bishop’s silence.  “There has been a dearth of leadership … there is a vacuum of leadership at times. There was no leadership on economic issues. It is not just on sexual issues,” he said.


1. Pastor Leadership Blog » Schism looms for the Church of Ireland: The Church of England … - September 17, 2011

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