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Irish archbishop’s election a vote for ‘no change’: The Church of England Newspaper, October 14, 2012 p 5. October 16, 2012

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Archbishop-elect Richard Clarke

The Church of Ireland has elected a centrist to serve as the next Archbishop of Armagh, preserving the status quo in the increasingly divided church.  On 4 October 2012 the Irish House of Bishops selected the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, the Most Rev Richard Clarke, to succeed Dr. Alan Harper as the 105th Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

Last week’s vote postpones a potential North/South split within the Irish Church over homosexuality. Considered a liberal churchman within the House of Bishops, Dr. Clarke has moved to the center in recent years, supporting the course taken by Dr. Harper in avoiding a showdown over homosexuality.

Bishop Paul Colton of Cork, Cloyne and Ross and Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel and Ossory broke with their colleagues over the issue at the last meeting of General Synod and have called for a revision of church teaching on homosexuality.  Bishop Burrows’ brother in law, Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Bishop Patrick Rooke of Tuam, Killala and Achonry have expressed sympathy for the liberal stance, but have not openly supported change.

The evangelical bishops of Ulster, Bishop Ken Clarke of Kilmore, Elphin, and Ardagh, who retired last month, Bishop Harold Miller of Down & Dromore, Bishop Alan Abernethy of Connor, Bishop Ken Good of Derry & Raphoe, and Bishop John McDowell of Clogher have opposed altering the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Dr. Clarke of Meath and along with the Bishop of Limerick have sought to mediate between the two wings. The House of Bishops must now fill vacancies in the Diocese of Meath and Kildare and the Diocese Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.  The results of these elections, will likely determine whether Dr. Clarke can preserve the status quo and avoid a show down over gay blessings and clergy.

Following the announcement of his election, Dr. Clarke said “I truly feel neither worthy of the heritage into which I am to enter nor adequate for the tasks that lie ahead. The God of Christian belief is, however, a God of grace rather than a god who looks for human self-sufficiency. All I can pledge is that I will give this task the very best of which I am capable, and the prayer of all of us must be that God in his grace will enable some good to come from this.”

I look forward to fresh challenges and joys, along with new friendships and discoveries, in the “phase of ministry in the Gospel that now lies ahead, both in the Diocese of Armagh and within the wider fellowship of the Church of Ireland and beyond. Please pray for the Church of Ireland and for me in these weeks ahead as I prepare to take up this new responsibility.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishop’s warning to Britain’s “unreformed elites”: The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012 p 5. October 5, 2012

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Dr Alan Harper (center) at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh before the start of his final service as Primate of All Ireland

The Archbishop of Armagh celebrated his last Eucharist as Primate of All Ireland last week with an attack on the moral failure of British and Irish political leaders.

On 21 September 2012 civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries from across Ireland joined Dr. Alan Harper in his final service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. In his sermon Dr. Harper noted “contemporary society” has been confronted by a “perfect storm of moral ambivalence, and that powerful people ruined the lives of others whilst assuming their own invulnerability through a culture of impunity.”

The Scriptures taught that “moral ambivalence and a culture of pragmatism and expediency within the body politic or among major organs of society visit disastrous consequences upon the nation, and especially upon the poor and the powerless,” Dr. Harper said. And “by contrast, moral and spiritual integrity in high places leads to the flowering of both the nation and individual citizens at every level.”

“So, what of today? People talk of the threat to society posed by moral decline. The Prime Minister speaks of a ‘broken society’: feckless parenting, feral children, moral indifferentism, marital breakdown, benefit dependency and fraud, the growth of a disenchanted, disengaged under class. He called the Tottenham riots a ‘wake up call’. He mentioned banking, MPs’ expenses, phone hacking, greed, irresponsibility and entitlement.”

“If it is the case that our society is broken, with the boundaries of moral rectitude dissolving into ambivalence, blame cannot be heaped solely on the poor and the powerless: it was the Liverpool families who told the truth, not the police! An unreformed elite cannot impose probity on a struggling underclass.

Dr. Harper said “probity must be modelled at the top and begin with the elite, otherwise there subsists no moral authority on the part of governors to justify an intent to restore the moral and social health of the governed. The governors – leaders in the political, institutional, commercial, and spiritual life of our nations, including those holding authority within the media, must address first and with the greatest urgency the poverty of their own moral precepts and the fragile state of their own moral condition.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishop welcomes Loyalist parade apology: The Church of England Newspaper, September 23, 2012 p 6. September 27, 2012

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Members of the Royal Black Institution parading in Lisburn in 2007

The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Alan Harper, has welcomed the public statement of apology from a loyalist group that last month violated a Parades Commission order not to play music outside a Catholic Church in Belfast.

The Parades Commission had placed restrictions on the 25 August march of the Royal Black Institution after riots erupted on 12 July after loyalist band of the Orange Order played a sectarian song outside a Catholic Church.

The band of the Royal Black Institution ignored the ban and other bands, which were restricted to the playing of a single drum beat, also breached the ruling. This led to a sectarian confrontation which left seven police officers injured as they attempted to restore order.

Dr. Harper said he welcomed the statement of regret from the Royal Black Institution for “any offence caused to the clergy and parishioners of St Patrick’s Church last weekend and which states the desire for the Institution to play its part in a peaceful civic society. I also welcome the Institution’s request to meet with Protestant Church leaders such as myself as I believe that we must all engage in peaceful and constructive dialogue in our society. I trust that everyone respects cultural and religious freedom and that Christian people display respect, generosity and love to others.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Sexualty fight heats up as Irish Archbishop announces his retirement: Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2012 June 18, 2012

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The Primate of All Ireland, Dr. Alan Harper, has announced that he will step down by 1 October 2012, leaving his successor the task of moderating the church’s spirited debate over homosexuality.

In a statement released last week the Church of Ireland Press Office said Dr. Harper “will continue to carry out all the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland as normal until 30 September 2012.”

“The Church of Ireland House of Bishops will consider in due course the selection of a successor,” the press office said.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said: ‘In responding to the Archbishop of Armagh’s announcement of his forthcoming retirement, I wish to pay tribute to his strong commitment to fairness and steadfastness in office.”

“Across the Church of Ireland, Archbishop Harper has sought to enable a wide range of voices to be heard on a broad spectrum of topics,” Dr. Jackson said. “Together with all my fellow–bishops, and the Church of Ireland at large, I wish Archbishop Harper and Mrs Harper everything that is best in retirement.”.

Born in Tamworth, Staffordshire in 1944, Dr. Harper was educated at Leeds University and worked for the Archeological Survey of Northern Ireland before he entered Trinity College Dublin to train for the ministry.

Ordained deacon in 1978 and priest in 1979, Dr. Harper began his ministry in Northern Ireland in Connor diocese from 1978-1980. In 1980 he moved to Derry diocese to be incumbent of Moville and then became incumbent of Christ Church Londonderry from 1982-1986. Returning to Connor diocese Dr. Harper served as incumbent of Malone from 1986-2002.

On 17 December 2001 Dr. Harper was elected Bishop of Connor and on 9 January 2007 he was elected Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland by the House of Bishops.

Tensions over homosexuality and church have dominated the deliberations of the Church of Ireland during the last few years of Dr. Harper’s tenure as primate. The outgoing archbishop has sought to engender conversation over this issue, while maintaining the current church teachings on human sexuality.

At its May meeting of General Synod, the church adopted Motion 8 which reaffirmed its traditional teaching on marriage and rejected gay marriage and gay clergy. In the wake of the Motion 8 vote evangelical and liberal bishops indicated the fight was far from over.

Speaking to the Belfast News Letter, Bishop Harold Miller of Down & Dromore, a leading Evangelical bishop, said he would like the Church of Ireland to adopt a policy like that of the Church of England which requires clergy who enter into civil unions to give assurances to their bishop that their private conduct is in conformance with the church’s standards of clergy conduct.

The recent vote by synod had made clear 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,” the bishop said.

Permitting the Dean of Leithlin to enter into a civil union was a “serious situation,” the bishop said, and “it would be very helpful to hear some clarification about the situation.

One of the two bishops who voted against Motion 8, Bishop Paul Colton of Cork told his diocesan synod that he would not back away from his commitment to “diversity”.

“Are we not instead called to live uncomfortably and prophetically in a place where the edges of belonging are fuzzy rather than defined; attracting people in rather than pushing them out; breaking down barriers; taking down walls of division; including rather than excluding,” he asked on 9 June 2012.

“I believe and hope that in this part of the Church of Ireland, the response to lesbian and gay fellow Christians will be marked by continued welcome and inclusion and, indeed, there is, to my mind, a sound Christian charter and path in those words I saw over the door of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver: ‘Open doors; Open Hearts; Open Minds’,” the bishop said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Irish primate to retire: Anglican Ink, June 7, 2012 June 7, 2012

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Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Archbishop Alan Harper of Armagh

The Primate of All Ireland, Dr. Alan Harper, has announced that he will step down by 1 October 2012.

In a statement posted on the Church of Ireland website, the Church of Ireland Press Office said Dr. Harper “will continue to carry out all the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland as normal until 30 September 2012.”

“The Church of Ireland House of Bishops will consider in due course the selection of a successor,” the press office said.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said: ‘In responding to the Archbishop of Armagh’s announcement of his forthcoming retirement, I wish to pay tribute to his strong commitment to fairness and steadfastness in office.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Irish General Synod affirms traditional stance on marriage: The Church of England Newspaper, May 20, 2012 p 7. May 28, 2012

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The General Synod of the Church of Ireland has re-affirmed its teachings on marriage and human sexuality, turning aside a procedural challenge brought by liberal members of Synod to silence debate.  Following the lead of the House of Bishops, the Irish General Synod rejected gay marriage and gay clergy, but endorsed the creation of a “safe space” for further debate on these issues.

On the opening day of the meeting at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, the synod received for review Motion 8 proposed by the Archbishop of Dublin Dr. Michael Jackson and the Bishop of Down & Dromore Harold Miller in the name of the Church of Ireland’s Standing Committee. The three part motion entitled “Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief” asked Synod to affirm that there is “no other understanding of marriage” than that found in Canon 31.

“The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

The motion further asked the church to affirm that “faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse. Members of the Church of Ireland are required by the Catechism to keep their bodies in ‘temperance, soberness and chastity’. Clergy are called in the Ordinal to be ‘wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Jesus Christ’.”

In the run up to the Dublin meeting, liberal advocacy groups have savaged the motion and a website, 8anoway.com, was set up to lobby for its defeat.

When the part A of Motion 8 was placed before synod on 10 May 2012, the Dean of Cork, the Very Rev. Nigel Dunne, raised a point of order.

He stated that he believed Motion 8 would introduce a change in the Church of Ireland’s teaching on the doctrine of marriage. “Canon 31 gives first place to the procreation and nurture of children,” the dean said.

However the Church of Ireland’s “Marriage Service II does not. Marriage Service II is quite clear that sex and sexual intercourse is firstly to strengthen the relationship. The procreation of children comes second.”

By endorsing Motion 8a, Dean Dunne argued, the General Synod would be voting for a “modification or alteration of doctrine,” a procedure not permitted under the rules of synod by a motion, but must be brought forward by a bill.  In opposition to the Dean’s objection, other speakers noted that Motion 8a followed the precedence set in the Church of Ireland’s Rite I for marriage.

However, Lady Brenda Sheil said that the motion was “bringing forward a new thing which will need a Bill” argued the language of Motion 8a was creating new doctrine by privileging Rite I over Rite II.

Asked for his opinion, synod’s legal assessor stated that the Dean of Cork was correct in that a Bill was required that was endorsed by a two-thirds majority of synod to make a change in doctrine. However, the assessor stated he was not competent to determine whether the motion did change doctrine.

The Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, the Rt. Rev. Michael Burrows – whose tacit approval of the gay civil union of the Dean of Leithlin had brought the issue of gay marriage and gay clergy to a head last year – rose and told the synod he was “sorry to cause trouble.”

To which, the chair of the meeting, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Alan Harper, responded “apology accepted.” Bishop Burrows then stated that in the light of the reference to the conference on sexuality in Cavan held by General Synod in March, the conventional wisdom was that Motion 8a was about homosexuality.  As the Church of Ireland did not have a doctrine on homosexuality, the bishop argued, it was inappropriate to create new doctrine in this way.

Members of the Liturgical Advisory Committee which prepared Marriage Rite 2 for the 2004 Prayer Book stated there had been no intention to alter the church’s marriage doctrine by altering the order of the benefits of marriage in the ritual. Dr. Harper stated that it was his view that when the new prayer book was introduced there had been no intent to change the doctrine of marriage in the church.

However, when dealing with matters of such importance to the church the overriding concern is the avoidance of doubt. Consequently due to the issues raised by certain points in motion 8a Dr. Harper said he was going to rule that it could not be taken. He was sorry to have to take this step but it was necessary “for the avoidance of doubt” about variations in the doctrine of the church.

Dr. Jackson and Bishop Miller then withdrew motions 8b and 8c.

In its report the following day, the Belfast News Letter stated the decision was a “significant victory for liberals in the church who had been assiduously lobbying in the days leading up to the synod to have the motion defeated – and who were last night buoyant.”

However, evangelical members of synod told The Church of England Newspaper that the issue would not go away and that the bishops would “do something” to resurrect the motion. After the close of business for the first day’s session the bishops met in private with the two lay and two clergy Synod Secretaries. At the start of the second day, Dr. Harper told synod the bishops had dealt with the technical objections raised the previous day and would present an amended consolidated motion to the synod the next day.

On the final day of synod, 12 May 2012, a revised Motion 8 was introduced by Dr. Jackson and Bishop Miller. Dr. Jackson told the synodthis matter is a complex and sensitive one for many individuals and couples” and required the church to proceed in a “climate of critical trust and mutual respect”

In presenting the revised motion the bishops had the “firm and fervent desire of enabling members of our church to engage with what are some of the most complex, pressing and, to many, private aspects of contemporary life, understood from a sexual perspective. It is my hope, and that of the bishop of Down & Dromore, that we are, in fact, offering something of value to the Church of Ireland.”

Seconding the motion, Bishop Miller affirmed that “the essential contents of this motion have emerged from the corporate thinking of the bishops. They have been carefully crafted with a balance in content and wording which has been through many stages and revisions.”

The church would listen to all points of view on these issues, the bishop said, but listening did not imply that all points of view were equally valid. However, “we need to find a starting point for a way forward, to begin the journey together. I suggest this motion is our starting point, and the journey together will hopefully be both an interesting and productive one.”

Four hours of debate ensued.  The Archdeacon of Kilmore refuted the notion that the Church of Ireland was divided on this issue between a conservative north and liberal south, saying the traditional view was the majority view across Ireland.

The Rev. Ali Calvin said she had received calls from people in the pews in Cork and Ossory who were dismayed because they wondered whether their leadership was teaching new things about sex and marriage — the Bishops of Cork and Cashel & Ossory are among the leaders of the liberal wing of the Irish church.

An ecumenical participant, Fr. Irenaeus of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, told synod this issue had been settled some 1700 years ago with the church’s debate about the imago dei.  God’s image in us is marred and the likeness to God erased, but Orthodox spirituality was about recovering the likeness to be like God, he argued, and homosexuality was not part of this likeness.

The Bishop of Cork, the Rt. Rev. Paul Colton, called for rejection of the consolidated motion saying that sex had overshadowed the other work of the church.  He was also concerned that “for the first time in our history that we are using a motion” to address a major issue. He was “not convinced that this was the right way”, and that “by affirming formularies we are in fact weakening them.”

Four amendments were put to synod, and voting by divisions was taken.  All of the amendments failed and the motion was adopted by the clergy 81 – 53, laity 154 – 60, and the bishops 10 – 2.

Archdeacon Philip Patterson of Belfast told CEN the motion attempted three things:

“First to affirm the clear teaching of the Church that marriage is between one man and one woman, that it is in intent life-long and is the only appropriate context for sexual intercourse.  Outside of marriage Christians are called to lead chaste lives.”

“Secondly to affirm that the Church is a place of welcome and discipleship for all who seek to follow the way of Christ, that there is real regret when the Church has sometimes failed to achieve this and that our attitudes must not be unbiblical or uncharitable.”

“Thirdly to chart a way forward to progress the discussion through a Church-wide debate, to that end the Standing Committee is tasked to bring back to next year’s Synod a proposed Select Committee with appropriate terms of reference.”

The synod had looked to their bishops for leadership, Archdeacon Patterson said, and have “found that leadership and have followed it.”

He noted that it was “astonishing that those who have so long called for a listening process, conversation and a safe place don’t see their desires fulfilled in the actions of the Synod.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Overseas reactions to Dr. Williams’ resignation: The Church of England Newspaper, March 22, 2012 p 7. March 28, 2012

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News of the resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury has prompted reactions ranging from sadness to glee across wider the Anglican Communion.

The 16 March 2012 announcement that Dr. Rowan Williams will leave office by year’s end prompted the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop David Chillingworth to write: “Archbishop Rowan’s time as Archbishop of Canterbury has been marked by great difficulty.  To be the person who is called to foster and to embody unity will always be a costly ministry.  He has fulfilled that ministry with a wonderful grace and personal warmth.”

The Primate of All Ireland, Dr. Alan Harper concurred.  Dr Williams was “held in high affection across the Anglican Communion and, on behalf of the Church of Ireland, I offer him prayerful good wishes as he decides to step down from the hugely demanding role as Archbishop of Canterbury to take up his new responsibilities – and enter a new phase of his life.”

The Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba wrote the church had been “inordinately privileged to have such an able theologian and deeply spiritual thinker, as Archbishop of Canterbury over the last decade,” adding that “I …  will miss him very much.”

However, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria said he was not sorry to see the archbishop go.

When Dr. Williams assumed office, the Anglican Communion was a “happy family. Unfortunately, he is leaving behind a Communion in tatters: highly polarized, bitterly factionalized, with issues of revisionist interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and human sexuality as stumbling blocks to oneness, evangelism and mission all around the Anglican world.

Since Dr. Rowan Williams “did not resign in 2008, over the split Lambeth Conference, one would have expected him to stay on in office, and work assiduously to ‘mend the net’ or repair the breach, before bowing out of office. The only attempt, the covenant proposal, was doomed to fail from the start,” Archbishop Okoh said.

For Nigeria, the “announcement does not present any opportunity for excitement. It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction.”

American Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote that she was “grateful for Rowan Williams’ service as Archbishop of Canterbury during an exceedingly challenging season. We can all give thanks for his erudition and persistence in seeking reconciliation across a rapidly changing Anglican Communion.”

The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr. Peter Jensen observed that Dr. Williams was “universally admired for his intellectual stature and his personal warmth.  In his time as Archbishop, the Anglican Communion has been subjected to unprecedented stresses which have hastened an inevitable tendency to regional independence and decentralisation. With the majority of Anglicans now from theologically conservative churches of the Global South, the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the future will demand a deepening appreciation of their place in the Communion.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church of Ireland debates sex and Christian belief: The Church of England Newspaper, March 15, 2012 March 15, 2012

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The Archbishops of Dublin and Armagh. Photo: Church of Ireland Press Office

The Church of Ireland has reaffirmed its belief in traditional marriage.  In a statement released at the conclusion of a two-day meeting in Ballyconnell, the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin stated the “church’s position on marriage as being the union of one man and one woman remains constant”.

Approximately 450 members of the Church of Ireland’s General Synod met from 9-10 March 2012 at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan at a special meeting of synod called to discuss human sexuality “in the context of Christian belief”.

The meeting had been organized by the Irish House of Bishops in response to the controversy surrounding the revelation that the Dean of Leighlin in July 2011 registered a same-sex civil union with his partner, with the tacit approval of his bishop.

The special two day meeting was not designed to achieve a resolution to the disputes over human sexuality, organizers of the conference told The Church of England Newspaper, but to further debate.  The gathering was also closed to the press in order to facilitate the free flow of discussion.

The conference opened with address from Dr. Alan Harper, the Archbishop of Armagh and Dr. Michael Jackson, the Archbishop of Dublin and was followed by round table discussion of the scripture and human sexuality led by Bishop Richard Clarke of Meath and Kildare.  After a break for dinner the conference reassembled to hear “storytellers” offer “their personal experiences from gay perspectives.”

A series of seminars were offered on Friday evening and Saturday morning.  The Rev Doug Baker, a consultant to the Church of Ireland’s Hard Gospel Committee and instructor at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, spoke on the topic of handling conflicts within the church, while Mrs. Ethne Harkness and Judge Catherine McGuinness gave an overview of the state of legislation in Northern Ireland and the Republic on civil partnerships and the proposals being put forward by the coalition government on gay marriage.

Two ecumenical participants, Bishop Jana Jeruma-Gringberga of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain and Dr Andrew Goddard of the Church of England led a seminar on the science and psychology of same-sex attraction and gender determination, while Dr. William Olhausen, rector of Killiney Parish, Ballybrack, and Dr Stephen White, Dean of Killaloe in Co Clare spoke to the theological issues at play.

Dr. Bryan Follis, rector of All Saints’ Church, Belfast and the Rev Brian O’Rourke, rector of St Anne’s Church, Shandon in Cork offered differing views on the pastoral care of gay people in congregations.  Dr Follis affirmed the church’s traditional teaching on the morality of homosexual behavior, but discussed ways of providing pastoral support to those with a homosexual orientation that reflected the love of Christ while being faithful to his word.  Mr. O’Rourke, rector of parish self-described “inclusive church” argued the church should provide the same level of support to gay people that it did to all others, including offering them the opportunity to marry.

Two sets of parents spoke of their experiences with gay children, while the chairperson of Changing Attitude Ireland, Canon Virginia Kennerley and the chaplain at Queen’s University Belfast, the Rev. Barry Forde, spoke on the question whether it was possible to agree to disagree.

On the second day, the Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Rt. Rev. Harold Miller led a study for the conference on the Gospel texts surrounding human sexuality (Matt 5:17-48; Matt 19:3-12; Matt 25:31-46; John 4:1-54), while the Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh, the Rt. Rev. Ken Clarke, discussed Rom 1:8-32 and 1 Cor 1:1-20.

In their statement the archbishops affirmed the conference had seen “substantial conversation reflecting strongly held convictions characterised by clarity of expression without judgmentalism.”

It had been held in a climate of “respectful dialogue” and it was “clear that there is a breadth of opinion in the Church of Ireland on these matters but also a strong sense of the cohesiveness of the church.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Irish archbishops intercede in Maghaberry Prison strike: The Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2012 p 5. January 17, 2012

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Archbishops Harper and Brady

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Anglican and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh took part in a secret visit with striking prisoners at Northern Ireland’s Maghaberry Prison shortly before Christmas, the Irish press has reported.

On 22 December 2011 Dr. Alan Harper, the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Armagh, met with loyalist prisoners while Cardinal Sean Brady, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Archbishop met with republican prisoners.  The two then met together with representatives of the groups to hear their complaints over prison conditions.

Thirty republican inmates at the high security prison near Lisburne have caused more than £1m worth of damage to the prison over the past two years in protest to the introduction of body scanners to search prisoners coming and going from the Roe House special unit at the prison.

The prisoners claim the body scanners have violated an agreement reached in August 2010 to end full body searches.  They have also complained that the new regime has seen increased surveillance of inmates with additional strip-searches and cell checks.

Fires have been set by the protesting prisoners while some have smeared their cell walls with excrement in protest to the conditions of their confinement.

A Prison Service of Northern Ireland spokesman confirmed the archbishops had met with the prisoners but offered no details of the meetings.  A spokesman for the Church of Ireland told the Belfast Telegraph declined to elaborate on the visit.

The Church of England Newspaper was told by one cleric with knowledge of the visit that the archbishops sought to provide pastoral support to the prisoners – as well as help a second Maze prison problem, where political concessions to striking prisoners led to a breach of security and political turmoil in Northern Ireland.

The situation has taken on political overtones outside the prison walls with alleged republican supporters vandalizing the party political offices of Justice Minister David Ford.  Dog excrement was smeared on the windows and door of the Alliance Party headquarters in Belfast.

Irish clergy petition on gay unions: The Church of England Newspaper, November 4, 2011. November 4, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy (EFIC) has launched an online petition campaign calling upon the leaders of the Church of Ireland to “uphold and submit to the authority of the Scriptures” and not follow the Episcopal Church down the path of schism over homosexuality.

The Church of Ireland could split 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 Leighlin to register a same-sex civil union.

The outcry forced Bishop Michael Burrows to skip the consecration of the Bishop of Tuam and has sparked protests from evangelical clergy. The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Alan Harper, told the BBC he was “very, very concerned at the potential for division” within the church over homosexuality.

On 5 October 2011 the Irish bishops called for a moratorium on clergy entering into same-sex civil partnerships, and also asked critics of clergy civil unions to moderate their language while the Church begins debate over this issue.

In their pastoral letter, the bishops said they had been planning on reviewing their 2003 statement on human sexuality, however, “recent well–publicised events within the Church of Ireland concerning the issue of serving clergy and civil partnerships have caused considerable hurt and confusion to many. Others saw what had happened as a positive development. In the Church of Ireland as a whole, in consequence, this has led to a painful experience of disunity.”

The bishops stated they would organise “a major conference in spring 2012” to discuss the issue, but noted the meeting “is not envisaged to be an end in itself” and would not settle the issue.

Evangelical clergy in Ireland have urged their bishops to take a firm stance. The Rev Trevor Johnston, chairman of EFIC, told the Portadown Times “this issue was discussed widely [at EFIC’s 10 October 2011 meeting] and clergy from all over Ireland are opposed.

“The Bible is unequivocal throughout, and the meeting took place in a very serious mood. There was a groundswell of distress by people who do not want to see their Church divided over this issue, but it will be very difficult to hold the Church of Ireland together,” Mr Johnston said.

The petitioners stated they signed the statement to “disassociate ourselves from any implied or perceived acceptance of sexual relations outside of marriage and to reassure parishioners that Church of Ireland teaching has not been changed by this precipitous action.

“We call upon all in church leadership to undertake to ensure their lifestyles and teaching are in accordance with the historic [catholic] and faithful interpretation of the Holy Scriptures,” the said, asking that “all in church leadership uphold and submit to the authority of the Scriptures. We particularly call upon bishops to fulfil their calling and office by taking appropriate action to restore the witness and unity of the church, in the truth and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gay civil unions had the potential to divide the Irish Church, they said, writing that “as we observe the response to the acceptance of same-sex relationships across the Anglican Communion, it is with deep regret that we are compelled to acknowledge the realities of broken or impaired communion worldwide, and the possibility of the same even within our own land.”

Mr Johnston acknowledged the church faced turbulent times as “this crisis will be very hard to resolve.”

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

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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.