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

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland.
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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.”