A war of letters has broken out between Church of Ireland clergy over the introduction of gay marriage in the Republic of Ireland.
On 22 May 2015 Ireland will go to the polls to vote on a constitutional amendment put forward by the Fine Gael-Labour government that would mandate the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland have urged the defeat of the bill, but two former Archbishops of Dublin and two current Church of Ireland bishops have said they will vote “yes”.
The Most Rev. John Neill, the archbishop of Dublin from 2002 to 2011, told The Irish Times “we now recognise that there are many different types of unions and I don’t see why they cannot have the protection and status of marriage”. “The understanding of marriage in the church has evolved, putting partnership first before procreation”, in which context “there is less of a problem about same-sex marriage”. The Most Rev. Walton Empey, archbishop from 1996 to 2002 said “I certainly have no hesitation in calling for a Yes vote.”
The Bishop of Cork, the Rt. Rev. Paul Colton told the BBC last year he supported the introduction of gay marriage, while the Bishop of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory, the Rt. Rev. Michael Burrows last month told a conference at Trinity College, Dublin that gay rights was the “great justice issue of our time just as the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women were in the past.”
He asserted the “call for same sex marriage is a logical and timely development in the march of law reform and equality” and was “convinced that it will be a contribution to a fairer and more truly equal Ireland, and I cannot see any way in which it could be considered repugnant to the common good, or indeed to the vital role of the family.”
On 1 May 2015, 43 Church of Ireland clergy endorsed a letter printed in the Irish Times stating: “We believe that for too long LGBT people have suffered discrimination and injustice in Ireland and that a Yes vote will be a contribution to a fairer and more truly equal Ireland.”
The Church of Ireland Gazette last week reeived a letter endorsed by 38 clergy urging rejection of gay marriage, and chastised the two bishops for promoting an agenda contrary to church teaching. “In recent days, two Irish bishops have publicly declared and taught contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture and to the teaching of the Church of Ireland. This is despite the vows and promises made at their ordination and consecration to uphold the Church’s teaching and to refute error. We believe that they are now themselves teaching error and we call on them to repent of this and to teach what the Church has taught about marriage according to Scripture,” they said.
Speaking to the media last week at the close of the Irish General Synod the archbishops of Armagh and Dublin acknowledged the House of Bishops was not of one mind on the issue — however, the church would not take a formal stance on the referendum. The Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop of Armagh Richard Clarke said: “I can’t think of an occasion when the House of Bishops has ever said vote in such and such a way or not in such and such a way.”
The present Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson said: “It is not our way of working. It’s not like the Church to be prescriptive…But I wouldn’t in any way go as far as to say that the absence of a public statement betokens internal division.”
Nor would General Synod be making a statement on gay marriage and the issues surrounding human sexuality. The General Synod voted last week to extend by two years the work of select committee studying the issue, charging it to report back to the 2017 meeting of synod. An interim “Guide to the Conversation on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief” is to be published later this year.